Thursday 30 June 2011

Review: The Damned by David Gatward

The Dead don't just want to return, they want Earth for themselves. And it's Lazarus Stone, Keeper of the Dead, who has to stop them. Trouble is, the Dead are the exact opposite of rotting, stumbling corpses. And they desire one thing only: to live again. To do that, all they need is a good supply of fresh, warm bodies... Lazarus now knows his mum murdered him, betrayed his dad, and is about to open a portal between worlds that will bring about the end of life as we know it. Trouble is, his best mate has disappeared (again), he still hasn't rescued his dad (but he will), and the only help he has is that of an undead priest (who carries a blunderbuss) and a female angel (who drives a 4x4 and has an alcohol problem). This isn't just about saving the world, this is personal...

A number of my friends think it is more than a little odd that I choose to read a great deal of books written for children and teenagers. Every time we have a conversation along these lines I implore them to have a try themselves as I know they will be very surprised at the quality of writing and story that is prevalent in the world of children’s and YA fiction these days.

This year, due to cutbacks in the school’s budget, we will not be buying in or (borrowing through the Education Library Service) as many adult books as we have in the past. The main reason for this is that our sixth formers rarely ever come in to the library to borrow fiction, and so we have to prioritise buying books for the younger readers. Every summer we hold a Staff Summer Reading Day where my librarian creates a huge display of titles that our staff can borrow for their summer holidays, but this year, because of these cutbacks, we are doing things a little differently. We are calling it “Embrace Your Inner Child” and the majority of titles will be from your main fiction shelves, sorted into various genres, and hopefully I will be able to bring many more adults around to my way of thinking:

A good story is a good story, whatever the age group it is written for!

David Gatward’s The Dead series is a perfect example of this within the horror genre and it will have a position of great prominence on the horror table on the staff reading day. He writes books that can be enjoyed equally by 12 year olds discovering horror for the first time, and forty year old horror fan-boys who have grown up loving the likes of HP Lovecraft and Clive Barker, and horror films such as Hellraiser and the giallo movies that came out of Italy during the 1970s, all this very much evidenced by the rave reviews he has received by many highly respected horror publications. The Dead was superb, The Dark even better, and the third instalment, The Damned, has raised the bar of children’s blood-soaked horror to an even greater height. It is nothing short of brilliant from beginning to end, and by far my favourite of the trilogy.

The end of The Dark was pretty brutal and left me as a reader craving to find out how on earth Lazarus would save his father and prevent the opening of a permanent portal between our world and that of the Dead. I say “how on earth”, but maybe it would be more accurate to add “and hell” to that, as this time Lazarus must travel even further beyond the world as we know it on his mission to save us all. As I said, I loved every moment of The Damned, but for me the story became more than special once Lazarus and crossed over to the other side and started to fight his way through to the realm of The Fallen. David’s story moves at a frantic pace, leaving his characters barely enough time to breathe, and his readers feeling pretty much the same, and yet his fast paced style does not come at the cost of poor descriptions of locations or the various entities that we encounter along the way that we sometimes see from other less accomplished writing. Despite the fast pace, every scene is brought alive by the quality of the author’s descriptive writing and reading this trilogy has at times felt like a cinematic experience. When describing the lands of the Dead and his version of hell his talent really shines.

I know David Gatward was a little down towards the end of 2010. Despite the amazing reviews his books were garnering, he had been asked by his publisher to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion at the end of the third book, instead of giving him the go-ahead to write more in the series (and if you go back to the interview he did for The Book Zone last year you will see that he already had books 4 – 6 plotted out, with a desire to write 18!). This of course meant quite a hefty rewrite of The Damned, but again, due to this man’s skill, this is not at all evident in the final product. The three books now read as a brilliant trilogy, and with the action of each book continuing straight after the climax of the previous book, they would even work very well as a single volume story. And even better news for Gatward fans…. although The Damned is brought to a natural and very satisfying conclusion, David has left the door wide open for a possible continuation of the adventures and trials of the Keeper of the Dead, Lazarus Stone.

If you like your horror to be fast paced and bloody then whatever your age please give this trilogy a try - I am sure you will not regret it.

Monday 27 June 2011

Review: Black Ice by Andrew Lane (Young Sherlock Holmes)

The year is 1868 and fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes faces his most baffling mystery yet. Mycroft, his older brother, has been found with a knife in his hand, locked in a room with a corpse. Only Sherlock believes that his brother is innocent. But can he prove it?

In a chase that will take him to Moscow and back, Sherlock must discover who has framed Mycroft and why . . . before Mycroft swings at the gallows.

It is no secret that I am a big fan of Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes books, and my reviews of the first two in the series have been pretty glowing. I know that this is a view that is not shared by all fans of Conan Doyle's classic stories, and some critics have (rightly) pointed out that Death Cloud and Red Leech were more action/adventure stories than mystery detection. With Black Ice Andrew Lane has surely begun to answer these critics, and in my opinion he has now developed the character enough in the previous two outings for this to be a realistic next step in the life of young Sherlock Holmes. 

Black Ice is still a classic adventure story (it has to have these elemnts to appeal to today's young readers), but thanks to the tutelage of Amyus Crowe, our young hero is now in the position to use logic and deduction to draw his own conclusions when trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious event that could have a devastating effect on his family. For his brother Mycroft has been accused of committing a murder he has no recollection of doing, and we have here the beginnings of a classic locked room mystery. Mycroft is even discovered, knife in hand, by Sherlock and Amyus, and on the face of things all of the initial evidence points to him being guilty in the eyes of the men from Scotland Yard. However, Sherlock knows his brother well enough to find this incredulous, and with the assistance of Crowe he sets out to prove his brother innocent.

Andrew Lane likes to mix things up in these stories: Death Cloud was largely based in the UK (apart from a short visit across the Channel); Red Leech saw Sherlock heading off to the USA; and now in Black Ice a visit to Czarist Russia is on the cards for our young hero. Apart from giving Sherlock the wider view of the world and its people, this journey also takes him away from the influence of Amyus Crowe for a period of time, and instead puts him in the care of a very different mentor, a man who will already be familiar to those who have read Red Leech. Whilst Crowe is a man who teaches logic and deduction, this new mentor is a more unpredictable character and through his influence we start to see more of the other side of the character of Holmes, the person who although seeming cold and distant at times, actually has a deep rooted caring for the world and the afflicted people he comes across.

What I love most about Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock books is the way he is very slowly revealing to those of us who know and love the adult character, exactly how certain traits, mannerisms and peculiarities of the adult version came into being, and I am sure I am not the only reader who delights from trying to spot these moments as the story progresses. One such moment for me in Black Ice, although not particularly subtle, had me with a big smile on my face , as Sherlock, in despair at what he views to be the failings of Scotland Yard, angrily asks Crowe: "'Why isn't there someone who can investigate things that the police won't or can't investigate? Some kind of independent, consulting force of detectives who can set things straight, like the Pinkerton Agency in America that you told me about'". And the reply hs receives from Crowe: "'It would require someone with a whole set of interestin' qualities, that's for sure,' Crowe said with a strange expression on his face. 'But it's a career niche that is currently unoccupied here in England.'"

Three books in and this is a series I would love to see run and run, and in the interview that Andrew Lane did for The Book Zone some time ago he suggested it would be a series of nine books so there should still be plenty more exciting stories to come. The next book in the series, Fire Storm, is due out in October, and if these details are anything to go by it looks like it could be another cracker:

Fourteen-year-old Sherlock has come up against some challenges in his time, but what confronts him now is completely baffling. His tutor, Crowe, and Crowe's daughter, Ginny, have vanished. Their house looks as if nobody has ever lived there. Neighbours claim never to have heard of them.
Sherlock begins to doubt his sanity, until a chance clue points him to Scotland. Following that clue leads him into the throes of a mystery that involves kidnapping, bodysnatchers and a man who claims he can raise the dead. Before he knows it, Sherlock is fighting for his life as he battles to discover what has happened to his his friends.

My thanks go to Jessica Dean Publicity for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs.

As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here - one of whom was his own grandfather - were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive.

Have you ever started reading a book thinking it was going to take you in a particular direction, only for you to be taken off in a completely different direction altogether? That's what happened with me when I read Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, a story that is the perfect example why you shouldn't prejudge a book based upon its cover and blurb, or even its opening chapters. Being a lover of horror I jumped at the chance when the generous people at Quirk asked if I would be interested in receiving a copy - everything about it shouted "read me - I'm going to creep you out!", but how wrong could I have been? This is not a horror story, but to label as fantasy would, I feel, do it something of an injustice as it is more than that. I'm struggling here - I think it almost defies description - and this is why this review is going to be shorter than the majority that you will find on The Book Zone as I want everyone to discover this story's unravelling the way I did.

What I will say about this book is that it totally enchanted me in a way that few books have. I'm not saying it is the best book I have ever read, but for some reason the story sucked me in completely and left me wanting so much more at the end (warning - this is the first in a series and as such there are many loose ends left untied come the final page). Perhaps it was the author's beautiful prose, or the incredible photos that accompany the story, but something in this book struck a magical chord inside me.

Ah yes, the photographs, I really should say a little more about them as it was these that had me dropping everything to read this book as soon as it arrived in the post. Spaced throughout the story are the most fantastic vintage photographs, pictures that when you look at some of them closely will have you thinking that something isn't quite right. As an example have a look at the girl on the font cover image above and you will see exactly what I mean. Naturally, I flicked through the book looking greedily at all the photos before I even started the story and didn't notice many of their peculiarities, but these soon become apparent as the tale unfolds. Incredibly, the author assures us that every photo in the book is an authentic, vintage photograph and none of them have been altered to suit the story.

This is a book for boys and girls of all ages from confident reader young teens all the way up to readers in their 80s and 90s. If you don't like horror then please do not ignore this book for fear that it will scare you. Yes, there are a handful of creepy moments but it is certainly not a scary story. This is a book for readers who love stories that take them away from the world they think they know, and if you want something different in your reading diet then Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is the book for you.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

News: Thyme Running Out by Panama Oxridge (Tartan of Thyme Book 2)

These days, five years is a long time to wait for a sequel to a first-in-series book, but that is almost how long I have been waiting for the second book in Panama Oxridge's Tartan of Thyme series. I loved book one, titled Justin Thyme, and it became one of the first books I reviewed on The Book Zone back in October 2009. At the time it was out of print, but along came the wonderful people at Inside Pocket who thankfully managed to persuade Panama to let them publish it, and just a few hours ago Panama announced on his blog that the sequel, Thyme Running Out, will be published on 1st October this year - hurrah! I have put this date in my diary as for me this is one of the most exciting publishing moments of the year. As with the Inside Pocket edition of Justin Thyme, there will be a special launch at the Cotswold Bookstore where you will be able to buy signed copies of the book so keep an eye out on Panama's blog for more information about this coming soon. In the meantime , here is the front cover as illustrated by the Panama:

Monday 20 June 2011

Review: Empire of Gold by Andy McDermott (Nina Wilde/Eddie Chase Book 7)

When archaeologist Nina Wilde and her husband, ex-SAS soldier Eddie Chase, are given the chance to work on an Interpol investigation into smuggled artefacts, they are stunned to realise that the artefacts hold clues to the location of a lost Inca settlement hidden somewhere in South America.

As Nina and Eddie dig deeper, it soon becomes clear that finding the settlement may only be the start of their incredible quest. One which, astonishingly, may lead them to one of the greatest legends of all time: El Dorado - the mythical city of gold.

Nina and Eddie are desperate to locate the fabled city. But they are not alone in their search. Deep in the jungles of Venezuela, they face corrupt soldiers, murderous revolutionaries and ruthless drug lords who will stop at nothing to obtain the city's treasures. With so much at stake, what price will they pay for the greatest of fortunes?

Contrary to popular belief, not everything I read these days is targeted at younger readers. Every now and again I feel the need to read something a little more adult, although the number of books I receive to review means that this does not always happen as often as I like. When I do get that hunger there are several genres of book that I turn to depending on my mood, and one of my favourites is what I loosely refer to as "quest stories". At this point I should admit that yes, I loved The Da Vinci Code, although I much prefer Angels and Demons (despite its ridiculous moments), but was very disappointed with The Lost Symbol. Since the global success of The Da Vinci Code there have been many, many books published of a similar nature, some of them brilliant, and some of them making me wonder how they ever got published in the first place. Of these, for me a small handful of authors stand out as personal favourites, with Scott Mariani's Ben Hope books and Andy McDermott's Nina Wilde/Eddie Chase series definitely up there at the top.

Empire of Gold is the seventh book in Andy's very popular series, but before I go any further I should make two things very clear: you really should start by reading the first book (The Hunt For Atlantis) and then, if you like it, read the rest of the series in order; and secondly, these books are most definitely written for the adult market, although I really, really wish books like this had been around when I was in my mid teens. If you are new to my blog then yes, I do occasionally review books written for the adult market on The Book Zone, as my experience at school has shown that a large number of confident male readers abandon the kids and YA targeted books soon after they enter their teens, and turn instead to books like this. However, I always want my readers to be fully informed about the books I review, and so should point out that these books are pretty violent, there is at least one swear word on pretty much every page, and they also contain the occasional "sexy scene" (adults who remember the ever-patronising Simon Bates and his film certification explanations on VHS tapes back in the late 80s will no doubt be chuckling now). Like I said.... I wish I could have had books like this when I was a teenager!

Like many of the books in this genre, Andy McDermott's work could never be described as literary fiction, but if they were they would definitely be nowhere near as much fun, and I probably wouldn't get much past the first few chapters. I read these books because they are pure escapist entertainment. They are books that help me forget the stresses of my job, even if only for an hour at a time, and I feel my mental health is all the better for reading them. A fairly dramatic statement maybe, but it's the truth.

Andy McDermott's series follows the adventure-filled life of archaeologist Nina Wilde and her former bodyguard and now husband, Eddie Chase. I won't focus for too long on their history together in the series for fear of creating spoilers, but their married life is far from a smooth one. I know of at least one reader (a friend of mine) who has over the course of the series become a little fed up with the constant bickering between the couple (and she thinks there are just a few too many swear words in the stories as well), and I have to admit that sometimes I have found myself wanting to shout at the pair to get things sorted. However, the strong bond between them that has been forged in some of the most extreme moments of danger always seems to prevail in the end.

Empire of Gold is definitely one of my favourite in the series so far. As usual, the promise of an incredible archaeological discovery (in this case El Dorado) sees the pair jetting off around the world, pursued by mercenaries in the employ of the greedy and the corrupt. As with all of the previous books in the series the action scenes, of which there are many, are without exception exhilarating affairs that will have your heart pounding with nervous excitement, and have you mentally taking bets on just how the pair are going to survive this time? Writing scenes like this are one of the author's greatest strengths, somehow managing to keep these scenes seeming as fresh as the first, and at no point did I feel that the author was recycling scenes from previous books.

If you struggle to suspend your disbelief then these books probably are not for you. If, however, you have a thirst for hi-octane adventure stories, full of loveable goodies and detestable baddies, then Empire of Gold and its predecessors are just for you, whether you are 15 or 95, or anywhere in between. I read Empire of Gold during my recent flight to New York, having been told at check-in that the entertainment system on the plane was broken. I am not sure I would have read an in-flight movie if one had been available as within minutes of take-off I was engrossed in the story and it certainly made the journey seem a lot shorter than it was. However, I was then left silently screaming by nailbiting cliffhanger that Andy McDermott leaves his readers with at the end and I now can't wait for the release of Temple of the Gods in November! My thanks go to the generous people at Headline for sending me a copy of Empire of Gold.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

*** Immortal War Blog Tour: Interview with Justin Somper (author of the Vampirates series)

Today we are joined by Justin Somper, author of the brilliant Vampirates series. Justin has been visiting a number of blogs on his Immortal War blog tour, and we are his penultimate stop on the tour. 

Hi Justin. Thanks for stopping by The Book Zone to answer some questions for us. Firstly, now that the Vampirates saga has come to an end, how would you describe the series to someone discovering it for the first time?

I’m always having to do this at school events so, here goes… 500 years into the future, the oceans have risen and there’s a new golden age of piracy. If you want to make something of yourself in this world, you have to be a pirate – the Pirate Federation controls the oceans and even has a special school, the Pirate Academy. The oceans are teeming with pirate ships and at least one rather special pirate ship. Teenage twins Connor and Grace Tempest are shipwrecked off the coast of Eastern Australia and almost drown. He’s rescued by a passing pirate ship; she’s rescued – if that’s the right word – by a ship of Vampirates. Neither Connor nor Grace’s life will ever be the same again. Howzat?

When you wrote Demons of the Ocean did you ever envisage that it would become a popular series of six books?

I guess I knew from the moment I got the idea for Vampirates that it had the potential to run to a sequence of books. My initial UK contract was for four books so I knew even when I was writing DEMONS that there would some big story arcs. Just before DEMONS was published, I was signed up for Books 5 & 6 too, which was quite strange but nice. It was good knowing from that point how many books I was likely have to play with in order to tell the story and develop the characters.

Do you have a favourite book from the Vampirates series?

That’s a tough one to answer. I have tried to push myself so that each of the books eclipses the one before. I’m still a bit too close to IMMORTAL WAR to know if I’ve achieved that this time and, in any case, it’s a slightly different book because it does draw together a lot of threads. But there are certainly things in IMMORTAL WAR which I’m proud of and which I don’t think I’d have managed to pull off proficiently until now. If it isn’t IMWA, then it would be EMPIRE OF NIGHT. Having Connor and Grace stay with Sidorio and Lola offered up a lot of fun opportunities.

How about a favourite scene?

This is probably the scene in BLOOD CAPTAIN in which Stukeley returns to Ma Kettle’s Tavern. I like its intensity and the way it captures Stukeley’s conflict about what he’s become. Another definite favourite would be a scene very close to the end of IMMORTAL WAR involving Lola, Sidorio and a lot of blood. I shouldn’t say more than that but it really makes me smile!

How do you feel about finishing off the series and saying goodbye to your characters? Was it an emotional time for you? Is it hard to walk away from the series?

It is emotional. I’m writing these answers on publication day itself and I woke up feeling strangely emotional today. IMMORTAL WAR was a tough book to write because it was about saying goodbye. I think it has a certain elegiac quality and there are lots of references to clocks and time ticking away. Yes, I’m sad to be leaving these characters behind, though I’m not ruling out going back to them at some point in the future. I think that there are plenty of fresh stories waiting to be told. But at the same time, I’ve been working on these books for the past eight or nine years, which is a big chunk of time in itself. I think it’s important to create something completely fresh and frankly to show people that there is more to me as a writer than pirates and vampires.

The first Vampirates book was published in 2005. Have you changed as an author over the past six years?

Yes, I think I have. I feel like my writing has matured a lot and, as I say, with each book I feel I’ve been able to pull off things that I wouldn’t have managed in the previous one. This is 90% good but it means that I sometimes wish I could go back into DEMONS or TIDE OF TERROR and rework things a bit – a Director’s Cut if you like! I think I’ve found a certain style and also a tone I’m comfortable with. I suspect the books aged up slightly around BLOOD CAPTAIN and certainly from BLACK HEART on. This was not intentional – just about me finding my voice I think.

What has been your personal high point over the past six years of Vampirates?

The things I’ve loved most have been the writing itself and getting out and meeting readers, in this country and overseas. I particularly remember attending the Texas Librarians’ Conference in Houston and having a school librarian tell me how much her kids enjoyed the books. That gave me an amazing sense of how far, in every sense, the books have travelled. Equally, working with a bunch of Gifted and Talented kids at a school in Devon who helped me with a scene in EMPIRE OF NIGHT was really fun and satisfying. Just last week, I was talking to a mum who said that my books had started her son reading – that’s a huge privilege to hear. And I can still remember the first event I did where the kids had read the book and suddenly I realised it didn’t just exist in my head any more but now the story and characters were out there for sharing with others. That was, and always is, a magical feeling.

I read a while ago about your plans to write Crossing Stories, the Vampirates “spin-off” book. Is this still going to happen?

Well I’m still under contract so I would think so! Seriously, I know how much my hardcore readers want to know Lorcan’s crossing story and others too and I am equally excited about writing this down. I have some fresh ideas about this so watch this space!

Do you have time to read many other books written for children and Young Adults? Any current favourites or authors we should be looking out for in 2011?

I’m not as well read as I should be. When I’m writing, I don’t like to read other comparable fiction. Well, it’s not so much that I don’t like to but my mind can’t seem to process it. So I have rather a lot of catching up to do whenever I finish a book. So I think you’re better placed to advise me than vice-versa.

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

I’d like to chat to Shakespeare and find out more about his process! Did he know just how good everything he wrote was and how easily did it come to him?

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

Hmm, you said some of the questions would be fiendish and I think we’ve now reached that juncture… I’m going to plump for three of my favourite writers. F Scott Fitzgerald, Tim Winton and PD James. I imagine Fitzgerald would be quite a character. I have a feeling I’d get on with Tim Winton, whose book CLOUDSTREET is a huge favourite of mine. And PD James is just a complete idol of mine. I love the fact that she is ninety and at the height of her writing powers. That’s one of the most appealing sides of our profession.

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

I’m going to be completely selfish and have a selection of VAMPIRATES characters, please. Sometimes it does feel like I’ve been living in close proximity with them anyhow.

What would you rather be, a vampire or a pirate and why?

A pirate, because I think – on the whole – it makes for a simpler and happier existence.

What next for Justin Somper? Anything in the pipeline that you can tell us about?

Sure – if I kill you! Only joking. I am working on a new idea but it’s too early to talk about or even know if it’s going to work out. But I’m excited about being back at the beginning of something and thinking up new settings and characters. No pirates or vampires in the next thing though. I think I can safely promise you that.

Thank you for your time Justin. Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of The Book Zone?

Just that I hope you enjoy the books and if you have any further questions, come and chat on my blog at or on twitter (@JustinSomper). Thanks for being part of this blog tour and for the valuable exposure you give to books for young people and boys especially.


Huge thanks to Justin for taking the time to answer my questions. If you enjoyed reading his answers why not head on over to I Want To Read That tomorrow for the final stop off on Justin's tour.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Review: Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the moss . . .

When Cora and her little sister Mimi are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Bryers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome, and are desperate to go back to London. But Auntie Ida's life was devastated the last time two young girls were at Guerdon Hall, and now her nieces' arrival has reawoken an evil that has lain waiting for years.

A haunting voice in an empty room ... A strange, scarred man lurking in the graveyard ... A mysterious warning, scrawled on the walls of the abandoned church . . . Along with Roger and Peter, two young village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries - before it is too late for Mimi

I read a lot of horror books written for children and Young Adults. Many of them do not hit me on a psychological level, instead they hold my interested with their lashings of blood and gore; they are the written equivalent of the slasher movies that I love so much. Are these really horror stories or should they be re-genred as shockers? I have found myself wondering where the truly terrifying books were, the modern equivalent of the M.R James ghost stories or Shirley Jackson's brilliant The Haunting of Hill House. Perhaps, I mused, stories like this are just too much for young people, and authors and publishers too concerned about causing nightmares amongst there readers. Well if ever that was the case it certainly is no loner - over the past twelve months a number of books have been published that have affected me on that deep psychological level to the point where they have entered my dreams and caused me to wake up in the middle from a terrifying nightmare. And I love it!

One such book is Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough, published back in April by Bodley Head. The story's inspiration is a centuries old ballad that tells of a grisly murder carried out by the titular bogeyman Long Lankin, and from this inspiration the author has created an original story that is disturbing, terrifying, spooky, atmospheric...... I could go on and on here until I ran out of suitable adjectives. Maybe all I need to say is that if you read this at night you may struggle to get to sleep, and when (if) you do finally manage to drop off your dreams will not be particularly warm and cuddly. However, if you decide to err on the side of caution and start reading this in daylight then you had better be a quick reader, as it will draw you in completely and you really will not want to put it down, and before you know if night has fallen, and just what was that noise upstairs?????

Cora and her younger sister Mimi are sent to the countryside to live with their Great Aunt Ida Eastfield, a lady who some of the local children are convinced is a witch. On their arrival at Ida's creepy run-down house on the fringe of the village of Bryers Guerdon the girls are made to feel far from welcome but as the friend of their father who drove them out of London has already departed it would seem that the old lady has no option but to take them in. Aunt Ida also very quickly makes it clear to the girls that she will not tolerate any deviation from a long set of rules that she dictates to them, although as with most children they simply make Cora more curious about her new surroundings, and as events unfold all the more determined to break the rules.

The first person narration of the book is largely shared between Cora and Roger, a boy she meets as she first arrives in Bryers Guerdon. Roger's background is very different from Cora's - he is a country boy who is the eldest of five children, with a pair of loving and caring parents. The way he narrates his part of the story contrasts brilliantly with Cora's narration: Cora is bitter about the way she has been shipped off to an old lady who obviously has no lover for her as this is reflected in the way she tells the story, whereas Roger brings a welcome element of humour to the story that helps relieve some of the tension created by the horror that is Long Lankin. The two children share their narration with Ida Eastfield who is used to add some of the historical background to the area and its terrifying legend.

I have read/watched a number of otherwise great horror books/films that have been ruined at the moment that the 'monster' is revealed to us, and I guess it is something that authors and directors work very hard at, and possibly get quite nervous about. Jaws is such a great film because Spielberg couldn't use his animatronic shark in the open sea and therefore had to rewrite the script and make it more character based and by the time we do finally see the slightly unrealistic looking shark our terror levels are so high that we don't care about total realism. Similarly with Ridley Scott's Alien, with the eponymous monster remaining in the shadows for much of the film. Like Spielberg and Scott, Lindsey Barraclough does not suffer the fate that has befallen many who have come before her - when we do finally get to 'see' Long Lankin there is no disappointment, or lessening in the terror factor - in fact, if anything, it is increased even further. This is one monster that you really do not want in your dreams!

Long Lankin is set in the 1950s, and this has allowed Ms Barraclough to really let rip with her atmospheric descriptions of the buildings and landscape around Bryers Guerdon. There are very few cars and more importantly no mobile phones or internet that Cora and Roger can use to research the history of the legend of Long Lankin. Instead they have to piece together information from some of the eccentric local inhabitants of the area, and other tidbits they glean as Cora snoops around Ida's house, despite the rules that forbid her from doing so. The author's talent for descriptive writing and attention to detail in the creation of her 1950s world really brings the story alive, adding to the horror that is lurking in the background.

I loved this book so much that I went out and bought a copy once it was published, and then bought a copy for a friend's birthday as well. However, my thanks must go to the people at Random House who gave me an early proof of the book when I attended their Bloggers' Brunch at the beginning of the year. This book is the perfect stepping stone between children's and adult fiction, and I would imagine that many YA readers who read and love this book will progress on to the likes of Stephen King in the future.

News: Book Cover - Palace of the Damned by Darren Shan (Saga of Larten Crepsley Book 3)

Unfortunately the third book in the so far brilliant Saga of Larten Crepsley will not be on sale until October, but in the meantime Darren Shan recently released this image, the artwork for the front cover of that book, to be titled Palace of the Damned. It isn't often that we get to see images like this in their full, original glory, without the accompanying title and author text so I thought I would share it with you in case you missed it on Darren's site. As with the previous two covers for the UK editions of the series the artwork is by illustrator David Wyatt. The end of Ocean of Blood was pretty nasty, and left fans on something of a cliffhanger, and I think that this image is a great taster of what is to come in the next book. If you go to this page on Darren's website you will also be able to see some of David's earlier drafts of the cover.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

News: Astrosaurs Competition From Random House

I had an email yesterday that I thought some of my young readers might be interested in:

To celebrate the publication of the 20th Astrosaurs book, writer Steve Cole wants 20 Astrosaurs superfans to WIN amazing prizes!

You could get…

YOUR character in the next Astrosaurs book – complete with its own collector card!

£500 worth of books for your school library!

A fun-packed school visit from Steve Cole!

Six years ago, Steve Cole had an incredible idea. He crossed the word Astronaut with Dinosaurs to create ‘Astrosaurs’ - the finest crew of dinosaurs living in space. Yes, you did read that correctly, dinosaurs in SPACE! Packed with humour and fun, kids adore the amazing stories of Captain Teggs and the DSS Sauropod crew as they fight evil across the galaxy, and they keep coming back for more.

Random House Children’s Books will be publishing the 20th Astrosaurs book in October 2011, and to mark this momentous occasion we want to find the UK’s biggest, bestest and boldest Astrosaurs fans. To become a superfan, children need to create their very own Astrosaurs character.

They need to think about what their Astrosaurs character will look like… give it a name… tell us what it likes and hates, what it eats and what planet it hatched from. And once that’s decided, it’s time to show us what it looks like – anything from a drawing to a clay model, a paper puppet to an old cereal box daubed with paint! Entrants will also have to tell us in 25 words what makes them an Astrosaurs superfan.

The 20 winning superfans will have Steve Cole visit their school this autumn to perform a madcap event. The winners will also receive a complete signed set of Astrosaurs, Slime Squad and Cows in Action. There will also be an overall winner who will have their winning Astrosaurs character featured in the next Astrosaurs book complete with its very own collector card. The overall winner will also get £500 worth of children’s books for their school library.

The competition is now open and closes on Thursday 30th June 2011. Visit to find out more, and also watch a video of Steve launching the search for the ultimate Astrosaurs superfan.

Monday 6 June 2011

Review: Small Change For Stuart by Lissa Evans

Stuart Horten - ten years old and small for his age - moves to the dreary town of Beeton, far away from all his friends. And then he meets his new next-door neighbours, the unbearable Kingley triplets, and things get even worse.

But in Beeton begins the strangest adventure of Stuart’s life as he is swept up in quest to find his great-uncle’s lost workshop – a workshop stuffed with trickery and magic. There are clues to follow and puzzles to solve, but what starts as fun ends up as danger, and Stuart begins to realize that he can’t finish the task by himself . . .

I have recently been suffering from that which all book bloggers fear - blogger burnout. This has meant that at times I have struggled to concentrate on reading for any length of time, especially YA and kids books, and so have been reading more adult books recently (obviously not helpful for someone who writes a blog that focuses on books for young people. And then I was sent Small Change For Stuart by the generous people at Random House, and I was miraculously healed and I read it in a single sitting - I just couldn't put it down. It is also very heartening to see that my love for this book is shared by others as at the weekend I spotted that it had made the longlist for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize.

Small Change For Stuart is a delightfully quirky and entertaining read, that is perfect for the 7+ age group, and I think it will be loved equally by both boys and girls. Stuart's lot is not a happy one: he is very small for his age and his surname of Horten leads to all kinds of hilarity for his peers when coupled with his first initial, and to make things even worse his mother has a new job in a hospital in another town and so the family have moved house to Beeton, the town where his father was born. However, this move leads to an incredible adventure for Stuart, as he embarks on an investigation into the mysterious disappearance of his great uncle many years before. Uncle Tony was a magician, and it would appear that before disappearing he left a series of clues  that soon have young Stuart believing that magic just might be very real.

I really don't want to say much more about the plot of this book - it would be great if every reader could dive into it with as little knowledge about it as I had, for this will bring the greatest reading pleasure. The story is chock-full of colourful characters, some of whom would fit perfectly in a Roald Dahl story, and as each new character appears in the story they very quickly seem fully developed, such is the quality of the author's writing. It is also a very funny book, although the humour is not as subversive as that in Dahl's stories, it is simply very quirky and will have you grinning from ear to ear as you read it. Stuart is a character that many children (and adults) will be able to identify with, especially if, like me, they are below average in stature. 

This is the perfect book for bedtime, either for a confident reader on their own, or for a parent to read to a child, and I am smiling again about the story just writing this review. This is now one of my favourite reads of 2011 and I can't recommend it enough. At £10.99 some may feel it is a little expensive for a book for a child but it is published in a lovely hardcover edition and in my opinion is worth every penny. Thank you Lissa Evans for curing me of my dreaded blogger burnout!

Saturday 4 June 2011

Guest Post: My Favourite Child Detectives by Caroline Lawrence

Caroline Lawrence is writing a new series of history-mystery novels. Like the Roman Mysteries, her new Western Mysteries series will also have a kid detective. So what is it with Caroline and child P.I.s? We asked her to tell us about her favourite child detectives:

You'd think because I write books with child detectives that Id have lots of favourites, but I could only think of three whove had any real impact on my own writing.

1. Nancy Drew - Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

When I was ten, I wanted to be Nancy. Feminine yet athletic, fashionable yet fun, bold, brave and utterly independent. Her life was free of chores and full of adventure. With her convertible car, absent-minded father and accessory boyfriend, she was my ideal. I especially loved (and still love) the way she often let criminals off with a stern finger-wagging. She was such an influence that many years later I based my spunky Roman detectrix on her. Like Nancy, Flavia Gemina has no mother. Like Nancy, her father is absent-minded. Alma the slave stands in for Nancys genial housekeeper. Both can be commanded to make lunch and clean up after, while having not one jot of authority to order our heroine to do a thing in return. Yessss! Of course, no real Roman girl could be as independent as Flavia, but she and her gang are the perfect guides for kids who want to solve the mystery of what it was like to live in Roman times.

2. Sherlock Holmes - Sherlock Holmes Mystery Stories

As soon as I graduated from Nancy Drew Primary School I went to Sherlock Holmes Middle School to learn about life. But Holmes is not a child, you protest. Yes, he is! Hes a total kidult. Just look at him. He exhibits little interest in the opposite sex, has a massive ego, thinks hes always right and is obsessed with his music and his collections. Watson reminds him to eat, nags him to clean his room, worries about his substance abuse, and disapproves of his lifestyle in general. Watsons isnt Sherlocks sidekick; hes his mum! The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries are perfectly suitable for kids, (providing they can wade through those boggy Victorian paragraphs.) If Flavia was inspired by Nancy Drew, then my newest detective P.K. (Pinky) Pinkerton is modelled on Holmes. Pinky shares Holmes brilliant mind and love of collections, as well as some of his social brusqueness.

3. Christopher Boone - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Mark Haddon gets that Sherlock Holmes was probably borderline Aspergers. Haddons brilliant creation is an autistic boy named Christopher Boone who feels a deep affinity with the Baker Street sleuth and idolises him. When a neighbourhood dog is murdered, Christopher uses Holmesian methods to find out who done it. But really hes trying to figure out How to Live in the World. And at the deepest level, thats the appeal of the mystery genre for us all. Every detective is just a manifestation of ourselves as we try to figure out how to live in the world. I find Christopher particularly appealing because on my bad days I suspect I myself am borderline Aspergers. Ive given P.K. some of his traits, like the inability to read peoples faces.

While compiling this list I frisked my memory in order to find a couple more memorable kid sleuths, but got nothing. So I sent out a tweet to some of my fellow-writers to see which child detectives made impressions on them. A chorus of enthusiastic tweets came back: Emil and the Detectives; Flixton Slick; Jupiter Jones; Claudia in the Babysitters Club; Harriet the Spy; Encyclopedia Brown; The Famous Five; The Secret Seven; The Hardy Boys; The Diamond Brothers; Tintin; Vesper Holly; Penny from Inspector Gadget; Trixie Belden and several more.

Some I must confess Ive never heard of, others Ive never read, and of those I have dipped into, no memorable chunks float to the surface. Its obvious that child & teen detectives are very dear to their readers hearts. And I suspect its because everyones favourite child detective dates from their golden years of reading, when they were ten or eleven.

If I were a detective, I might be able to deduce something from that!


Huge thanks to Caroline for this great post. Her first Western Mysteries book, The Case of the Deadly Desperados, is an absolute corker and my review will be posted very soon. Caroline's blog tour continues through to 14th June so make sure you check out the rest of her posts.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

*** Contest: WIN a copy of The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish

Yesterday I posted a great guest piece by Cliff McNish, whose latest book, The Hunting Ground, was published recently. Now, thanks to the generous people at Orion I have a copy of the book to give away to a reader of The Book Zone. In order to be in with a chance of winning this prize all you have to do is fill in your details on the form below.

The first name drawn at random after the closing date will win a copy of the book. Deadline for entries is 8pm GMT Monday 6th June. This contest is open to UK residents only.

Contest open to UK residents only.
Neither the publisher or I will not be held responsible for items lost in the mail.
I hold the right to end a contest before its original deadline without any prior notice.
I hold the right to disqualify any entry as I see fit.

I will contact winning entrants for their postal address following the close of the competition. Winners have 48 hours to reply. Failure to do so in this time will result in another winner being randomly selected.