Monday, 30 April 2012

News: Book Cover for GRYMM by Keith Austin

Back in January I attended the RHCB Bloggers' Brunch, during which the RHCB team waxed lyrical about some of their 2012 releases. One of the books that I starred multiple times in the set of book blurbs they gave us is GRYMM by Keith Austin, and today I spotted the cover on Keith's blog and felt I just had to share it with you (even though it has been on there since January). The RHCB team described GRYMM as a darkly humorous horror story, in the vein of The League of Gentlemen. As a huge fan of said TV comedy show I was sold immediately, so I was looking forward to reading it even without seeing this brilliant cover, or reading the blurb. GRYMM is due to be published in July... I can't wait! Once you've let you eyes feast on this great cover you could do a lot worse than head on over to the RHCB blog and read a little more about the inspiration behind GRYMM in Keith's own words..


The small mining town of Grymm perched on the very edge of the Great Desert is the kind of town you leave - but when Dad gets a three-month contract in the mine there, Mina and Jacob, unwilling stepbrother and sister, are reluctantly arriving.

From a grotesque letting agent who seems to want to eat their baby brother, a cafe owner whose milkshakes contain actual maggots and the horribly creepy butcher, baker and candlestick-maker, Mina and Jacob soon realize that nothing in Grymm is what is appears to be.

And then things get seriously weird when their baby brother disappears - and no one seems to even notice! In Grymm, your worst nightmares really do come true . . .

Guest Post by Craig Simpson (author of the Special Operations series)

I am a huge fan of Craig Simpson's Special Operations series. I had the luxury of discovering the series three books in, and so could read them all in one go, although this did then leave me waiting impatiently for the fourth book. You can read my reviews of the first three books here, and the fourth book, Dead or Alive, here. I therefore jumped at the chance to host Craig for a guest post, especially given the subject of why boys continue to find war stories so thrilling.

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Scary times! Why stories about the Second World War remain so popular with boys.

Seventy years on, young readers are still avidly devouring stories set during WWII, and every year new titles are published to satisfy their insatiable appetites. As a writer of such novels, I think I know why this is, and it comes as no surprise to me, despite the fact that we all know how the war ended! And I think the reasons go deeper than simply boys liking stories about war, armies, aircraft etc…

Post-war children’s classics such as Goodnight Mister Tom, Nina Bowden’s Carrie’s War and Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners & Blitz Cat tended to focus on the ‘war at home’ in Britain. In fact, it might be said that in the immediate post-war decades (to the 1980s), children’s literature largely steered clear of the worst aspects of war. It was as if Anne Frank’s diary had the role of giving that kind of insight. And, of course, it does, but only to a point. This cautious approach was understandable to a generation of adults who’d lived and fought, were weary of war, and desperate to protect their children from such horrors. But, I believe they missed an important point.

I grew up in this post-war period but was fortunate to hear stories first hand; one of my teachers had been in the RAF and flown Pathfinders. I also heard stories about family friends; one of my godmothers had worked for the French Resistance. Later on in life, I was privileged enough to meet the wonderful Miep Gies who famously helped the Frank family while they were in hiding and who rescued Anne’s diary from the Annex. They were remarkable people.

In recent times, the nature of wartime children’s literature has changed. With titles like Mal Peet’s Tamar, John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, James Holland’s Duty Calls series, Robert Muchamore’s Henderson’s Boys, and my own Resistance & Special Operations series (just to name a few), stories have reached out into the heart of the conflict. Interestingly, readers often say to me that what they like about my books is that my characters get involved with the war, that they’re not just innocent bystanders. This aspect is important to me too, because it’s easy to forget that a whole generation of children lived through Nazi occupation and witnessed all aspects of war, and many did indeed get involved with resisting. In response to my books, I’ve even received correspondence from older readers telling me stories of when, as teenagers, members of their family had worked for the resistance, risking their lives. They tell me this with immense and justifiable pride. Vindication, I think.

At their heart, the majority of WWII stories explore some of the most powerful and appealing themes in storytelling; personal fears, danger and sacrifice, the struggle of good versus evil, the defence of freedom, and testing ones courage to the limit. To be fair, this is also true of many books of other genres (science fiction, fantasy). In fact, pick any fiction book from a library shelf and I bet it explores at least one of these themes in some way. But, there are key differences in the case of stories set in WWII.

Firstly, it was a world that really existed, is still recognisable to us today, and is within living memory for some parents and grandparents. It was also all-out war on an unprecedented and almost unimaginable scale, not witnessed before or since. The very worst aspects of mankind’s nature were exposed in its horrors and, yet, in the midst of the darkness, the very best of mankind shone through and triumphed.

It’s the fact that such a time really existed that I find so captivating, thrilling, and often extremely scary, and I think readers do too. As a writer I have no need to create some fantasy world, or one of evil monsters or superheroes to have the reader on the edge of his or her seat and biting their nails – the real world back then will do nicely. Put bluntly, it was the mother of all wars – accounting for an estimated 55+ million lives in just six years. And, yet, I don’t think the appeal to readers comes from the scale of the conflict, rather the complete opposite.

It is the stories of individuals caught up in it, the soldier wading towards the beach on D-Day as bullets fly past him and his comrades fall, the Spitfire pilot in the midst of a soaring dogfight, the family in hiding or being arrested and carted off to a concentration camp, the resistance fighter risking all when surrounded by the enemy, or the spy or secret agent on a dangerous mission. Through the eyes of such people (characters) the true nature of war is exposed. The choices and decisions they are forced to make challenge our very moral fibre, questioning our beliefs about who we are and what mankind is capable of. And, despite the fact most of us find war abhorrent, we also know that it can be justified – there are simply some things that are worth fighting for. It is exciting and very, very powerful stuff.

There’s a second element to the enduring popularity. It’s the fantastic ingenuity and courage of those involved. The war was a rich seam of astonishingly original ideas and rapid developments, of incredibly audacious missions and seemingly impossible achievements. Whether it was the evacuation of over 330,000 troops from Dunkirk, the brilliant minds of the code-breakers, the boffins who developed radar, the celebrated dam busters (Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb), or the brave citizens who became active members of resistance movements or who risked their lives while hiding people from arrest, all have truly jaw-dropping stories to tell. Some are well known, others have only recently been revealed as Top Secret documents are released or people have finally broken their silence. For a writer there is an almost endless source of inspiration. For the young reader there are plenty of thrills and spills as this most dangerous of times is brought back to life on the page.

C Simpson April 2012

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Huge thanks to Craig for taking the time to write this for The Book Zone. If your son is a reluctant reader then the Special Operations books could be the ones to get him hooked.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Review: Freaks by Kieran Larwood


The Freaks are a band of misfits, trapped in a nightly Victorian sideshow. There's Wolf-girl, Sheba, with her amazing sense of smell; Sister Moon, who can move at the speed of light; and Monkey Boy, ace climber and human stink bomb. But during the day, the Freaks decide to put their extraordinary talents to use. And in a world of child-snatchers, grave robbers and dastardly doctors, they solve the mysteries no one else cares about, including why London's poorest children are being snatched from the banks of the Thames.

Towards the end of last year I received an envelope full of A4 full colour, glossy press cards from the lovely people at Chicken House, and this one leapt out at me for three reasons: the book title, the cover and then the blurb. Chicken House had one their job well - they had me securely hooked, reeled in and left waiting for it to be released. Long time readers of The Book Zone will know I am a big fan of books set in the Victorian era, especially those promising a mystery needing to be solved, and with the added element of the freaks I knew I wanted to read this book well before Kieran Larwood wrote a short piece about it for my Coming Up In 2012 feature.

Freaks is an exciting, fun mystery story, perfect for 10+ readers, and the second book I have read recently that I think would translate brilliantly to the comic book format. The freaks of the books title are like a team of Victorian X-Men, each with his or her own unique gifts, that are sadly viewed as mutations or aberrations of nature by the general public. There is Sheba, the wolf girl, whose skin is covered in fine hair; Monkey Boy, one of the most disgusting characters I have read in a children's book for some time, who has a tail and can climb like an ape; Sister Moon, kick-ass ninja girl; Mama Rat, and her colony of performing rats; and the very large, and superhumanly strong, Gigantus.

Despite the book following the adventures of the team of freaks as they attempt to discover who is abducting the young Mudlarks from the banks of the Thames, this book is very much Sheba's story. We first meet her in Pilchton-on Sea, confined to a cage in a run down, seaside freak show (or what is left of it). Sheba is very much more than a girl covered with hair though - she is intelligent, has taught herself to pick locks and has a sense of smell to rival a bloodhound. 

Other than a spell in a workhouse, Sheba has next to no memory of who she is, where she came from, who her parents were, or if Sheba is even her real name. She is little more than a slave, forced to 'perform' for anyone who was bored enough to pay a penny to view her and the two-headed sheep she shares a shack with, and the future looks bleak and lonely until she is sold to another freak show owner and finds herself heading for London. Although technically still a slave, at least she is no longer alone, as she finds herself in the company of the aforementioned freaks. And it isn't long before the team find themselves up to their necks in mystery - a hunt to find missing children that belong to some of the poorest and most destitute families living in London. A mystery that will have them fighting for their lives against a gang of rather nasty villains (Kieran Larwood does very bad villains).

Freaks is pretty much everything a 10 year old reader could ask for in a story. First up, it is funny, exciting and nail-biting in equal measures, with a plot that races along without being overfilled with action scenes. The characters are wonderfully realised, and I hope there will be a sequel so that we can find out even more about the various 'freaks'. Kieran Larwood also brings Victorian to life in a way that will have young readers finding it easy to imagine the sights, sounds and smells of the city as it was back then.

My thanks go to the good people at Chicken House for sending me a copy to review.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Review: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber



It's prom night and Perry just wants to stick to his own plan and finally play a much anticipated gig with his band in the Big Apple. But when his mother makes him take Gobija Zaksauskas, their quiet, geeky Lithuanian exchange student, to the prom, he never expects that his ordinary high school guy life will soon turn on its head. Perry finds that Gobi is on a mission, and Perry has no other choice but to go along for a reckless ride through Manhattan's concrete grid with a trained assassin in Dad's red Jag.

In my mid-teens I suddenly discovered adult thrillers. I have a feeling the first may have been Robert Ludlam's The Bourne Identity, after which I flew through the whole back catalogue of his books, with The Matarese Circle, The Holcroft Covenant and of course The Bourne series emerging as favourites that I would go on to re-read many times in subsequent years. There were several elements that I loved about these books (and also at the time Jeffrey Archer's A Matter of Honour): the level of action (guns, bombs, etc), the complicated, twisting plots and most of all, the 'innocent' man being drawn into a conspiracy and watching how they cope and grow as events spiral out of their control. I do not read anywhere near as many adult thrillers of this ilk these days, nor have I read any of the more recent Jason Bourne books, but reading Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber was like a blast from the past, and brought back many fond memories of my teen years.

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick is like a Robert Ludlum thriller for young adults, but with added humour. Lots of humour. It also has guns, bombs, car chases, blood, a hot, totally badass girl on a mission, and of course that 'innocent' man boy pulled kicking and screaming into a the world of crime, violence and assassination. Said 'innocent' then has to very quickly learn how survive and grow in a world that is very, very different from his cosy, although not particularly happy, home life.

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick introduces us to Perry, a teenage boy who is applying for university places, with huge amounts of pressure and expectation being piled on him by his high-earning, demanding father. Perry is saddled with looking after Gobi, a seemingly shy, frumpy Lithuanian girl who is spending some time in the US to study and learn the language. Gobi rarely talks to anyone, and as the day for her departure nears, the only thing Perry is looking forward to more is a gig he has managed to secure for his band at a club in Manhattan. Unfortunately for Perry, the gig is on the same night as the school prom, an event he was intending to miss until Gobi makes it very clear to Perry's parents that she would very much like to spend one of her last nights in the USA as Perry's date at the prom. It isn't long before Perry discovers there is a lot more to Gobi than he and his friends initially thought, and as the action unfolds he finds that he too has hidden depths.

If you want lengthy passages of exposition and detailed character development in your stories then this may not be the book for you. However, I would trade both of those for this kind of wham-bam action story any day of the week, as would the majority of reluctant teen readers I come across at work. Gobi is a great character, and Perry's complete and utter naivety as her true nature is revealed is hilarious, as well as slightly tragic at times. I would love to see this made into a comic, as the violence of the story fits in quite nicely with recent tongue-in-cheek but fill of blood splatter titles such as Jennifer Blood and Kick-Ass.

I can't finish this review without mentioning the cover, as it was this that first brought Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick to my attention. I was at an event organised by the lovely people at Egmont where they were launching their YA imprint, Electric Monkey. Joe Schreiber was not one of the authors they had present that evening, but his book was on display. How could I not be drawn by the great title, and the Kill Bill like cover design of black on yellow, with blood splatters? I asked if I could be added to the list of a review copy and instead one of the display copies was forced into my hand (it didn't take much persuasion). I started reading it on the train on the way home, and it turned into another one of those 'nearly missed my stop' moments as I was completely hooked by the fast pace of the story. When I got home I continued reading it, not wanting to go to sleep until I had reached the end. Fortunately it is quite a lot slimmer than many YA books around at the moment!

My thanks go to Egmont for so kindly allowing me to take a copy away from their event. I'm now impatiently awaiting the sequel, Ciao For Now, Crazy European Chick, due out in October.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Comic Zone: The Phoenix Comic

Since the launch of the DC New 52 I have started to buy a lot of comics, and I'm loving it. I am fairly new to the world of comic buying, as we do not have a comic shop anywhere near us and so they were things that just did not come onto my radar, although I have an ever growing collection of trade paperback editions, especially Batman stories. However, with the relative success of The Book Zone leading to me being invited to various blogger events and book launches I found myself travelling into London a lot more often. On one such visit I discovered Gosh Comics, a wonderful comic store that was located near the British Museum but is now located in new store in Berwick Street, Soho. The DC New 52 gave me the excuse to open a standing order with Gosh, so that every time I go into London there is now a pile of new comics waiting for me. Sometimes, if I haven't been able to get in for a while, this pile is rather large (and expensive) but I get hours of enjoyment out of catching up with the stories.

However, my comic buying is no longer just restricted to the DC New 52. Each time I went in there were other titles catching my eye, and my standing order would soon increase by another couple of books. And then I started reading Bleeding Cool regularly, finding out about new comics months before they were published, and my standing order increased even more. I am currently buying titles from DC, Marvel, Image and DC Vertigo, as well as a handful of others, and now that I have my iPad this is likely to increase even further, and so, as comics are a brilliant way of getting reluctant boy readers to start reading for enjoyment, I have decided to have an occasional blog feature that I have christened Comic Zone. I say occasional, as I'm not sure I have the time to make it a regular feature, but I aim to use it to highlight some of the comics I have enjoyed recently. But, as you can see from the title of this post, I'm not kicking off with a comic from DC, Marvel, or any of the other big name US companies. The comic I have chosen for this launch is the very British, and very brilliant, The Phoenix Comic.


When I was a child I always looked forward to Thursdays. Thursday was Beano day, and I was a huge fan. I joined the fan club (I still have my badges and membership card), and each new issue would be a topic of conversation in the playground at school the next day. I can't remember exactly when I stopped getting The Beano - perhaps it was when I started buying Marvel's Star Wars as funds were pretty tight and probably couldn't stretch to two comics - but I still have very fond memories of that first introduction to the world of comics. I have no idea how popular The Beano is these days, but I have witnessed first hand young children looking forward to Saturdays, and not just because it is the weekend. For Saturday is now Phoenix day!

Long Gone Don by The Etherington Brothers
The Phoenix was launched at the beginning of 2012, and from what I can make out it is going from strength to strength. It is a high quality weekly comic, featuring stories from some of the greatest names in the current British comic world. Some of those names will be familiar to long time readers of The Book Zone, as I have posted reviews of their books in the past. Writers and illustrators such as The Etherington Brothers, Neill Cameron, Ben Haggarty, Chris Riddell and Garen Ewing to name but a handful. Their talents are given the respect they so richly deserve as the physical quality of The Phoenix is outstanding as well, with the stunning high-quality printing of the full-colour pages a perfect magnet for young readers.

Good Dog, Bad Dog by Dave Shelton
The Phoenix is the perfect mix of serial stories, standalone stories, competitions and puzzles, with letters pages and various other features thrown in for good measure. It is the story strips that are the shining light of the comic though, as they are invariably exciting, thrilling tales told by very talented writers and illustrators that will have readers wishing Saturday would come around again a lot sooner so that they can find out what happens after each cliffhanger ending. Several times over the past few months I have been in my local Waitrose on a Saturday and witnessed kids racing from their parents as soon as they have entered the store, straight to the magazine racks to grab the latest issue of The Phoenix. It really is a joy to see!

The Pirates of Pangaea by Daniel Hartwell & Neill Cameron
You can buy The Phoenix from branches of Waitrose, and many independent comic and book shops. You can also subscribe through The Phoenix website, which will also give you a lot more information about the comic, its stories and other features (and save yourself some money in doing so). I wonder how many kids around the country now sit patiently by their letterbox on a Saturday morning waiting for the next issue to be delivered? The comic costs £2.99, and I know that for some this may seem like quite a large weekly outlay on what some might call "only a comic". However, I wouldn't be surprised if the same people don't question the amount they spend weekly on newspapers, when news can be read just as easily online. Newspapers which are consigned to the recycling pile mere hours after purchase - I can guarantee that this is not a fate that will face The Phoenix as it is a comic that kids will want to keep safely, and go back to time and time again. If all it cost was £2.99 a week to instil in a child an enjoyment for reading that could last a lifetime then this truly is a bargain!


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Guest Post by Alexander Gordon Smith: The Real Magic of Horror (The Fury Blog Tour)

For a variety of reasons, recently I have been cutting back on the number of blog tours I am participating in. However, there are a handful of authors who are always welcome to guest post on The Book Zone and Alexander Gordon Smith is one of them. He writes such great articles, and if you haven't seen his earlier pieces that have appeared on The Book Zone you can find them here and here. This time he is here as part of the blog tour for his new book, The Fury. At the end of this post you will also be able to read details about an amazing The Fury competition that Faber are running.

The Real Magic of Horror

This is my third guest post for the awesome Book Zone (For Boys) blog – my favourite book blog in the world! – and I’m really honoured to be here again! Last time I talked about how playing Murderball was the inspiration for my new book, The Fury, and this time I’d like to go back even further, to when I was a kid, and talk about another moment of horrific inspiration!

When I was six years old, or thereabouts, I had my first experience of real horror. I don’t mean a tragedy, I mean genre horror. I used to go and stay with my Gran and Granddad up in Scotland. They were a wonderful couple (both sadly passed now), and my Gran especially was a lovely, round, little old lady who liked to give me and my sister treats. She worked in a shop, one that rented videos, and she would often bring home sweets and toys and films for us. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but on one of these trips I must have told my Gran that I really liked horror. Being six years old, what I probably meant by this was that I enjoyed the occasional episode of Scooby Doo. But my Gran must have got the wrong end of the stick, because one afternoon she came home from work with a stack of videos for me to watch. Horror videos.

I don’t know exactly which movies they were – I think I have blanked out the memory! But there were definitely zombies. And killer puppets. And chainsaws. I remember being absolutely terrified, but I didn’t want to hurt my Gran’s feelings by telling her to turn them off, so I kept trying to make excuses (I must have gone to the toilet seventeen times), or claiming I heard someone knocking at the door, or just staring at the wall above the telly trying to tune out the screams from the screen. But my Gran was sitting right next to me, and she kept pointing out all the gruesome bits, saying things like “Oh look, she’s just eaten his eyeballs.” That night, lying in bed at my Gran’s house (which was quite a scary place anyway, as there was a cupboard door in my room that would never stay closed and I was convinced monsters lived in there), I was absolutely terrified; literally petrified, I couldn’t even move in my bed. Right then, six years old, monsters were 100% real. Ghosts and zombies and serial killers with chainsaws were 100% real. There was no distinction between fantasy and reality in my head. Absolutely anything could happen. So, when my Gran walked into the bedroom (she must have sensed I was still awake), wearing nothing but a nightie, her teeth already out for the night, saying “Are you okay?” I was utterly convinced that she was a zombie. I fell out of bed, ran into a wall, and that’s all I can recall about that particular evening.

For a little while after that, I couldn’t even watch Scooby Doo without having a panic attack and bursting into tears. But I think that night is what gave me a real sense of the potential for horror. Obviously I didn’t rationalise it like this at the time, being only six, but looking back at that night, and the other times I was scared witless as a kid, it made me realise what I love about the genre: Horror makes the impossible possible.

Horror twists reality and fantasy in a way that no other genre does. How many times, when reading a scary book or watching a gruesome movie, have you felt that tickle of fear crawl up your spine, your scalp shrink, your guts churn? Not because of the words on the page or the images on the screen, but because right then, in that moment, you are convinced that the horror has leaked out into the real world – there really is a serial killer lurking behind the shower curtain, or a ghost in the mirror, or a brain-eating zombie right outside the front door. At the risk of sounding like a wimp, I regularly leave the hall light on at night because I’ve been reading something terrifying – and occasionally my bedroom light too (most recently a few weeks ago when I was utterly convinced there was a legless witch at the bottom of the stairs who wanted to eat me)! That isn’t sane, rational behaviour – it’s because deep down in my psyche I am absolutely, 100% convinced that there are bad things in the house, that the story has become real, just like I was when I was six.

For me, that is the true power of horror – it takes the boundless, depthless, incredible imagination of childhood and lets you explore it once again. As adults, we often lose that ability to lose ourselves in fantasy; it’s so much easier for us to rationalise, to distinguish between what is real and what is not, what is possible and what is impossible. I think we suffer for it, because we become rooted in reality, and we lose that sense of wonder and awe. For me, one of the best things about being a kid was that everything you read, watched, wrote, dreamed could be real, that literally anything could happen. Of course when you read any book or watch any film you suspend your disbelief a little, but you’re still often aware that what you’re experiencing is just a narrative. With horror, though, the physics of the story leak out of the pages, off the screen, they become as real as the world you live in; utterly, terrifyingly believable.

I’ve had a few people get in touch already to say that The Fury has had this effect on them, which is great! I wrote the book to get under your skin, to stay with you long after you have finished reading it. The core idea of the story – that at any moment, without warning, every single person in the world will turn against you, tear you to pieces, and then go back to their lives as if nothing has happened – will start off sounding ridiculous, impossible. But hopefully after reading it you’ll be in the mall, or at school, or at a football match, and suddenly you’ll start to wonder what you’d do if everyone fell silent and turned to look at you with expressions of utter hatred; if they all screamed at once and started running towards you with nothing but murder on their faces. You’ll start to plan your escape routes, your hiding places, what you might be able to use as a weapon. And in those moments, the story will have become real, you’ll be six years old again and living in a world where anything can happen.

Horror turns you into a kid again, it opens up your imagination, making everything possible. But it isn’t all about being scared. That’s the real beauty of it, I think. It’s like exercise for your brain – if you believe that monsters are real, even for a short time, then suddenly other impossible things become possible too: maybe even things about yourself that you never thought you could achieve. It makes you question your idea of reality, of your own world and your own potential. Suddenly you are no longer being told what’s real – you create your own reality, your own boundaries. It stops being a case of, “That’s impossible, I could never do that,” and becomes instead, “Well, who says it’s impossible?” That’s the true magic of horror. If anything can be real then anything can be possible. If anything is possible then anything is doable. And if anything is doable, then do it! Horror makes that happen.
Thanks, Darren, for letting me stop by on my blog tour!

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Huge thanks to Gordon for taking the time to write this for us. A lot of what he has written rings very true for me too - I have a habit of planning escape routes whenever we go out for a meal, etc - just in case the zombie apocalypse finally arrives during that evening. And this was long before I read The Fury. If you love horror and have not yet discovered the Furnace series or The Fury then shame on you!


Competition Details:

CALLING ALL ASPIRING YOUNG FILMMAKERS!!

A brand new competition from THE SPARK www.facebook.co.uk/thesparkpage, Faber’s new online community aimed at creative 13 – 18 year-olds.

THE FURY is a brand new YA thriller from Alexander Gordon Smith, about what would happen if, without warning, the whole world tried to kill you. It’s a non-stop, rollercoaster ride of excitement, mystery and supernatural terror – and we giving YOU the chance to create the trailer for it!

If you’re between the ages of 13 and 18 and fancy trying your hand at filmmaking, all you need to do is send us a script and storyboard for the trailer of THE FURY, by 2 July. You don’t need filmmaking experience or equipment – if your script is selected in our top five you’ll win a Flip camera with which to bring your trailer to life!

Finally, the filmmaker behind the best of those five trailers will win a £500 Apple Store voucher and see their film used worldwide as the official trailer for the book.

Go to the competition page http://www.facebook.com/stayfurious to find out more about the book, how to enter and tips on how to write the storyboard for your book trailer. Closing date Monday 2nd July 2012

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Review: The Demon's Watch by Conrad Mason


Half-goblin boy Joseph Grubb lives in Fayt, a bustling trading port where elves, trolls, fairies and humans live side by side. Fed up of working at the Legless Mermaid tavern, Grubb dreams of escape - until a whirlwind encounter with a smuggler plunges him into Fayt's criminal underworld. There he meets the Demon's Watch and learns of their mission to save the port from a mysterious and deadly threat. Can Grubb and his new allies uncover the dark plot in time, or will they end up as fish food in Harry's Shark Pit?

Based on The Demon's Watch, his debut novel, Conrad Mason is most definitely an author to watch out for in the future. Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that I do not read a great deal of what I would call traditional fantasy - magic, trolls, goblins and the like, set in fantasy worlds. Apart from The Lord of the Rings, which I have read many times, I have never gelled with traditional fantasy stories for adults, even though I have tried many of the masters of the genre. However, this book had been sitting on my To Be Read pile for some time, and having read a variety of books in other genres I felt like something different and took the plunge..... and I loved it! Yet again, David Fickling has struck gold!

I think my biggest problem with adult fantasy is the time spent world-building. I just do not have the patience for pages and pages of background information about a world and its flora and fauna. And this is exactly why I had no problem at all with The Demon's Watch - like the best writers of children's and YA fantasy Conrad Mason manages to build and populate his fantastic world without slowing down the fast pace of his story with lengthy, yawn-inducing info-dumps. 

For me there are two things that really make The Demon's Watch: the characters and the dialogue between them. The two combined make for a hugely entertaining and comic fantasy story that will have young readers enchanted. Conrad Mason has filled his story with characters to rival those in any of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. There is orphan Joseph Grubb, half human and half goblin, as as such is on the receiving end of many a bigoted remark, especially from his uncle who works him to the bone in his tavern. Joseph's lot is not a happy one, and longs for a happier life, filled with adventure. Through a series of incidents he finds himself falling in with The Demon's Watch, a rag-tag bunch of watchmen who try to keep some kind of order in the port of Fayt. Captain Newton, their leader, oversees a motley crew made up of a magician, a headstrong and impulsive girl, an elf and a pair of trolls. Sometimes their escapades come across as an calamity of errors, but  between the laughs you can't help but care for them and hope that all turns out OK in the end.

For a debut novel this is something special - Conrad Mason is obviously a very gifted storyteller. He knows exactly how to engage his readers and keep their attention for the whole story. He weaves a multitude of twists into his tale, and young readers will delight in rooting for their heroes as the machinations of the rather nasty compliment of villains unfold. I for one cannot wait to continue my journey with Joseph Grubb and his new-found friends.

My thanks go to the lovely people at David Fickling books for sending me a copy to read.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Review: Hit List by Jack Heath


Meet Ash and Ben, teen master thieves; stealing for the rich, hiding from the law...and wanted by some of the deadliest men and women in the world. Ashley Arthur and her best friend, Benjamin, are teen thieves working for the billionaire Hammond Buckland, hunting down stolen artefacts and returning them to their rightful owners - for a fee. But when they stumble across an SOS from an imprisoned girl, they realise they're in over their heads. Because there are others looking for the girl. Corrupt governments. Ruthless corporations. Rogue assassins. Suddenly it's Ash and Ben at the top of everyone's hit list...and when you're about to break into the largest intelligence agency in the world to rescue a mysterious stranger, that's a seriously dangerous place to be.


I am an unashamed fan of the works of author Matthew Reilly, as many of you will already know from the handful of reviews I have written for Reilly books. Action, adventure, guns, explosions, I love them all. Year in, year out thrillers by Matthew Reilly and his many contemporaries rank highly in lists of best selling books, and yet the action thriller genre is often overlooked when it comes to YA literature, or packaged as a time travel adventure, science fiction adventure, etc. Jack Heath is (almost) single-handedly doing something to redress this imbalance.


Last July I wrote a review for Money Run, the first book in Jack Heath's series featuring teen thief Ashley Arthur, and her best friend and ICT whizz, Benjamin. I loved Money Run, and I have been waiting impatiently for the sequel ever since. Although some adult reviewers have questioned the morality of a story that features a pair of teen thieves, I really do not care. Said reviewers probably also read the Daily Mail, and spend their lives searching for something to criticise. Yes, in a way it glamourises theft, but so do programmes like Hustle (popular amongst teens at my school). This is fiction, after all, and to say that young people are going to be encouraged to enter a life of crime by reading books like this would be incredibly patronising. 
Perhaps this is not the time to now say that it had me daydreaming about a life of high-end crime, stealing stolen artefacts in order to return them to their original owners, but I just could not help it. Jack Heath has a way of writing that pulls the reader into the action right from the very first page, and he doesn't let go until the final page has been turned. I'm not sure Hit List or Money Run will win many book awards (at least, not those voted for by adults - why is it the shortlists for these awards rarely ever match those for awards decided by young readers themselves?), but they will surely be devoured by young readers with a thirst for action.


I can't say too much about Hit List without giving away some key plot points of the first book in the series. What I will say is that it is more of the same, and I mean this in a very positive way indeed. Hit List was everything that the first book was, and more. This time the action is not confined to one building or one evening, as Money Run was. After narrowly escaping death whilst looking for treasure, things almost return to normal for Ash until she makes an opportunistic break-in of the city library. Whilst there she stumbles across a mysterious, coded cry for help that sees her heading off to Mountain View, California, with the intention of breaking into the headquarters of the largest intelligence agency in the world. If that wasn't enough to contend with, she also has a dangerous assassin hot on her heels and hellbent for revenge, as well as a rival thief who has a reputation for being merciless. As with Money Run, to say much more would be to spoil the various twists that Jack Heath weaves into his story, but if you liked the first book then I guarantee that you will enjoy this one just as much, if not more.


I tweeted Jack Heath recently, asking him if there were going to be more books featuring Ash and Benjamin. It would seem that it all depends on how well this book sells, so if you like action thrillers make sure you get your hands on a copy now. And if you like it, tell all of your friends as I certainly want to read more.


My thanks go to the good people at Usborne for sending me a copy of Hit List to read.



Thursday, 19 April 2012

News: Red House Young Writers' Competition

Aggghhh.... curse you gmail spam filter! I have just found an email featuring the following news looking very lonely in my spam box and I had to share it with you as you still have nearly a fortnight to get your entries in (closing date is 2nd May).

Red House Books seeks talented young writers for 2012 Yearbook!

Is your child a budding writer, poet, or journalist? If so, we have a brilliant opportunity to get their work in print! We want aspiring young writers from around the country to enter the 2012 Red House Young Writers’ Yearbook competition and win the chance to see their stories or poems published in a beautiful hardback book.

To enter the competition, your child should be aged between 7 and 17. They can submit a story, poem or article and it’s up to the individual what subject they choose to write about. This year the competition entries will be divided into four age categories: 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+.

As well as becoming a published author, your youngster will also win the opportunity to attend a Red House Young Writers’ Workshop, which will be held at our headquarters in Surrey and run by Matt Whyman, the bestselling author of Goldstrike and Inside the Cage. The workshop provides participants with fun and stimulating challenges to help them hone their skills and lots of feedback to encourage and inspire! If you would like to see the standard and range of work produced by previous young yearbook authors, why not buy a copy of the Red House Young Writers’ Yearbook 2011! This inspirational book is the perfect present for wannabe writers. To enter, simply fill out the form below.

Entries must be under 1000 words
.

Head on over to the Red House website here for the competition entry details and web-form.




News: Authors Live - David Walliams

A while ago I wrote about a free online author event being organised by Scottish Book Trust, featuring Scotland's National Poet Liz Lochhead. Well those lovely people at Scottish Book Trust are up their tricks again, and this time they have a really beauty for you - none other than actor, comedian, talent show judge and writer of brilliant children's books, David Walliams. Here are the details:


You have seen him on your TV, now watch him on your computer! Multi-talented funny man David Walliams will be talking about his hilarious new book Gangsta Granny. Guaranteed to cause an epidemic of smiles to breakout across the UK.

The event will be streamed live to audiences across the UK at 11am on Thursday, 10th May. It will then become available to watch again for free by Thursday, 17th May for everyone worldwide!

You can join tens of thousands of pupils across the UK watching the event live.

Parents, readers and fans of David can watch the event by going directly to the BBC website at 11am on Thursday, 10thMay: http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/learning/authorslive/

Or, if you are a teacher, you can register your entire class by following this link: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/learning/authors-live/david-walliams

If you can’t make the live broadcast the entire event can be downloaded or streamed for free from Thursday, 17th May here: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/learning/authors-live/david-walliams

We are really looking forward to this event: David Walliams is a brilliant entertainer and this promises to be a fantastic event.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

News: Final Design for US Book Cover for Escape From Furnace: Execution by Alexander Gordon Smith

Just over a month ago I posted an image of the cover of the US edition of Escape From Furnace: Execution by Alexander Gordon Smith. This is the final book in his Furnace series and is due out in the US in November. However, that cover has now changed slightly and today I received an email from the US publisher with the final cover attached, and a huge surprise for me..... I am quoted on the front cover! This is my first ever front cover quote and I am so chuffed that it is for a series that I really believe in, and have been championing ever since I read the first book.

I have said on here before that I love the cover designs for the US editions, and I confess that I have been buying them  to add to my collection. Quote aside, the cover for Execution is my favourite in the series, and I had a message from Alexander Gordon Smith today telling me that it is his favourite as well. The publisher also informed me that the US print and ebook editions will also include the epilogue that does not appear in the UK editions, and over here can only be read online. Having read the epilogue I think that this is a great move by FSG.

Here is the final cover, in all its folded out awesomeness. Click on the image for a really good, blown-up look at it.


Monday, 16 April 2012

News: Book Cover: Zom-B by Darren Shan

Edit: Review now added at:

http://bookzone4boys.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/review-zom-b-by-darren-shan.html

Back in October I posted a press release I received from Simon and Schuster regarding their announcement that Darren Shan had signed with them to produce a new series of books titled Zom-B. The first book in this series is scheduled to be launched on 27th September, and the further 11 books in the series will then be released one every three months until 2015. Today S&S revealed the cover of Zom-B at the London book fair, and now they want to share it with world. The cover was designed by Nick Stearn, aided and abetted by illustrator Cliff Nielson and I love it. I think we are being left in no doubt at all as to what these books will be about! Just imagine those fingernails tearing into your throat!!



Guest Post: Mistry Monday by Sarwat Chadda



On Friday I journeyed into London to attend the 'not a launch' launch party for Sarwat Chadda's Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress. It was great to catch up with Sarwat, and a number of other authors and bloggerswho had ventured into the city to help Sarwat celebrate. Now Sarwat has very kindly written a piece for The Book Zone, focusing on the villain of Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress. if you haven't read the book yet then you really should have a quick read of my review and then go out and get your hands on a copy. Now, over to Sarwat:

Evolution of a Bad Guy by Sarwat Chadda 

A book is only as interesting as its bad guy. After all, how else can the hero be measured? There’re just so many cats Superman can save out of a tree before we need Lex Luthor ready to nuke the West Coast.

I probably had more fun creating the bad guy out of ‘Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress’ than I did the hero, Ash. Ash was easy. He was 13, a bit geeky, and bit cowardly and had the same interests as most 13 yo boys. Which is hanging out with mates, playing computer games, and trying to talk to girls. I think having been one myself made it a lot easier. Ash is easy to understand. He’s just a normal kid. It is what happens to him that’s extraordinary and why we’re interested in the book. We want our characters to be thrown in the shark tank and we want to see what happens. Sink, swim, get chewed to death in a vortex of limbs, fins and blood, or they bite back.

So, I needed to create my own, particular story shark.

I love sharks. They’re so basic, so primitive, so perfectly designed. Pure predator with no extra bits. You never look at a shark and think ‘gosh, how sleek and look at the pretty eyes’ you think ‘OMG, get out of the water!’. I wanted that sort of bad guy. Someone you would never, ever mistake for anything else.

So, allow me to present the guide to ‘Building a better bad guy’.

  1. There are no bad guys. Everyone is the hero of their own story. Whatever mad, world-destroying scheme they may have, there’s a reason for it. The reason may only be reasonable to their own twisted little minds, but it has to exist. Bad guys being bad ‘just because’ will not wash. Now I’m not talking about some childhood trauma, that’s fine but we’re wanting to go EPIC, so we need more. Give them grand plans with a twisted logic. Lord Savage is an archaeologist, a searcher for knowledge. He’s not satisfied with just what’s in books or stuff other people have discovered, he wants to push the boundaries and find out for himself. That’s a rather commendable trait, don’t you think? So, if the opportunity to learn from the greatest magician the world has ever known came up, of course he’d go for it. He wouldn’t let anyone stand in his way. Unfortunately that magician is the demon king Ravana, and freeing demons is generally BAD. But that’s not how Savage thinks. He’s dedicated to the endless pursuit of knowledge and has the arrogance to believe he’ll be wise enough to control it. The guys who invented the atom bomb probably thought the same way. 
  2. Cool henchmen. Come on, what’s a supervillain without henchmen? Oddjob, Jaws, Darth Maul and even Spike had henchmen. I’m not talking about minions. Minions are faceless and have no credentials but their number. Like zombies. Nobody remembers an individual zombie. The appeal of zombies is quantity. Henchmen you remember. Often as good as the hero, but for a single flaw (usually arrogance). They provide the penultimate challenge before they face the Big Bad. Design them with thought and care; they have the potential to be legends in their own right. After all, Darth Vader is technically a henchman. So, if I’ve already got my villain, Lord Savage, what sort of henchmen would he have? Since he’s an archaeologist, characters with history. Since he deals with demons, then demons are good. The scarier the better (should there ever be any other kind?). BUT they must be heroes in their stories too. The demons in Ash Mistry are tragic outcasts in a world that hates them. So they return that hate tenfold. They were the losers in the ancient battle between human and demonkind and since then have been feared and despised. So, they relish the fear they generate. They revel in the horror because that’s all they have left. 
  3. Location, location, location. Be it a hollowed out-volcano or Death Star, your bad guy needs a home. It has to be part of his personality and the setting for the book. You will not get Bond and Blofeld facing down in your local Tesco. My personal preference is something grand, operatic. I am writing fantasy so feel no urge to be restrained. Climactic battles should involve thunder, lightning, screaming hordes of demons and lava. Villains are never faced down in a meadow of spring flowers. Grand bad guys need grand digs. Locations should be exotic, and twisted. So, where to put Savage and his henchmen? Something old, decaying yet filled with ancient grandeur. I was extraordinarily lucky when I did my research for the book. I had planned for it to be set in India and India does epic like the Sahara does desert. I found a rundown maharajah’s palace on the banks of the Ganges. Crocodiles lurked in the river-side reeds while the dusty statues of gods and demons looked on from the battlements. I hardly needed to change a thing to turn it into the Savage Fortress. 
Of course there’s more to building bad guys, but the above are the top three. I’m pretty damn proud of Lord Alexander Savage. He’s a man of learning, culture and elegance. He’s a serial killer with demons at his beck and call. He made his fortune with slaves and opium during the dark days of the 18th and 19th Centuries and is not ready to quit any time soon. Do go and meet him for yourself.


Friday, 13 April 2012

Review: The Fury by Alexander Gordon Smith


Imagine if one day, without warning, the entire human race turns against you. Every single person you meet becomes a bloodthirsty, mindless savage, hell-bent on killing you - and only you. Friends, family, even your mum and dad, will turn on you. They will murder you. And when they have, they will go back to their lives as if nothing has happened. The world has the Fury. It will not rest until you are dead. Cal, Brick and Daisy are three ordinary teenagers whose lives suddenly take a terrifying turn for the worst. They begin to trigger a reaction in everybody they meet, that makes friends and strangers alike want to tear them to pieces. These victims of the Fury - the ones that survive - manage to locate each other. But just when they think they have found a place to hide from the world, some of them begin to change . . . They must fight to uncover the truth about the Fury before it's too late. But it is a truth that will destroy everything they know about life and death.

There are a handful of authors for whom I will drop everything to read their new book when it arrives. Alexander Gordon Smith is one of them. His Escape From Furnace series is not only one of my favourite series of recent years, but also one of my all-time favourite series of YA horror books. In my opinion he leaves most of the competition standing, and yes, I include Shan and Higson there.

What I love most about the Furnace series, and now The Fury can be added to this as well, is the way Gordon (for that is how he prefers to be known) taps into the things that we fear the most. I'm not talking about spiders, rats, death here, but those primal fears that lurk deep with our psyches have done for millennia. Loss of freedom, loss of identity, loss of the things that make us human were all themes covered in the Furnace books, and now in The Fury Gordon goes for the jugular and builds his story around a fear that nearly every child, teenager and adult fears deeply - their friends and family, the people they love the most in the world, turning on them. And we're not just talking playground bullying here, or petty arguments between friends. In The Fury a handful of young people find their loved ones suddenly turning on them,  chasing them and literally trying to pull them apart, like a pack of hyaenas slaughtering an isolated baby gazelle.

In The Fury it is as if Alexander Gordon Smith has taken the whole zombie genre, put it in a blender, added his own twisted imagination and incredible talent in equal measures and pressed the on switch. The result is something that is a gore-filled, feral frenzy of a story, with an underlying theme that will have you thinking about it for weeks after the final page has been turned. It is the book that puts Alexander Gordon Smith ahead of the pack in the race for the title of 'the Stephen King of YA horror'.

The blurb at the beginning of this review tells you pretty much all you need to know about the story, although I will clarify one major point. Although similar in nature to the traditional zombie story it differs in one significant way - there is not a zombie in sight, and this is what makes it even more terrifying. Certain individuals suddenly find their nearest and dearest filled with a blood lust and a single-minded desire to pound them into a bloody pulp, even if it means pain and injury to themselves in the process, and yet once the deed is done they immediately return to normal, as if some omnipotent being is turning their 'behave-like-a-zombie switch' on and off for fun. So if you love horror, but are tired with the idea of legions of rotting, stumbling undead munching on brains, then this is the book for you.

This is a 500-page book and yet it reads like something much slimmer in page count. I mean this as the greatest of compliments. There is not a single word of padding in this story, and every word is made to count, and as such there is no scene or passage in the book that ever feels like it is dragging its heels. Instead, I found myself poring through the pages as rapidly as possible, desperately concerned for the fate of the small handful of well-crafted characters that the author collects together. Alexander Gordon Smith is a master story teller and he knows when to speed things up and have the reader's heart pounding hard on their ribcage, and he knows when it is time to give that heart a brief moment of respite before turning the dial back up to 11 and beyond.

The Fury is the first book in a two-part series from Alexander Gordon Smith, and as such does not come anywhere close to having an ending that answers the questions posed during the story. However, it does leave us lusting for more, although at present I am not sure when the sequel is due to be published. If you are at all like me it will also have you thinking about it for weeks after, its themes sneaking back into your conscious thoughts when you least expect it.

The Fury was published by Faber Teens on 5th April. My thanks go to the publisher for kindly sending me a copy to review. Check out the piece that Gordon wrote for me some time ago explaining some of his inspiration behind The Fury, and please come back later this month for another guest post by the author.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

News: ROK Comics announce first audio comic, Team MOBILE, released on iTunes

I had an email earlier today about a new comic that has just been launched. However, it is a comic with a difference, as it is audio-enhanced. I have pasted the press release for you below. I am very intrigued about this as another possible way to encourage boys to start reading for pleasure. I have finally been allowed to buy an iPad and it should arrive within the next week or so. I think Team M.O.B.I.L.E. might be one of the first apps I download onto it.




Press release: 

ROK Comics, Britain's dedicated mobile comics publisher, has published its first originated audio comic title for the iPad – TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E.

Featuring a fully authored audio soundtrack and its own theme tune, TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. is the exciting story of teenage secret agents battling dangerous enemies across the globe.

An ongoing adventure story, the first issue of TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. centres on the story of misfit duo Maisy Brown and Sam Thompson, who are recruited into a secret organisation to battle crime, terrorism and other dangers.

TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. is the creation of ROK Group PLC co-founder Jonathan Kendrick.

Jonathan has long harboured an ambition to marry comics with sound and published on mobile devices including the iPad and iPhone. Inspired by a love of James Bond and comics, he came up with the back story for the comic, including its top secret 'MindMerge' technology and gadgets.

"We are really pleased with the originality and quality of our first audio comic which has just been published on the iTunes store and we look forward to developing the story further," said Jonathan.

The strip is written by John Freeman from storylines by Jonathan Kendrick, with art by Andrew Chiu. Kris Carter is colouring the title, with Jim Campbell providing lettering and logos.

John's credits include work for Marvel, Judge Dredd Megazine and Black Ops Extreme for STRIP – The Comic Magazine, but he's perhaps better known as an editor, for ROK Comics and titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine, STRIP and many others.

Andrew's credits include 2000 AD, the mainstay of the British comics industry, DC Comics, Vertigo Comics and ILEX Press.

Kris Carter's credits include Transformers and Doctor Who while Jim Campbell has worked for pretty much every major British comic publisher and some American companies, too.

The soundtrack, which complements the strip action, features the voices of both British and American actors, produced by Sneaky Snake Films in New York. The Team M.O.B.I.L.E. theme tune was created by accomplished composer Bob Townley, who's worked with a number of established chart artists in the US and UK.

ROK Comics is also publishing strips for mobile under license, including an Andy Capp (http://itunes.apple.com/app/andy-capp/id502842834) iPhone app in partnership with the Mirror newspaper and a Viz iPhone app (http://itunes.apple.com/app/viz-strip-teaser/id498509606) in partnership with Dennis Publishing.

Three iPhone apps published in partnership with individual creators – Ligeia the Vampire (http://itunes.apple.com/app/ligeia/id409858722) by Rodrigo Diaz Ricci, The Mobile Gospel(http://itunes.apple.com/app/mobile-gospel/id409877719) by Rich Diesslin and Madd Science (http://itunes.apple.com/app/madd-science/id409860018) by Steve English – are also available.

Further comics are in development.

ROK Comics, part of ROK Global PLC, continues to provide mobile comics content for WAP subscription services across the globe and is currently working with partners in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

• Team M.O.B.I.L.E. on iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/app/team-mobile-comic/id516600477

• Team M.O.B.I.L.E.online: www.theteammobile.com

• Visit ROK Comics at: www.rokcomics.com

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

My Life That Books Built: Guest Post by Jon Weir: Christopher Pike and what he means to me

Back at the beginning of 2011 I launched a feature here on The Book Zone called 'My Life That Books Built'. Sadly I only managed a grand total of two posts before it fell by the wayside due to work pressures and the volume of books I was reading and reviewing. I have been intending to relaunch that feature, and this post seems to be the perfect one to get it going. However, this one is not about a book that affected my life, but is instead a guest post by Jon Weir, the Senior Publicity Manager at Gollancz/Orion Books, and fellow Wonder Woman fan.

Jon is one of the many unsung heroes of us bloggers. Jon and the multitude of people who work in similar positions at publishing houses across the land are the people who provide us bloggers with many of the books we review. They are also the people who spend weeks of their lives accompanying authors on tours and book festival visits, sitting quietly in the background whilst their authors get all the attention, and then travel on to the next town, staying in yet another hotel. Invariably they return home a week/fortnight/longer later and collapse into an exhausted heap.

Some time ago Jon mentioned on Twitter about his love of the Christopher Pike books and how they were a huge part of his teenage life, and I asked him if he would be interested in writing a piece for The Book Zone. Much of the horror genre passed me by when I was in my teens and buried in reading mystery stories and crime thrillers, but I was keen to know more now as even with the glut of teen horror stories available today those of Christopher Pike are still relatively popular in the school library. Jon very kindly wrote this fantastic piece for us, and also provided us with a Christopher Pike must-read list. Over to you Jon:


~~~

I used to live in my local library when I was a kid. I had a few friends but I think the librarians knew me better than any of them. I’d spend hours scanning the shelves for new reads, usually horror, almost always in the adult sections (being, as we all were at that age, a fan of Stephen King), but occasionally I had a quick gander at the ‘teenage’ section. (YA didn’t seem to be have been invented as a publishing trend back then.) I avoided the imprints or books that had ‘teenage’ actually as part of the name or design; they would inevitably be a bit bleak, moralistic or just dull books I didn’t want to read. And one day, I discovered, quite by chance, a book called ‘Witch’. The author was the intriguingly named Christopher Pike.

The cover was dark, the image of a girl hiding her face behind her hands was little bit menacing, the title font unmistakably horror orientated and the plot description hooked me enough to add it to my pile. I had other books I was itching to read first but back home, something compelled me to pick this one up first. And that’s where my Pike addiction began. ‘Witch’ was, pardon the pun, spellbinding. I finished the book almost in tears, both because of the story and because I realised I’d found someone who wrote the sort of stuff I wanted to read, who knew instinctively what ticked every literary box for my 15 year old self.. In the same way that ‘The Goonies’ was the adventure every kid wished they could have, Pike knew that what teenagers really wanted was to be free of adult constraints and making their own way, even if their best friend did turn out to be a deranged psychopath.

Pike’s early stuff was relatively straight forward; often more mystery than horror and firmly rooted in the suburbs of white picket America, he wove tales of the secrets and lies that bubble underneath blooming teenage romances and friendships, erupting in jealousy, rage and always, of course, murder. He gradually moved towards less formulaic and more sophisticated stories that encompassed witchcraft, reincarnation, magic and aliens and later books feature, often a little heavily, elements of ancient Indian folklore and mysticism, something Pike may have had a clear love for but was often over-egged in too many stories.

But I hold his books in particular regard because he loved a misfit – growing up as a gay kid, with little in the way of inspiring characters, Pike’s love of those teens that live outside the norms was a breath of fresh air. Not just token stereotypes to be picked off, he put them centre stage confronting the evil or leading the charge while your typical jock and cheerleader cut outs, the staple fare of many teen horror books at that time, were usually the cannon fodder. It was a call to arms I’d rarely seen in a teen book. He took teenagers and their world seriously, and while many argued he over indulged on violence, bad language and sex, I’d argue he simply didn’t talk down to teenagers and pretend those issues didn’t exist or cause harm.

I had a near brush with meeting the man himself when Books for Keeps, one of the teenage book magazines I used to write for when I was still at school and university, arranged for me to go to his publisher’s offices on a rare trip to the UK. Sadly, a rail strike scuppered that encounter and I went to Alton Towers instead. Fate, in her fickle way, shone on me again a few years later when Young Book Trust magazine, another of my regular gigs, arranged for me to interview him. The man called me from Santa Barbara and after about an hour, I put the phone down, a nervous, gibbering, awestruck fanboy. The subsequent interview, in hindsight, is pretty terrible but I can’t deny it was a pretty amazing feeling to know I’d talked to him. I am glad I lost the tape of it years ago though so no one will ever hear the sound of me fawning!

Most of his stuff appears to be if not out of print, then available haphazardly or bundled together in omnibus additions aimed squarely at a female readership. But his books feature wonderful interplay between boys and girls, and they have never been exclusively for girls, even in slightly soppier stuff like the spiritual 'Sati', featuring a young girl who claims she is God. I hope that his books receive a well deserved re-release so this generation of readers, girls AND boys, can experience the joys and horrors of adolescence, Christopher Pike style. Growing up was never so dangerous or so much fun.

~~~


Christopher Pike recommended reading list:


1) Master of Murder – a twisty, complex mystery that shows Pike is as good, if not better, when not dwelling in the supernatural.

2) Witch – the first Pike book I ever read and it broke my heart. It’ll break yours too.

3) Monster – the best opening of any Pike novel ever and an utterly brilliant horror novel.

4) The Season of Passage – a genre blending adult novel of SF and horror, terrifying and beautiful in equal measure.

5) Final Friends - strictly, a trilogy, but Pike is at his best when tackling fractured friendships that result in bloodshed.

6) Remember Me – a since well worn plot device of a story told through the eyes of a dead person that still felt fresh when Pike used it, Remember Me is about realising when it’s time to move on and to be happy for those left behind. It’s a wonderful story, sadly done little justice by a couple of unnecessary sequels.



~~~

Huge thanks to Jon for taking the time to share this with. I promise to try to spend more time on 'My Life That Books Built' in the future. If any other publicity people or bloggers fancy writing a guest post in a similar vein then it would be very gratefully received.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Review: Unrest by Michelle Harrison


Seventeen-year-old Elliott hasn’t slept properly for months. Not since the accident that nearly killed him. Sometimes he half-wakes, paralysed, while shadowy figures move around him. Other times he is the one moving around, while his body lies asleep on the bed. His doctors say sleep paralysis and out of body experiences are harmless - but to Elliott they’re terrifying.

Convinced that his brush with death has attracted the spirit world, Elliott secures a job at a reputedly haunted museum, determined to discover the truth. There, he meets the enigmatic Ophelia. But, as she and Elliott grow closer, Elliott draws new attention from the dead. One night, during an out of body experience, Elliott returns to bed to find his body gone. Something is occupying it, something dead that wants to live again . . . and it wants Ophelia, too . . .


Two months ago I posted a review of James Dawson's Hollow Pike. Although I didn't voice this in my review, at the time I felt that it was probably going to be the stand-out teen supernatural book of the year. I was wrong. Although I enjoyed Hollow Pike a lot, Michelle Harrison's Unrest is now the ghost story to beat this year!

I have not read any of Michelle's Thirteen Treasures books, as I am not particularly fired up about fairies, however nasty they might be. However, I had high hopes for this one as many of my blogger friends have talked to me about how great Michelle's writing is, and with this book being aimed at a teen audience, and also having a male main character I had a feeling that this would be more my thing. I was not to be disappointed - Unrest is an exquisitely written ghost story that will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention as shivers run down your spine.

The main character of the story is Elliott, a seventeen-year-old who very nearly died in a hit-and-run accident some months earlier. In actual fact, Elliott was clinically dead for a few minutes as the paramedics fought to save him as he watched on. Yes, you read that right - Elliott's spirit/ghost/call-it-what-you-may saw his lifeless body lying in the road, his rescuers surrounding it, until his was suddenly pulled back into his body as he was resuscitated. Since then Ellioot has struggled to sleep and he often finds himself moving around outside of his sleeping body, and is haunted by the ghost of Tess Fielding, a young lady who committed suicide some years earlier in the flat where he now lives with his father.

As Elliott's night time experiences become increasingly more sinister and threaten to drive him insane he decides to take action by applying for a job at a local living museum that is rumoured to be haunted. In doing this he hopes to discover whether he can actually see ghosts when he is asleep, or whether he is just going mad. At the museum he meets the standoffish Ophelia, who initially holds no attraction for him at all, but following an incident that finds the pair being carted off to the local police station Ophelia begins to warm a little to Elliott and he starts to see through the icy fa├žade that she hides behind. He also has his first night staying at the museum, following one of their ghost walks, and at this point things begin to get nasty for Elliott as he works out that he is definitely not mad, he really can see ghosts but as such he could also be in a great deal of danger.

This is an outstanding ghost story laced with mystery and menace, and to say much more about the plot would spoil it as there are a number of twists, some of which I did see coming. Away from the plot though there are many other great elements to Michelle's writing. Her characters are spot on. Unrest is written in the first person, and as someone who works with a lot of teenage boys I can assure you that Michelle has absolutely nailed Elliott's voice. I can just imagine her loitering around bus shelters or sneaking into sixth form common rooms, making notes of the language and dialogue used by seventeen year old boys. I am guessing that Michelle has also done a great deal of research into out of body experiences as, although I can't personally claim to have had one, these scenes seemed very real and spine chilling. I used to think it would be cool to have an out of body experience. No longer, thank you very much!

The pacing of the story is perfect, and I found myself completely drawn into Elliott's world, and ended up reading it well into the night (I love the school holidays!). The ending is also spot on, with every loose end neatly tied up, and I hope it is left this way. Although I would love to read more YA supernatural fiction from Michelle Harrison I think my lasting memories of this being such an enjoyable read might be marred slightly should there be a sequel.

Unrest is published by Simon Pulse and is due to be released on 26 April. My huge thanks go to the publisher for sending me a copy to read/review.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Review: Floors by Patrick Carman


Welcome to the strangest hotel in the world!

There’s no place on earth like the Whippet Hotel. Every floor has its surprises and secrets. Guests are either mad or mysterious. And ducks are everywhere.

If anyone knows the Whippet, it’s Leo, the caretaker’s son. But when he finds four strange boxes that lead him to hidden floors he realises something extraordinary is going on.

As the hotel begins to fall apart, Leo's on the ride of his life, without ever having to step outside.

Walter E. Whippet's dying words to his son Merganzer were: "You will prosper in the field of wacky inventions". Merganzer took this to mean that he should use his inherited billions to create something unique and so he bought an entire Manhattan block, had all the buildings pulled down, and proceeded to build the weirdest, strangest, most unusual hotel in the world... ever! Unusually for Manhattan it was a very small hotel surrounded by grounds vast enough to make a property developer weep at the waste of incredibly expensive space.

Those who did not know better assumed the Whippet Hotel to have only nine floors, topped with a pond on the roof as Merganzer was especially fond of ducks. Not many people choose to stay at the hotel as it is horrendously expensive, and those that do all seem to be rather eccentric in one way or another. The hotel is run by a skeleton staff of Leo Fillmore and his father Clarence (maintenance); Mr Phipps (gardener); Ms Sparks (particularly nasty desk clerk and general manager); Pilar (maid) and her son Remi (newly appointed bellboy). All meals are delivered from a local restaurant so there is no need for kitchen staff. 

Of course, there is also Merganzer Whippet himself, but he has mysteriously gone missing, and as the story starts he has been missing for 100 days, leaving his hotel and his beloved ducks in the care of his staff. On this 100th day, as he is collecting the ducks for walk in the gardens, Leo discovers a box in the duck life with his name on, and so the adventure begins as he has to solve the clues and get to the bottom of the mystery, as the hotel starts to fall apart around him. All the time he is looking over his shoulder, suspecting that there is someone in the hotel, guest or staff member, hellbent on causing chaos through sabotage, possibly with a view to helping the mysterious Bernard Frescobaldi obtain the hotel and its valuable land at a knock-down price.

Floors is a really fun read, and before I knew it I had read it in a single sitting (ahhh... the benefits of the school holidays). I think it is a great book for the 9+ age group, who will love the mystery and suspense, as well as the comedy that runs throughout the story. The various incredible rooms in the hotel will fire up children's imaginations, and have them wishing for their very own Pinball Machine room, Room of Ponds and Caves, or Robot Room. Whilst reading about these I was reminded of the various areas in Willy Wonka's factory, and how much pleasure I got out of reading about them when I was a child. Just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I think Floors would make a great family film and I wouldn't be surprised if there is some interest Hollywood in the book.

Although I have drawn parallels with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I must also add that I do not think that Patrick Carman's storytelling is quite up to the level of the late, great Roald Dahl. The characters and the hotel are well imagined, but some of the scenes in the bizarre, hidden lacked faultless pace the clarity of description that we get in a Roald Dahl book. However, this one small gripe has not stopped me from looking forward to the next book in what I believe is intended to be a series. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, but we are given a small handful of hints that there are more adventures to come for Leo and his friends in the Whippet Hotel.

Floors was published by Chicken House at the beginning of January and my thanks go to the publisher for sending me a copy to review.