Sunday 31 July 2011

Review: Doc Mortis by Barry Hutchison (Invisible Fiends)

Kyle wakes up in the Darkest Corners. In this hospital the surfaces aren't clean, and the instruments aren't used for healing. But it's about to get much, much worse. The doctor is ready to see him now...

Tomorrow morning The Book Zone will host the first stop in the fortnight-long Doc Mortis blog tour. We will be bringing you the first instalment in an exclusive five-part short story that Barry has written for the tour, detailing the events that led to the creation of the most diabolically evil Invisible Fiend to date. As a prologue to this special event I thought I would publish my review of Doc Mortis for you today.

I love the Invisible Fiends series, ever since I first read Mr Mumbles back at the beginning of 2010. In a way, I view the series as horror's answer to Harry Potter as Barry has created a series that, although targeted at the 9+ age group, can be enjoyed by teens and adults just as much. Substitute the young protagonist for an adult, and the series would work almost as well and would in fact make a superb 18 certificate horror film. in fact, the series almost works as a homage to the various sub-genre of horror films: I have previously likened Mr Mumbles to the slasher movie; Raggy Maggie is most definitely more akin to the serial killer flick; and book three, The Crowmaster, is a hybrid of Jeepers Creepers and Hitchcock's The Birds, in my mind at least. When reading Doc Mortis two films sprang immediately to mind: The Human Centipede because of the experiments that Doc Mortis carries out and Saw because of the sheer sadistic nature of this character, although Barry's description of the Darkest Corners hospital in which he operates would also fit perfectly in that series of films.

Doc Mortis is a fantastic read, and the Invisible Fiends series is just getting better and better with every book that is released. This book follows on immediately after the events of The Crowmaster and things are not looking to hot for Kyle. As well as having to contend with whatever Invisible Fiend is thrown at him next, he is also now wanted by the police who suspect him of murdering his Aunt Marion. He is also is a pretty bad way following his battle with The Crowmaster, who unbeknownst to Kyle managed to infect him with a virus that pulls him into the Darkest Corners, and will possibly keep him there for good, or at least for as long as he can survive the creatures that live. Just before the virus kicks in and takes him away from the hospital to which he has been taken, Joseph, Kyle's mysterious guardian angel, warns him that: "There's someone in the hospital. Someone worse than anything out there. Worse than anyone you've had to deal with so far. You've got to stay away from him." Worse than Caddie? I was scared already!

Of course, when Kyle opens his eyes he is still in hospital, but this time in the Darkest Corners version, a building that is dirty, rusting, blood-stained.... as far away from the sterile ideal of a real world hospital as you could imagine. But is the hospital's inhabitants that are the really terrifying part of this book: aside from Doctor Mortis and his dirty,rusty implements, there is Wobblebottom, possibly the scariest clown you are ever going to read about; Patient #217 and his fellow hospital porters; and grimmest of all, the various children that Doc Mortis has 'helped' over the years. Hot only does Kyle have to fight his way through all of these in order to find the cure that will take him back to his own world, but this time he has to take a small boy under his wing and keep him alive as well. This young character adds a touch of pathos to the story, and you may be a little surprised by your emotions come the end of the story, especially with regards to the actions of a certain character from a previous Invisible Fiends book.

Barry Hutchison has outdone himself yet again; I don't know how the man copes with the pressure that he puts himself under as every book he writes raises the bar even higher. The next book in the series is titled The Beast, and I believe it is due out in January 2012. If it is anything like the previous four then it will be a cracking build up to the sixth and final book in the series. However, that is some way off at the moment, so I will leave you with this fantastic full-body image of Doc Mortis, illustrated by the equally fantastic Jonny Duddle. Be afraid!

Saturday 30 July 2011

The DC New 52 (and why I am so excited about it).

Are you as excited as I am about the DC New 52? If you're not sure what I am talking about then where have you been for the past two months? On 31st May DC announced that starting in September 2011 they would be relaunching a huge number of their titles, taking the numbering of these comics back to #1. This means that titles such as Justice League of America, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and many, many more will, over the course of September, all have brand new stories. Technically not a complete reboot, as DC very soon added that much of what has gone on before in the DC Universe will still stand, but what they hope is that they will bring these fantastic characters to a whole new generation of readers, without these readers having to worry about having missed out on key plot details. 

On the day this was all announced I mentioned this to several groups of boys at school, and their reaction was one of the main reasons why I am so excited about the DC New 52 (the other reason is far more selfish). They were so excited about it, with one sixth former pretty much demanding more information about titles, cost, etc. and since then emails have been flying around between me and them, and amongst themselves, as they decide who is going to buy which titles, and how (we do not have a comic store in our area). Standing orders have been placed with the likes of Forbidden Planet and GOSH, and here's me still trying to decide which titles I am going to buy for myself. These emails have even continued into the school holidays, as news and images came out of the San Diego Comic-Con almost on an hourly basis. 

It has been proven that boys can be encouraged to read for enjoyment through graphic novels and comics. When I was at school it was frowned upon to admit that you loved comics, these days it is embraced by many modern-thinking teachers and librarians (though sadly not all), and this DC relaunch will I believe have quite an impact on young male readers around the world. Yes, I know that sounds like a rather exaggerated statement, but don't underestimate the popularity of some of these fantastic characters, Batman being the most obvious thanks partly to the recent Christopher Nolan films. Of course, this will also be a little pricey, and sadly the school library budget does not run to buying comics, but I am can pretty much guarantee that when some of these stories are eventually released in graphic novel format we will somehow make sure we get them for the kids to read.

At this moment in time I am just finalising my own personal list of titles that I am going to give a try, although I am not sure I can afford to keep on buying all of them. The list I am still trying to shorten a little is below and I would be interested in what your thoughts are, and whether there are any I really should be buying:

Justice League #1 (drawn by Jim Lee - how exciting!).
Batman #1
Detective Comics #1
Batman: the Dark Knight #1
Batgirl #1
Batwoman #1
Nightwing #1
Green Lantern #1
Wonder Woman #1
The Flash #1
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
Suicide Squad #1
Justice League Dark #1

PS Jim Lee - if you ever read this and fancy writing a short piece about DC comics for The Book Zone then please get in touch (hey.... you can't blame me for trying!).

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Book Zone Visits My Favourite Books

Just a quickie from me today to point you in the direction of the brilliant My Favourite Books Blog. Liz, Mark and Sarah have been running an Under 14s Only month throughout July (if you haven't visited it yet then shame on you!), and they asked me if I would be interested in contributing. Pop on over to My Favourite Books here and you can see my review of Earwig and the Witch by the fabulous Diana Wynne Jones. 

Tuesday 26 July 2011

*** Exclusive News: CRYPT Agent Recruitment Website

Do you believe in ghosts and the supernatural?

Do you have a thirst for action and adventure?

Are you willing to risk life and limb?

If so then read on because your country needs you.......

When a crime is committed and the police are at a loss, the Covert Response Youth Paranormal Team (or CRYPT for short) is called in to figure out whether something paranormal is at work.

CRYPT: The Gallows Curse is the fab book from debut author Andrew Hammond (brother of the less famous Richard), due to be published by Headline towards the end of the summer. I was fortunate to receive an early proof and I really enjoyed its mixture of action and horror - watch this space for my review coming soon. If you have the courage then grab the code above and head on over to now! 

CRYPT: The Gallows curse will be officially launched at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and you could be there:

Friday 19 August, 4:30pm - 5:30pm

RBS Imagination Lab, as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Tickets cost £4.50 and are available here

I am reliably informed that Andrew will also be doing a series of events during the autumn, more details of which to follow later in the year.

Friday 22 July 2011

News: Invisible Fiends: Doc Mortis Blog Tour

Be afraid book fans for soon you will not be able to visit many of your favourite book blogs without risking bumping into the evil that is Doc Mortis. Starting on Monday 1st August Barry Hutchison and the Doc will be spending a fortnight visiting a number of blogs as part of the Invisible Fiends: Doc Mortis blog tour. You can see the full schedule of the stops on the blog tour by clicking on the banner to the right of this page or going directly to

I am honoured to be hosting the first stop on the tour here at The Book Zone on 1st August, where we will be showcasing the first part of The Rise of Doc Mortis, a short story that Barry has written exclusively for the tour. I have read the whole story and it is brilliant so make sure come back on the 1st!

See you Monday 1st August..... if you dare! 

*** CRYPT Contest Result

The lucky winner of the proof copy of CRYPT: The Gallows Curse by Andrew Hammond is:

Jackie Kemp

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

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

Wednesday 20 July 2011

News: Mega-exciting Announcement From Gollancz For Science Fiction Fans

There has been a growing buzz on Twitter today as Jon Weir, Senior Publicity Manager at Gollancz, took great pleasure in building up a frenzy amongst Gollancz's fans as the day progressed. Gollancz is the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group and readers of The Book Zone will know that these are genres that I occasionally read, but I am not necessarily fanatical about. However, and this is the important part, I know a good number of boys at school who love Science Fiction and Fantasy, and when I told my sixth form group that there was a big announcement coming from Gollancz this afternoon a number of the boys in the group (self-proclaimed geeks and proud of it) were demanding more information. The announcement finally came through on Twitter just after their lesson finished, and several of them actually cheered, and one announced that he was now definitely going to get a Kindle! I don;t think I have ever seen them so animated about reading (except possibly when I told them about the DC Reboot).

For Gollancz has today announced the SF Gateway, a project that will bring many out of print classics of the genre into the hands of these boys in digital format. This on a day when a fellow reviewer was asking on Twitter whether there is any good YA science fiction around at the moment, and specifically more space orientated than near future/dystopian. Sadly I wasn't able to recommend many titles, and this is something I have lamented before on The Book Zone, so although we are now talking adult titles, this announcement by Gollancz can only be a good thing for teenage fans of the SFF genres, and they should be applauded for this.

This is the official press release:

Gollancz, the SF and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announces the launch of the world’s largest digital SFF library, the SF Gateway, which will make thousands of out-of-print titles by classic genre authors available as eBooks. Building on the remarkable success of Gollancz’s Masterworks series, the SF Gateway will launch this Autumn with more than a thousand titles by close to a hundred authors.

It will build to 3,000 titles by the end of 2012, and 5,000 or more by 2014. Gollancz’s Digital Publisher Darren Nash, who joined the company in September 2010 to spearhead the project said, “The Masterworks series has been extraordinarily successful in republishing one or two key titles by a wide range of authors, but most of those authors had long careers in which they wrote dozens of novels which had fallen out of print. It seemed to us that eBooks would offer the ideal way to make them available again. This realization was the starting point for the SF Gateway.” Wherever possible, the SF Gateway will offer the complete backlist of the authors included.

The SF Gateway will be closely integrated with the recently announced new online edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which provides an independent and definitive reference source of information on the authors and books included. Direct links between the Encyclopedia and the Gateway will provide easy access to eBook editions, for sale through all major online retailers.

The Gateway site will also act as a major community hub and social network for SF readers across the world, allowing them to interact with each other and recommend titles and authors. The site is planned to include forums, blogs, regular promotions, and is envisaged to become the natural home on the net for anyone with an interest in classic SFF.

Authors featured in the launch include such names as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Alice B. Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr), Robert Silverberg, Kate Wilhelm and Connie Willis.

The SF Gateway was conceived by Orion Deputy CEO and Publisher Malcolm Edwards, who commented: “It’s clear that publishers need to show that they can respond to the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution imaginatively, particularly when it comes to backlist. The SF Gateway is just such a response, creating what we hope will become a destination website which will promote the books and authors it features in an active way. We hope it will not only be a success in its own right, but that it will provide a model for future developments in backlist publishing.”

Built to the latest standards of HTML5 and CSS3, the SF Gateway site will use responsive web design to ensure a rewarding user experience across a range of mobile and desktop platforms and operating systems. Both the SF Gateway and the previously announced Encyclopedia of Science Fiction are being developed by STEEL, a Londonbased full service digital agency with over 15 years experience, whose clients include AOL, BBC Worldwide, Debenhams,, Greggs and TalkTalk.

The project has been praised by authors for connecting new generations of readers with classic stories they may not, until now, have been able to enjoy.

British Science Fiction Award-winner Alastair Reynolds said: “When I first started reading SF seriously, as a teenager growing up in Wales, one of the first walls I hit was the realisation that many classic and influential works of the field were either out of print or so hard to obtain that they may as well have been. SF is a forward-looking genre but its past has always been as fascinating as its future, and for that reason the SF Gateway is an exciting and groundbreaking venture, which should prove an enormous asset to the field.”

Double Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner Pat Cadigan added: “This is exactly what I've been hoping for now that the digital book is becoming more widespread. I have always said that the eBook will not be the death of the physical book – the eBook will save so many wonderful books from being lost. We have to remember that what we read is the book – what we read it on, whether ink and paper or pixels on a screen, is just the interface. I'm honestly thrilled about this new project and delighted to be on the list.”

The SF Gateway will be officially launched by Gollancz in September as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of its SF list.

For more information, please go to, where updates on the project will also appear.

SF Gateway is on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Sunday 17 July 2011

*** Contest: WIN a proof copy of CRYPT: The Gallows Curse by Andrew Hammond

Back in April I featured a mini guest post by author Andrew Hammond, in which he told us about his forthcoming debut YA book, CRYPT: The Gallows Curse. Now, thanks to the generous people at Headline I have ended up with a spare proof 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, and have it in your hands long before its official September 1st release date, all you have to do is answer the question and 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 Friday 22nd July. This contest is open worldwide.

Contest open worldwide.
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.

Friday 15 July 2011

News: Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall

Like most book bloggers, I get sent a lot of press releases about forthcoming books. I do very little with most of them, preferring instead to wait until a book is published, or at the very least a book cover is available to display for you all. However, yesterday I received a press release from Lauren that I just had to share with you all, as it sounds like an incredibly exciting variation on a much-used legend. Many people have tried to 'get clever' with the Robin Hood story, some have been successful, and some have failed dismally. I really, really hope that this one works, and knowing David Fickling's insticnt for what makes a cracking story I am sure it will.

There is one sentence in the press release that really intrigues and excites me. How great does this sound: "  ..... a blind, ruthless assassin and elemental creature of the forest."? It sounds like a delicious cocktail of Zatoichi, Swamp Thing and Daredevil, all shaken together with the Robin Hood legend. I am sure there will be more information coming from David Fickling Books so keep watching book fans.

Press release

David Fickling Books is delighted to announce that they have successfully bid for three fantastic YA novels by debut author Tim Hall. The team at DFB made the deal for UK and Commonwealth rights (excluding Canada) with James Wills of Watson, Little Ltd.

David Fickling comments, “We are all very excited by Tim's writing and we believe that Tim has it in him to be a huge world-renowned writer. After meeting with him, we immediately got the sense that he loved to work with the stuff of story and had many, many tales to tell. For us that is beyond exciting, and we are very keen indeed to begin working on this trilogy and prepare it for publication.”

The first book of the trilogy, Shadow of the Wolf, is set in Sherwood Forest in medieval England. However, if you think you know the story then think again. Tim Hall presents a Robin Hood more heroic and horrific than ever before: a blind, ruthless assassin and elemental creature of the forest. Fourteen-year-old Robin may not be able to see, but he learns to understand every sound that the forest makes – the heartbeat of a nearby bird, the sound of a deer drinking from a stream, the gentle rustle of an enemy boot passing through the foliage...

Tim Hall expertly weaves influences ranging from Japanese cinema to Norse mythology, making this novel a fabulously rich treat that works on multiple levels. Packed full of dark drama and unexpected plot twists, Shadow of the Wolf is an absolute page turner that will have teenage readers clamouring for its sequel.

Tim Hall previously worked as a news journalist for the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. Most recently, he spent almost two years in Bermuda running the news desk for the Bermuda Sun newspaper. Shadow of the Wolf is his first novel, and he has a clear plan for books two and three.


“So many tales have already been told of Robin Hood. Already he's the hero with a thousand faces.

First, forget everything you've heard. Robin was no prince, and he was no dispossessed lord; he didn't fight in the Crusades; he never gave a penny to the poor.

His real name wasn't even Robin Hood. Marian called him that as a kind of joke. Sir Robin of the Hood. A name Robin would cling to when he was losing grip of everything else. Mind you, one thing you've heard is true. He was blind.

No, that's not right. Let me put that another way. Truer to say, Robin Hood didn't see with his eyes. In fact he was the only one who saw clearly in this place of illusion and lies.”


Thursday 14 July 2011

Review: Wereworld: Rage of Lions by Curtis Jobling

Young Werewolf Drew Ferran is the future king of Westland.

He has the makings of a great warrior - but first he must master the blade and the beast.

When Lady Gretchen is abducted by the Werelion Prince Lucas, Drew and his friends embark on a perilous chase to stop the prince fleeing to his homeland of Bast. As Drew encounters terrifying new Werelords along the way, he is led to the exotic city of Cape Gala, where the forces of Onyx, the Beast of Bast, await.

Now Drew must summon all of his courage and strength - because the Catlords are ready to attack . . .

My first review of the 2011 was Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling. I opened that review with the following paragraph:

Imagine a fantasy world on par with that created by Tolkien for his Lord of the Rings books, and then take away the orcs, elves, dwarves, etc. and throw in a werewolf. And some werelions. Oh yes, and whilst you're at it wererats, werefoxes, wereboar and even a wereshark. Add to this a huge amount of writing talent and the end product is Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling, the most exciting fantasy story I have read for years.”

Following that review I received a few emails from readers stating that they were going to go and buy the book based on my review, and specifically because of that opening Lord-of-the-Rings-mentioning statement. This played on my mind as I moved on to other books, and part of me wondered whether I had got a little too carried away in the excitement of the moment – had Rise of the Wolf really been that good? Nobody came back to me later calling me an idiot so I my worry gradually dissipated, until of course I received a copy of the sequel, Rage of Lions, from the generous people at Puffin. Would it live up to that dramatic opening paragraph of my review, or would I end up with egg on my face?

Oh my god! It is an amazing book. It is everything that Rise of the Wolf was, but turned up to 11. Rise of the Wolf now seems like Caffeine-free Diet Coke in comparison to this full-fat, seven spoonfuls of sugar, caffeine-laced beauty of a book. Why did I ever doubt myself? And what an easy book to review. Go back to my review of 1st January, read it carefully, and then just think bigger, better, faster, more:

More world building – I love this fantastic world of Lyssia and its people, and in this book we get to see so much more.

More fight scenes - aside from the world building, writing full-on action scenes that leave your heart ready to burst is one of Curtis Jobling’s huge strengths
More Werelords (including a Ram, a Bull, and just wait until you read about the Cats of Bast).

More necromancy, darkness and despair (things get dark in this book – it is The Empire Strikes Back to Rise of the Wolf’s Star Wars)

More twists and turns than a twisty turning thing and more crossing, and double-crossing as the various factions in Lyssia vie for power, or change their allegiances to suit their own selfish purposes.

More jaw dropping moments – just wait to the final chapters of the book. You chin will be glued to the floor and you will be weeping with frustration at the thought of having to wait for the next instalment.

More details regarding the characters we already know – Mr Jobling answers the minority of critics who felt his characters needed more development in the first book.

Thank you Mr Jobling for these few more hours of sublime reading pleasure! What sort of bribe would you accept for an early read of the next book in the series.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Book Zone visits Orion Indigo Books

Despite being rushed off my feet with work, yesterday I shot out of school as soon as the buses had cleared and managed to make it to the station in time to get the train into London. Some time ago I was really chuffed to receive an invitation to an event that Orion were holding for bloggers in order to showcase their forthcoming new Young Adult imprint, Indigo. I had been looking forward to this for some time as I have been picking up occasional morsels of information regarding some of the books they have coming out over the next twelve months and we had been promised that this would be the evening when all would be revealed.

I arrived at Orion Towers to find the room already buzzing with the sound that only a (insert collective noun) of excited book loving bloggers can make, and finally got the chance to meet and chat with Becky, aka
The Bookette. There were also a number of other very familiar faces, some of whom I had only seen a few days earlier at the Random House Bloggers' Brunch, and this is another reason why I enjoy these events so much. I love talking about books with other book lovers (and I think my wife gets a little bored with me raving about this book or that book).

We didn't have to wait for long until Nina Douglas and Louise Bowes (respectively Orion publicity manager and marketing manager) moved to the front of the room, and demonstrated the power that all people who have new book information to share possess – the ability to silence a room of bloggers in an instant. We were treated to a presentation of the titles due out in later 2011 and the first part of 2012, and please believe me when I say that there are some cracking sounding books being published under the Indigo banner. Being a YA imprint some of these books may be of little interest to boy readers, but there were more than enough boy-friendly-sounding books to have me hanging on Nina's and Louise's every word:

Shelter by Harlen Coben (published 15th September 2011)

Harlen Coben is a writer of outstanding thrillers for adults, and Nina explained that he had been wanting to write a book for the YA market for quite a long time. I really hope that he manages to transfer the quality of his writing to this younger market, unlike one or two authors-for-adults who have tried this in the past few years.

Harlan Coben's very first young adult project will link in with the storylines in his up-and-coming adult thrillers as Myron Bolitar discovers that his mysterious tearaway younger brother, Brad, has a son – who is now a teenager.

When our series hero's father, Brad, dies in a mysterious accident in South America, Myron is his closest, albeit estranged, relative left and is assigned to be his legal guardian. Will uncle and nephew be able to live with one another? And will our hero be able to resist getting involved in solving a mystery disappearance at his new high school?

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (published 6th October 2011)

The author who simply cannot be categorised – all of his books are unique in one way or another, and he is a truly gifted author. I loved his White Crow last year and I have been reading his books for some time. This one again sounds like it will refuse to be labelled and I, for one, can't wait to read it (and what stunning cover!).

Have you ever had the feeling that you've lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar, even though you've never been there before, or felt that you know someone well, even though you are meeting them for the first time? It happens. In 2073 on the remote and secretive island of Blessed, where rumour has it that no one ages and no children are born, a visiting journalist, Eric Seven, and a young local woman known as Merle are ritually slain. Their deaths echo a moment ten centuries before, when, in the dark of the moon, a king was slain, tragically torn from his queen. Their souls search to be reunited, and as mother and son, artist and child, forbidden lovers, victims of a vampire they come close to finding what they've lost. In a novel comprising seven parts, each influenced by a moon - the flower moon, the harvest moon, the hunter's moon, the blood moon - this is the story of Eric and Merle whose souls have been searching for each other since their untimely parting. Beautifully imagined, intricately and cleverly structured, this is a heart-wrenching and breathtaking love story with the hallmark Sedgwick gothic touches of atmosphere, blood-spilling and sacrifice.

We also had the great pleasure of listening to Marcus read an excerpt from the book, and of course I managed to get him to sign my copies of White Crow and The Book of Dead Days.

The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner (published 3rd November 2011)

I am not yet sure whether this is a boy-friendly book or not, but I just had to mention it as Sally was there on the evening and read a short excerpt from it. Her descriptive writing is of the greatest quality and for those few minutes I was completely hypnotised by the words she was reading. The concept sounds fascinating and I will certainly be giving this one a try and reporting back to you all.

A girl tries to free herself from the terrifying double shadow of her childhood and forge her own future, but she is trapped in a memory machine created by her father.

Arnold Ruben has created a memory machine, a utopia housed in a picture palace, where the happiest memories replay forever; a haven in which he and his precious daughter can shelter from the war-clouds gathering over 1937 Britain. But on the day of her seventeenth birthday Amaryllis leaves Warlock Hall and the world she has known and wakes to find herself in a desolate and disturbing place. Something has gone terribly wrong with her father's plan. Against the tense backdrop of the second World War Sally Gardner explores families and what binds them, fathers and daughters, past histories, passions and cruelty, love and devastation in a novel rich in character and beautifully crafted.

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding (published January 2012)

Chris Wooding is an incredibly talented and imaginative writer, and if you like steampunkish, alternative history, fantasy stories and you have not yet read his The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray then you should make this a priority. He also writes for the adult market, and in 2009 Gollancz (the sci fi/fantasy arm of Orion) published his Retribution Falls. I am reliably informed by other bloggers who have read it that it is brilliant, and I bought a copy a while back that I fully intend to read during the school summer holidays. Anyway, what I am building up to saying is that is seems that Retribution Falls, and its sequel The Black Lung Captain, have built a healthy teen following and so they are going to be re-released as Indigo books.

Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, leader of a small and highly dysfunctional band of layabouts. An inveterate womaniser and rogue, he and his gang make a living on the wrong side of the law, avoiding the heavily armed flying frigates of the Coalition Navy. With their trio of ragged fighter craft, they run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves. So a hot tip on a cargo freighter loaded with valuables seems like a great prospect for an easy heist and a fast buck. Until the heist goes wrong, and the freighter explodes. Suddenly Frey isn't just a nuisance anymore - he's public enemy number one, with the Coalition Navy on his tail and contractors hired to take him down. But Frey knows something they don't. That freighter was rigged to blow, and Frey has been framed to take the fall. If he wants to prove it, he's going to have to catch the real culprit. He must face liars and lovers, dogfights and gunfights, Dukes and daemons. It's going to take all his criminal talents to prove he's not the criminal they think he is ...

The Double-Edged Sword by Sarah Silverwood (published January 2012)

Yes, this is another book that has already been published by Gollancz and will be reissued as an Indigo book, and it was one of my favourite books of last year (see my review here). Just last week I received a copy of the sequel, Traitor's Gate (also scheduled for an Indigo release, in March 2011), and I am about to start reading it this evening. If it is even half as good as its predecessor I could be in for a very late night.

Finmere Tingewick Smith was abandoned on the steps of the Old Bailey. Under the guardianship of the austere Judge Harlequin Brown and the elderly gentlemen of Orrery House, Fin has grown up under a very strange set of rules. He spends alternate years at two very different schools and now he's tired of the constant lies to even his best friends, to hide the insanity of his double life. Neither would believe the truth! But on his sixteenth birthday, everything changes. The Judge is killed, stabbed in the chest with a double-edged sword that's disturbingly familiar, and from that moment on, Fin is catapulted into an extraordinary adventure. Through the Doorway in Fin's London, a hole in the boundaries of Existence, lies another London -- and now both are in grave danger. For the Knights of Nowhere have kidnapped the Storyholder, the keeper of the Five Eternal Stories which weave the worlds together. Because of the Knights' actions, a black storm is coming, bringing madness with it. Fin may be just 16, but he has a long, dark journey ahead of him if he is to rescue the Storyholder and save Existence!

Hollow Pike by James Dawson (February 2012)

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to chat with James at the recent Orion summer party, but there is a lot of love for him on Twitter, and an awful lot of bloggers desperate to read his debut book, Hollow Pike. The brief details we were given sound fascinating, and the cover to the book (officially unveiled last night to us lucky few) is stunning. James (who you should follow on Twitter as @_jamesdawson) revealed the cover to the rest of the world this evening on his blog so I feel it is now ok for me to show it to you as well.

When Lis London moves to Hollow Pike, she's looking forward to starting afresh in a new town, but when she sees the local forest she realizes that not everything here is new to her. She's seen the wood before - in a recurring nightmare where someone is trying to kill her! Lis tells herself there's nothing to her bad dreams, or to the legends of witchcraft and sinister rituals linked with Hollow Pike. She's settling in, making friends, and even falling in love - but then a girl is found murdered in the forest. Suddenly, Lis doesn't know who to trust anymore...

As well as Marcus and Sally, we were also very fortunate to meet Sara Grant and Kate Harrison, both of whom treated us to readings from their respective books, Dark Parties and Soul Beach. I am not entirely sure at the moment whether these will have huge appeal, but if they do then I am sure reviews will appear on The Book Zone at some point in the future. I had a lovely long chat with Kate about boys and reading but unfortunately time disappeared very quickly and I never had the chance to chat with Sara.

There were many more books mentioned during the evening, but I think these should be enough to whet your appetite for now. As I get fed more information in the future from Orion about their Indigo book I will make sure that I pass it on to you.

My huge thanks go to Nina, Louise and their team for inviting me to such an enjoyable event, it was well worth another late night and a very tired and bleary-eyed drag through the school day today. My only regret is that I concentrated a little too much on talking to the bloggers I already know and didn't get the chance to introduce myself to Andrew (aka The Pewter Wolf), Michael (aka Achuka) and others. Sorry guys – hope we get the chance to chat soon.

Monday 11 July 2011

Review: Money Run by Jack Heath

Ashley Arthur is a teenage thief – the best there is. Along with her best friend Benjamin, they have concocted a master plan – to steal local billionaire Hammond Buckland’s most precious, and valuable, asset. Hidden somewhere in Buckland’s office building is the thing they seek – worth a massive $200 million.

Her plan is simple: get in, get rich and get out.

However, what Ashley doesn’t count on are Buckland’s many enemies. Peachy is a hitman on a mission – to kill Buckland – but soon Ashley becomes his new target and he is determined to finish the job – at any cost!

Pretty soon, Ashley isn’t worried about getting out with the $200 million. She’d be happy to just get out alive.

The past six weeks have been incredibly busy work-wise and at times it has been difficult to keep up with posting reviews. My 'To Be Read' pile is embarrassingly tall and I have a huge list of reviews to write (roll on the school summer holidays), and I have had to start turning down offers of books for review. However,  when I received an email about Money Run by Jack Heath that very clever publicist had me hooked immediately with the following words: "Die Hard meets Hustle". My all time favourite Christmas film meets one of my favourite TV programmes of the last ten years - I was sold immediately and even promoted it straight to the top of the TBR pile and started reading it as soon as it arrived (sorry other publishers), and I didn't put it down again until I had finished it. Yes, I enjoyed it that much.

I am aware that I sometimes over use certain words and phrases when writing reviews. Prime examples would be: "hi-octane", "roller coaster ride", "edge of your seat", and I am sure there are many others (hey... I teach woodwork, not English), and clichéd though these may be I still want to use every single one of them (and more) to describe Money Run. In a world that has seen a huge number of thrillers written for the 11+ age group over the past decade this one feels fresh and original and if I sequel was out already I would have started reading it as soon as I had finished this one. As for how it lived up to that original phrase on which I was sold so quickly? I think the only link to Die Hard is its setting in a highrise office, but there are definitely a number of favourable comparisons with Hustle. However, I would also like to throw 24 into the mix, because, apart from the prologue, the whole story takes place over one evening and every 'minute' is made to count.

I can't think of many books for this age group that are set in such a short period of time, and it is quite impressive how much Jack Heath manages to fit in to this mere handful of hours without the plot ever seeming rushed or too crammed with information. More importantly as well, although he manages to include as many action set-pieces as you will find in many a blockbuster action film there are also the essential quieter moments that add tension to the story and kept me eagerly turning pages whilst my heartbeat settled back to something close to its normal rest rate.  

Over the past ten years or so I have read a number of action adventure stories that, although they have been (cliché time again) exciting, fun-filled, white-knuckle rides, this has been at the cost of good character development and ultimately they have left me feeling a little cheated, as to really enjoy a scene where your main character is at risk of losing their life you have to genuinely care about that character. When this is the case your pulse accelerates, you get that butterflies-in-stomach feeling, and you really start to worry about the dangers faced by that character...... at least I do anyway and I am sure I am not alone in this. Technically, Money Run has two main characters, Ash and Benjamin, but in this story at least, Ash is very much the main focus, and I it was not long into the book before I was reading each page as fast as I could to find out what she would do next.

To say any more about the plot than that which is already written in the publisher's blurb above would be to ruin the story for you. It would be like showing all the best bits in a movie trailer and leaving no surprises when you finally come to watch the film itself. However, to put it simply, Ash is a thief and Benjamin is the technical wizard who plans with her and supports her whilst she is in the field, and together they make a formidable team. In Money Run the pair set out to steal a whopping great $200 million dollars from a billionaire businessman, but very quickly find themselves very much out of their depth as Ash finds herself dodging multiple assassins, the police and the machinations of the very same billionaire they intended to relieve of his cash. I remember watching the very first season of 24, and how I realised after the first few episodes that I would never really know what was going to happen next, and guessing would be a pointless exercise. Although whilst reading Money Run I did find myself correctly guessing a few of the plot twists, there were many that I didn't see coming, the biggest of which comes right at the very end of the book.

Money Run has its weaknesses but it is so much fun that it is very easy to ignore these and enjoy the ride, although and you will need to suspend your disbelief at times. As I closed this book I genuinely felt that the couple of hours I had spent reading it were well spent and I felt nothing but excitement at the prospect of a sequel and the potential for even more exciting stories beyond that. In fact,  I am tempted to order the follow-up story, Hit List, from Mr Heath's native Australia where I believe it is already available. If you love full-on action films then you will love this book.

My thanks go to Liz Scott and Usborne for sending me a copy of this book to review. Please come back in August when I will be featuring a superb guest post written by Jack Heath exclusively for The Book Zone.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Book Zone Visits Random House Children's Books

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend the morning in the company of the team from Random House Children's Books at their Bloggers' Brunch. Having been to a similar event they held back in January I had been looking forward to it for some time, as had the handful of other bloggers who ventured into London for it. Once we had been greeted and plied with tea, coffee and/or smoothies we were sat down and the team gave us a presentation of some of the books they have coming out later this year and early 2012. I am really excited about a number of their titles that sound boy-friendly and so I thought I would share this news with you. So in no particular order (and obviously, all dates could be subject to change):

Desert Angel by Charlie Price (published 2nd February 2012)

He is waiting...
He is watching...
He will hunt her down.
Angel is on the run. Her mother is dead, her body buried in a shallow grave by her latest boyfriend, Scotty, an ruthless, illegal hunter who is prone to violence and who now wants Angel dead before she can talk to the police.
Angel has lived through more than a young girl should have but she’s determined to stay alive.
But in the scorching heat of the open desert, where can she hide?

Now Is The Time For Running by Michael Williams (published 2nd February 2012)

On the dusty fields of Zimbabwe, Deo finds meaning in football. He’s a Man United fan with a home-made ball and one day he’s going to make it big.
Innocent, his older brother, isn’t like the other boys; he’s slow sometimes, but no one dares say so – not with Deo watching.
When the soldiers come with their trail of death and destruction, the boys have no choice but to flee for their lives. Deo stuffs his football with billions of worthless dollars and leads his brother on the long and road to South Africa in search of safety.
On the run and in hiding, the boys weave their way through the border to South Africa, arriving with their meagre possessions and a handful of dreams.
A raw, beautiful and moving story of two brothers on a journey that will strengthen, toughen and ultimately, make or break them.

This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel (published 6th October 2011)

Victor and Konrad Frankenstein are twins, born just two minutes apart but with very different personalities. Along with their beautiful cousin Elizabeth, they lead a charmed life at their parents’ chateau. But when Konrad falls dangerously ill, everything changes.
Victor’s quest to find a cure leads him into the Dark Library, a secret room full of ancient, forbidden knowledge. On the spine-chilling mission that follows, he is forced to confront strange foes, alchemical forces and the most difficult torment of all – the pain of unrequited love.
Set against the turreted backdrop of eighteenth-century Geneva, This Dark Endeavour is the first book in Kenneth Oppel’s haunting new gothic duology.

The Haunting of Charity Delafield by Ian Beck (published 3rd November 2011)

A magical, enchanting tale, with stunning illustrations that will transport you into another world.
Flame-haired Charity Delafield has grown up in a vast, isolated house - most of which she is forbidden to explore - with her fiercely strict father. With only her kindly nurse, Rose, and her cat Mr Tompkins for company, she knows very little of the outside world - or of her own family's shadowy past. What she does know is that she is NEVER to go outside unsupervised. And she is NEVER to over-excite herself, because of the mysterious 'condition' that she has been told she suffers from.
But Charity has a secret. All her life, she has had the same strange dream - a dream of a dark corridor, dden somewhere in the house. Then, one day, Charity stumbles across the corridor. It leads to a door . . . and suddenly she realises things are not quite what they seem.

The Adventures of the New Cut Gang by Philip Pullman (published 1st September 2011)

Thunderbolt, Benny, Bridie and Sharky Bob are a mixed bunch of vagabonds and urchins who come together to form the New Cut Gang in two comic tales of stolen silver, skullduggery and desperadoes. Fake coins are turning up all over Lambeth and the finger of suspicion is pointing at Thunderbolt's dad - could he really be the forger? The crime-busting New Cut Gang come to the rescue! And when just two clues - a blob of wax and a Swedish match - are discovered at the scene of a break-in, the children find themsevles on the trail of an extremely cunning criminal. Set in late Victorian London, these two action-packed thrillers have now been put together in a single volume - with new illustrations throughout from Horrible Histories illustrator, Martin Brown.

Starters by Lissa Price (published 5th April 2012)

I can't tell you much at all about this one except that the concept is brilliant. If you are a fan of science fiction, dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic stories then I this could be the book for you. As soon as I am allowed I will bring you more information on this book and its creepy cover.

And last, but by no means least:

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini (published 8th November 2011)

Not so very long ago, Eragon - Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider - was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now, the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.
Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chances.
The Rider and his dragon have come farther than anyone dared to hope. But can they t
opple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaësia? And if so, at what cost?


Out of all of these I think the titles I am most excited about are The Dark Endeavour (Kenneth Oppel is a fantastic writer who winds pretty much every prize going in his native Canada, and this may be the book that propels him into worldwide stardom); The Haunting of Charity Delafield (great writer, brilliant illustrator. No cover image for this yet but I am reliably informed that Ian has illustrated it himself and it is stunning); and The Adventures of the New Cut Gang (I love Pullman's work. Even before I had read His Dark Materials I was already a big fan of his Sally Lockhart books. The two stories that have been collated into this one volume  by David Fickling were originally published by Puffin back in the mid-1990s. I have never read them and I was very lucky to pick up a proof copy yesterday, although I will probably end up buying the hardback edition when it is published for Martin Brown's illustrations).

After the presentation we were introduced to two authors whose work I have loved over the past year: Lindsey Barraclough, author of the brilliant Long Lankin, and Andy Mulligan, author of the superb Trash. Of course, I had my copies of both books in hand and both authors were very gracious and signed my books. 
It was a thoroughly enjoyable morning and my huge thanks go to the team at Random House Children's Books for their kind hospitality and generosity as I managed to walk away with a handful of great looking books.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

News: Awfully Big Blog Adventure Online Literary Festival

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about a new blog called The History Girls and I mentioned that I had met a couple of its founding members at the Orion summer party. At that very same event I also met the lovely Lucy Coates and we had a brief chat about the forthcoming Online Literary Festival being organised my writers from the Scattered Authors' Society. I asked Lucy to email a copy of the press release as it sounded like a pretty exciting event for young book lovers. So, if couldn't make it to Hay this year, or there is no chance of getting up to Edinburgh then you best make sure you visit the Awfully Big Blog Adventure Online Literary Festival this coming weekend. And if you did go to Hay, and/or you are lucky enough to be able to get to Edinburgh then you obviously love books and I can't think of a better place for you to be this weekend then at your computer visiting this very special online event.

Press release:


An Awfully Big Blog Adventure is celebrating its 3rd Birthday with the FIRST EVER ONLINE LITERARY FESTIVAL run entirely by children’s authors, and we want YOU to get involved in supporting us! On 9th and 10th July 2011 49 (yes FORTY-NINE) children’s authors from the Scattered Authors’ Society (, including Adele Geras, Mary Hoffman, Liz Kessler and Celia Rees will be bringing you something new and special every half hour from 9.30am to 7.30pm on our BRAND-NEW UPDATED SITE. You can see the full schedule at:

There will be:

Amazing Blogs

Stunning Videos

Exciting Giveaways

Fascinating Interviews

Mind-boggling Competitions

We’d love you to:

Join the guests on our dedicated ABBA Online Litfest Facebook Event Page at:!/event.php?eid=106740349419019

Promote us, mention us, link to us, blog about us, talk about us in diary features or news sections.

Join in the conversation! Follow @AwfullyBigBlog on Twitter, tweet about us on the day and before, using our special hashtag #ABBAlitfest

Monday 4 July 2011

Review: Furnace: Execution by Alexander Gordon Smith

The whole world has become a prison, and Alfred Furnace is its master. Monsters rule the streets, beasts of pure fury that leave nothing but murder and madness in their wake. Those who do not die are turned, becoming slaves to Furnace’s reign of cruelty. It is a war to end all wars, one that will leave the planet in ruins. I am a monster too. I am one of Alfred Furnace’s children. And I am the only one who can stop him. I have to find a way to use my powers to destroy Furnace, but in doing so I risk becoming the very force that kills us all. I don’t know if I am the executed or the executioner. I don’t know who will die: me, Furnace or the entire human race. All I know is that one way or another, it all ends today.

Warning: this review may very well contain spoilers for earlier books in the series! If I do let something important slip then please believe me when I say that it won't be deliberate, but I love this series so much I may get carried away.

Last September I wrote a review of Lockdown, the first book in Alexander Gordon Smith's totally brilliant Furnace series (or Escape From Furnace as it is known in the US). I mentioned that this was a series that I had pretty much ignored, as I somewhat stupidly thought it was a straight prison drama. How wrong could I be? The moment I read Lockdown I was completely hooked - this was teen horror at its very best, and since then I have devoured the other books in the series, culminating in Execution, the final book in the series, which was released in the UK back in March. Every book in the series up to this had been of an exceptional quality, and this final instalment was no exception: superbly written, breathtakingly scary at times, and most importantly it brings the series to a very fitting end. No loose ends, no "I can't believe he did that" moments, just perfection..... almost! (and I will say more of this later).

Book four in the series, Fugitives, saw Alex and his friends finally manage to escape from their living nightmare in Furnace Penitentiary, only to find themselves hounded on all sides as they tried to take shelter in the nearby city. The author had excelled at writing nailbiting scenes of great tension and explosive action, all in the claustrophobic confines of the subterranean prison, and the moving of the story into the open city gave him free reign to up the action scenes to a new high. Execution starts at the moment that the previous book ended. However, Alex's victory is shortlived, as he is captured and sedated by the authorities, only to wake up strapped to a bed in some kind of cell. You thought Warden Cross was a nasty piece of work? Now say hello to Colonel Alice Panettierre, a woman so singleminded about her ambitions that she will let no-one and nothing stand in her way. Somehow he has to escape from this new prison, find and save his friends, work out where Alfred Furnace is holed up, make his way there whilst evading the constant and violent pursuit of Panettierre and the forces at her command, and still have the energy and strength to defeat the man he sees as the devil incarnate. An impossible task? Fans of this series will know that this will not be an easy journey for Alex, and there are likely to be casualties on both sides before the book's climax, as Smith made it clear right from book one that he was not afraid to kill off popular characters if the story demanded it.

Despite the high quality of storytelling, the outstanding action scenes and the gloriously gory moments, for me the real key to the brilliance of these books is Alex's character. This is a boy who has been framed for murder and then incarcerated in a place worse than hell where he has been experimented on to the point where is now more monster than human, and yet the author's skill in creating this character means that as readers we can't help but like Alex immensely, even when he it looks as if he might be about to cross over to the dark side. Somehow, Alex still manages to retain a degree of humanity that makes his pursuers seem like wild animals. The other key characters that have accompanied Alex on his journey are also a hugely important factor in making these books so enjoyable - they bring humour when a particularly dark  moment needs to be lightened; they add to the tension when the going gets tough and it seems as if there is no way they will all survive; and they also contribute to a moment of great sadness at the end of the story which may just bring a few tears to your eyes.

I said earlier that the ending was almost perfection. When I read the book I thought that the author had ended it brilliantly, but on turning the final page I discovered an end note with a web link to an epilogue to the story. Although the link wasn't working at the time I emailed Alexander Gordon Smith to tell him how much I had enjoyed the series and he very kindly email it to me. It was with some small amount of trepidation that I decided to read it, as I had after all really enjoyed the book's ending, but I am glad I did as it really does make the ending to the story perfect in my mind. The epilogue is now online but I'm not going to send you the link - read the book first and then go and look for it.

Only discovering these books in September 2010 meant that I had the luxury of reading the whole series with only short breaks between books, and if I have the time I intend to read the whole series again, back-to-back, sometime over the next twelve months. Impatient readers can dip into the series at any point as the author starts each book off with a chapter detailing the events of the previous book, but if you do this then you are doing yourself a great disservice - this is a series that must be read in order! Fans of Alexander Gordon Smith will probably be as ecstatic as me at the news that he has a new book due out with Faber next year. Titled The Fury, I have been reliably informed by AGS that it is a "pretty relentless, gory thriller" - brilliant!

My thanks go to the generous people at Faber for sending me a copy of Furnace: Execution. In the US the Furnace books are published with some incredible book covers by Farrar Straus Giroux (an imprint of MacMillan US), and the third book in the series, Escape From Furnace: Death Sentence is scheduled to be released on 2nd August over there. Just look at these covers:



Sadly, my favourite design of the whole series did not make it as a final design, but I want to show it to you anyway. How creepy is this?