Monday 31 October 2011

News: Red House Children's Book Award shortlist announced

I received this press release over the weekend but unfortunately I have not had a chance to get it up on my blog until now as work has been stupid busy. However, as it is about one of my favourite book awards I still wanted to post about it, even if it is a good few hours after everyone else. I love the Red House Children's Book Award for one reason - the books on the list, and the eventual winner, are chosen by and voted for exclusively by young readers. Not librarians. Not teachers. Not stuffy journalists working for national newspapers. Kids. And let's face it - they know what they like better than we do most of the time. There are some outstanding books and authors on the list, I am sure you will agree.

Press release:

Some of the biggest names in children’s fiction are joined by exciting new authors and illustrators on the shortlist for this year’s Red House Children’s Book Award, the only national award for children’s books that is voted for entirely by children themselves. What could be a better indicator of the books that will tempt children away from computer games and DVDs than a list drawn up by young people across the country, which pits literary heavyweights like Morris Gleitzman and Patrick Ness against outstanding debut authors such as Annabel Pitcher?

Who will win? It’s up to children everywhere to decide. Voting is now open and the Red House Children’s Book Award would like to encourage every child in Britain to check out the shortlisted titles and vote for their favourite!

The Red House Children’s Book Award is highly respected by teachers, parents and librarians and has brought acclaim and strong sales to past winners such as J.K. Rowling, Andy Stanton, Malorie Blackman and Anthony Horowitz. The award has often been the first to recognise the future stars of children’s fiction and has the ability to turn popular authors into bestsellers.

Children nationwide are now invited to vote for their favourite of the ten shortlisted books. The category winners and the author of the best children’s book published in the 2011 nomination period will be announced – for the first time ever – at a glittering awards ceremony which takes place in the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre in London on Saturday 18th February 2012.

A dedicated website showcases all the shortlisted titles and featured authors. Any child can vote here for their favourite book until 20th January 2012.

The full shortlist for the Red House Children’s Book Award 2012 is as follows:

Books for Younger Children

Rollo and Ruff and the Little Fluffy Bird by Mick Inkpen, published by Hodder
Don't Worry Douglas! by David Melling, published by Hodder
Peely Wally by Kali Stileman, published by Red Fox
Scruffy Bear and the Six White Mice by Chris Wormell, published by Jonathan Cape

Books for Younger Readers

One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson, published by Marion Lloyd Books
Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis, published by Oxford University Press
The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon, published by Scholastic

Books for Older Readers

Grace by Morris Gleitzman, published by Puffin
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, published by Walker
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher, published by Orion

Additional Notes:

The Red House Children’s Book Award, now in its 32nd year, was founded in 1980 by author and librarian Pat Thompson and is owned and run by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. The overall winner is awarded the Red House Children’s Book Award Silver Tree, of which they are the custodian for a year, and an engraved silver acorn which is theirs to keep. Each of the shortlisted authors and illustrators also receives a silver bookmark and an incredible portfolio of writing and artwork created by children inspired by their book. The ten titles on the shortlist for the Books for Younger Children, Books for Younger Readers and Books for Older Readers categories, as well as 40 highly recommended titles, were chosen by children who read and voted for the books at lively events organised nationwide by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

The Federation of Children’s Book Groups was set up as a charity by Anne Wood, the originator of the Teletubbies. It acts as an umbrella organisation for local Children’s Book Groups all over the UK. The groups organise a variety of activities including author events and other activities that promote the enjoyment of children’s books. The Federation also produces numerous specialist book lists, organises National Share-a-Story Month each May, National Non-Fiction Day each November and holds an annual conference each spring.

Red House has created a community to which book-loving parents will want to belong and an environment in which parents can, with confidence, select the books their children will take with them on their reading journey. Red House sifts through the thousands of books published each month and promotes the best through its magazines and website, taking care to select books that children themselves really enjoy. Red House provides choice without confusion, education without boredom, value without obligation and strives to make books affordable to all, with over 1000 titles half price or less.

Haunted Blog Tour: Guest Post by Philip Reeve

Short stories are great! Especially those of the spooky kind. I remember reading through many an anthology of ghost stories as a child, but these days it seems that many young people prefer longer novels and there are only a minority of these compilations published each year. Back in September Andersen Press published Haunted, a superb anthology of ghost stories written by some of the biggest names in children's literature today. This book includes tales by the likes of Derek Landy (author of Skulduggery Pleasant), Robin Jarvis (author of Dancing Jax and many others), Joseph Delaney (author of the Spooks series), and many others, including the legend that is Philip Reeve. Yes, the Mortal Engines Philip Reeve! Thus I am more than a little excited that I am today hosting a guest post by Philip about his beloved Dartmoor. Not only that, there are also a couple of stunning photos taken by Sarah Reeve, as well as a special video produced by Philip's friend, author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre (look really closely - is that a ghost in one of the images in the video?).

Haunted Dartmoor

Dartmoor, where I live, is ghost country.  You might not notice it if you see it in the summertime, when bracken greens and softens the steep hillsides, and the moorland car-parks are filled with picnicking visitors and greedy ponies hoping for a crisp.  On wire racks outside the shops and cafes in Widecombe you’ might find little books of ‘Dartmoor Ghost Stories’, but they seem like pretty thin stuff: well-worn tales of phantom monks and spectral huntsmen, and the ‘hairy hands’ which are supposed to appear and grip the steering wheels of cars on the lonely road from Postbridge to Princetown, causing them to swerve off the road (that one always sounds to me like an excuse some local farmer invented after he drove into a ditch on his way home from the Warren House Inn).  These are processed ghosts, served up for the tourist industry, and unlikely to scare anybody nowadays.

But come the autumn, when the leaves turn and the nights draw in and the bones of the landscape start to show through the thinning trees, then the true, spooky nature of the moor shows too.  In low light or sudden mists it’s hard to tell the scale of things; those figures on the skyline that you think are a line of walkers turn out to be standing stones, set up some time in the bronze-age, forming an avenue that leads from nowhere to nowhere through the heather.  The tangled woods are full of secret movements.  In one of them, Wistman’s Wood, legend has it that the devil kennels his pack of ghostly hounds under the boulders which lie tumbled between the roots of the gnarled and stunted oak trees.  I don’t believe in the devil, or ghosts, or anything supernatural, but when you’re alone there in autumn it’s easy to imagine that there’s something down among the shaggy moss and leaf mould and dead branches, watching... It’s not unfriendly, perhaps, but it’s as old as the moor itself, and it’s definitely nothing human.  That’s where my story The Ghost Wood in the Haunted anthology comes from: it’s a little gust of autumn wind, blowing down off Dartmoor on Hallowe’en...

Photo by Sarah Reeve

Photo by Sarah Reeve

Video by Sarah McIntyre


Huge thanks to Philip, Sarah and Sarah for taking the time to produce this piece for The Book Zone. However, before I go I guess you might be wanting to hear my thoughts about the anthology in more detail, so please read on for my brief review.

This book is perfect for Hallowe'en, and for any other time of the year if you love a spooky ghost story. I think what I liked most about Haunted was the way each of the eleven authors brought something very different to the mix. Some of the stories have touches of dark humour, some of them are straight pee-your-pants scary, but every single one of them makes for a great spooky read and Andersen Press have done a sterling job in collecting such a fantastic group of authors and their stories together.

I am still undecided as to which one is my favourite in the anthology. Philip's tale, The Ghost Wood, is not as scary as some of the others, but it made me think about the ancient power that could still lie within our land, despite all that has happened to it since the Industrial Revolution. Mal Peet's story, Good Boy, will have your heart in your mouth whilst reading it, worrying what will happen to main character Katie, and Eleanor Updale's The Ghost in the Machine is very clever and possibly unlike any ghost story you have ever read as it deals with haunting through the internet. For the 'sheer terror award' I think that Susan Cooper's  The Caretakers is definitely in with a shout of first prize, but if I was tied to chair and threatened by a particularly nasty ghost in order to help me make my  mind up I think my favourite of the anthology would have to be Derek Landy's Songs the Dead Sing. Readers of The Book Zone will know I am a huge fan of Derek's Skulduggery Pleasant series, for both its horror element and its brilliant use of humour, and both of these are present in his Haunted short story.

This book is a treat for fans of both short stories and horror fiction and if you have left it late to buy someone an All Hallow's Read then this is well worth buying. My thanks go to the good people at Andersen Press for sending me a copy and for arranging for Philip to write the guest post for us. If your appetite for all things spooky as been whetted then you can read a serialisation of Jamila Gavin's short story, The Blood Line, over at The Guardian by clicking here.

Sunday 30 October 2011

My All Hallow's Read by Steve Feasey (author of the Changeling series)

At the beginning of the month I blogged about Neil Gaiman's fantastic All Hallow's Read idea. Judging by the number of times it is getting mentioned on Twitter it sounds as if the 'tradition' is really taking off this year, especially over in the US. My All Hallow's Reads gifts have been dispatched to various households around the UK, and I know that many others have been doing the same. Perhaps we can make this just as big on this side of the Atlantic over the next few years.

What would you All Hallow's Read be? Changeling author Steve Feasey has kindly joined us here on The Book Zone to tell us about his choice.


The book that I’m going to recommend for All Hallow’s Read is Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg. I read this book while on a caravanning holiday with my family when I was about 14. I was reading a mixture of books at the time, and I thought this would be the perfect thing to bridge the gap between my love of horror and my newly blossoming liking for crime thrillers.

During the holiday, my family would often go to the club on the caravan site, and having seen my mother do the Birdy Song dance once was enough to make this teenage boy decide to boycott the place for the remainder of the stay. I found myself alone in the caravan with Hjortsberg’s book. To say the experience of reading it alone there, with the sea wind rocking the entire structure back and forth, added to the fear the book instilled in me would be the understatement of the century!

It’s a brilliantly written novel, and having seen the film adaptation, Angel Heart, since reading it, I was extremely glad that the book came to me before the film. Written in a Chandleresque, hard-boiled detective novel style, the basic premise is that a private eye is hired by an enigmatic and sinister client to find a missing person. The investigation quickly turns into a living nightmare as our hero, Harold Angel, gets drawn into a world of dark forces that he can’t even begin to understand.

The twist at the end is, for those who haven’t seen the film, simply brilliant.

Not an easy read, but well worth the effort for lovers of dark fiction.


Spooky Reads For Hallowe'en

'Tis Hallowe'en tomorrow and I thought it would be a little remiss of me if I didn't highlight some of the great spooky reads that I have had the pleasure of reading over the past year or so. Naturally, the books I discussed this time last year are still must-reads for all young horror fans, and you can read about them here. And if you're not a horror fan, or have read them already, why not give one as an All Hallow's Read.

Department 19 by Will Hill

In a secret supernatural battle that's been raging for over a century, the stakes have just been raised – and they're not wooden anymore.

When Jamie Carpenter's mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government's most secret agency.

Fortunately for Jamie, Department 19 can provide the tools he needs to find his mother, and to kill the vampires who want him dead. But unfortunately for everyone, something much older is stirring, something even Department 19 can't stand up against…

I do not think I will ever get tired of shouting about just how brilliant this action horror story is. If you have not yet discovered it then where have you been hiding since April? The sequel, The Rising, is out next March - I wonder how many times I will have re-read this by then?

Dancing Jax by Robin Jarvis

At the end of a track, on the outskirts of an ordinary coastal town, lies a dilapidated house. Once, a group of amateur ghost hunters spent the night there. Two of them don’t like to speak about the experience. The third can’t speak about it. He went into the basement, you see, and afterwards he screamed so hard and so long he tore his vocal cords.

Now, a group of teenagers have decided to hang out in the old haunted house. Dismissing the fears of the others, their leader Jezza goes down into the basement… and comes back up with a children’s book, full of strange and colourful tales of a playing-card world, a fairytale world, full of Jacks, Queens and Kings, unicorns and wolves.

But the book is no fairytale. Written by Austerly Fellows, a mysterious turn-of-the-century occultist, it just might be the gateway to something terrifying…and awfully final. As the children and teenagers of the town are swept up by its terrible power, swept into its seductive world, something has begun that could usher in hell on earth. Soon, the only people standing in its way are a young boy with a sci-fi obsession, and his dad – an unassuming maths teacher called Martin…

Robin Jarvis is a legend and this is just the latest in a long line of outstanding books by him. He doesn't really see his writing as horror but Dancing Jax will hit you on a psychological level and haunt your thoughts for weeks afterwards. I had the pleasure of meeting Robin at a HarperCollins bloggers' tea last week and it is hard to believe that such a nice man could write such scary books. If you have not yet read his Tales from the Wyrd Museum trilogy then make that a priority as well - the books are in the process of being re-released and every one of them is a great scary read.

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

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.

An old-school ghost story that is guaranteed to scare your socks off. I know a number of other bloggers who have struggled to sleep after making the mistake of reading this one at night.

CRYPT: The Gallows Curse by Andrew Hammond

Meet Jud Lester: Star agent with CRYPT, the Covert Response Youth Paranormal Team.

When a crime is committed and the police are at a loss, CRYPT is called in to figure out whether something paranormal is at work. Jud is their star agent.
Jud, unwillingly paired with new recruit Bex, has just landed his biggest case yet ... people have been disappearing in mysterious circumstances while others are viciously attacked - yet there are no suspects and a complete lack of hard evidence. The only thing that links each attack is the fact that survivors all claim that the culprits were 17th century highwaymen.
Can Jud and Bex work out what has caused the spirits of these dangerous men to return to the streets of London before they wreak more death and destruction?

This is the first in a series from debut YA author Andrew Hammond and comes packed with some great action scenes as well as enough gore and horror to keep fans of the genre salivating for more.

The Shadowing: Hunted by Adam Slater

Its head was a mass of wet, gleaming veins and cartilage, muscle and teeth - a face without skin or form. The creature held Callum's gaze with its unblinking eyes. And then the hideous face changed. Every hundred years the gateway opens between their world and ours. The hunt is on. No one is safe. The Shadowing is coming . . .

Another 'first in a series' book and I loved it. What's more, the sequel, Skinned, has already been released and is even better and scarier than the first book.

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Nearly fourteen years ago a freak virus swept across the world turning those infected from the living into the undead. Benny Imura has grown-up never knowing anything different; his last memories of his parents tainted by the image of them becoming zombies. Now Benny is fifteen, and his brother Tom wants him to join the "family business" and train as a zombie killer. The last thing Benny wants is to work with Tom --- but at least the job should be an easy ride. Then the brothers head into the Rot and Ruin, an area full of wandering zombies, and Benny realises that being a bounty hunter isn't just about whacking zombies. As he's confronted with the truths about the world around him, Benny finds his beliefs challenged and makes the most terrifying discovery of all, that sometimes the worst monsters you can imagine, are human...

If you like zombie stories then this is a must buy for you. If you don't like zombie stories then this is still a must buy - yes it has some gory moments, and the occasional swear word, but it is much more than a horror story - it is a tale about two brothers working together to overcome a great evil, and a fantastic study in what makes us human in a world gone crazy. I have not yet read the sequel, Dust and Decay, but I can see it on my shelf screaming "read me or else....".

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake

Taro is a boy from a coastal village in rural Japan, fated to become a fisherman like his father. But in just one night, Taro's world is turned upside down - and his destiny is changed forever. Skilled in the art of silent and deadly combat, ninjas are the agents of powerful nobles who rule sixteenth-century Japan. So why did a group of these highly trained assassins creep into a peasant's hut and kill Taro's father? And why did one ninja rescue Taro from their clutches, saving his life at enormous cost? Now on the run with this mysterious saviour and his best friend Hiro, Taro is determined to learn the way of the ninja to avenge his father's death. But if they are to complete their perilous journey, Taro must first evade the wrath of the warring Lords, decipher an ancient curse, resist forbidden love - and come to terms with the blood-soaked secrets of a life lived in moonlight.

I can't believe I didn't include this is last year's list of Hallowe'en recommended reads. Ninjas + Vampires + Samurai = lots of bloodsplattering win! I have just read the sequel, Lord Oda's Revenge, and it is just as good, and even more gory, then the first book. Watch this space for my review.


If you love your horror then I hope there is something there that appeals to you. Have a great Hallowe'en!

Saturday 29 October 2011

Scream Street Blog Tour

Scream Street
author and all round top bloke Tommy Donbavand has written an exclusive Scream Street short story that is being serialised across a number of blogs as part of his celebrating the release of the thirteenth and final Scream Street book, Flame of the Dragon. If this is news to you then head on over to the Scream Street website to read the first chapter, and then follow the link given to find chapter two. 

Chapter Eleven 

The Pet 

Henry reappeared through the fence piece by piece, looking like a child’s rubber toy that had been overstretched to the point of breaking.

“How was that?” he asked.

Luke, Resus and Cleo stared at the phantom in horror. His face sagged dramatically to one side, his stomach bulged over the waistband of his trousers and his arms were now so long that they dragged on the ground as he walked.

“Yikes!” exclaimed Resus. “It might be an idea to stick to open doors for the time being.”

A pale shadow fell over the group as they grabbed bits of Henry and tried to reshape him. “When you’ve all finished mucking around,” snarled Mr Aspin, “it’s time for Henry’s first test!”

“Yes, sir,” croaked Henry, finally looking more or less like himself again. “Whatever you say, sir.”

The phantom president consulted his clipboard. “The first challenge is for Harper to Petrify a Pet...”

“Well, that shouldn’t be too hard,” said Cleo. “Cats and dogs have a sixth sense about ghosts. They frequently see things that people can’t.”

“The problem is,” said Luke, “that I haven’t seen Shan the witch’s cat around for ages, and the only dogs in Scream Street are Sir Otto’s hellhounds.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere near them.” Henry quivered. “They scare me!”

“Wait,” said Resus. “The rule is that Henry has to scare a pet, right?”

“That’s right,” said Aspin.

“Then it doesn’t have to be cat or a dog.” The vampire beamed. “Follow me...”

They found Fifi Crudley in her garden, playing with her pet mouse. The young bog monster was encouraging the mouse to run from left to right by offering it lumps of cheese.

“There you go,” said Resus.

“A mouse?” scoffed Aspin, flicking through his notes.

“It’s still a pet,” Resus pointed out. “And Henry shouldn’t have to blow too hard in order to give it a scare.”

Mr Aspin, unable to find anything in the rules that forbade a phantom from scaring a mouse, produced a pen and got ready to make notes. “Get on with it,” he growled.

“OK, Henry,” said Cleo. “This is it... Just do your best.”

The phantom nodded nervously and crouched down in front of the mouse. Fifi, unable to see him, continued to make the animal dash back and forth. Frowning in concentration, Henry blew gently.

The mouse stopped, mid-scamper, and turned to face Henry, whiskers twitching.

“It’s working!” hissed Resus. “Blow harder, Henry!”

Henry sucked in a deep lungful of air and blew as hard as he could. The mouse stared at him, blinking in the breeze, then was suddenly lifted off its feet. It flew straight at Fifi, sinking into her gooey stomach with a sickening schlop!

“Squeaker!” screamed Fifi, plunging a fist into the muddy folds of her belly and fishing around for her tiny friend.

The trio were dragging Henry towards the garden gate by the time she pulled the mouse free.


The story will continue tomorrow over at Trapped By Monsters.

Friday 28 October 2011

Attention Grabber #3: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Attention Grabber is my new weekly feature where I post what I think is a great opening paragraph to a book, the sort of opening that pulls young readers in and hooks them from the start.

This week's Attention Grabber comes from Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. It was suggested by a couple of other bloggers, but it is so great that I already had it on my list for this feature anyway. It is possibly one of the shortest Attention Grabbers that will appear on The Book Zone, but when I first read it I had one of those almost sit-com-like double takes just to check that I had read it correctly. How could anyone not read on after this first sentence?

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Guest Post by Alexander Gordon Smith (author of the Escape From Furnace books)

One of my favourite horror authors that I have discovered since starting The Book Zone is Alexander Gordon Smith. I love his Escape From Furnace series and I am constantly recommending them to horror-loving students at school. Some time ago I asked Gordon if he would be interested in writing a guest post about horror for The Book Zone, and what I received is possibly one of the best guest posts I have ever featured here. I asked Gordon at the time if he would be happy for it to be posted nearer Hallowe'en and he thought that this would be a great idea.

H is for Horror
Alexander Gordon Smith

I openly and proudly admit that I am a horror writer. I love horror, for so many reasons. For a start, it is the most unrestrictive genre because there are no rules – literally anything can happen in a horror story. I don’t think any other genre of writing gives you the same unlimited scope, the same opportunity to push your imagination right to the edge, and then over. I love that sense of freedom!

But I mainly love horror because to me it is the most human of genres. That may sound a little weird, considering that horror stories often involve things that have fur or fangs or tentacles (or worse), but let me start with a complaint. I do events in schools all year round, and quite often (maybe ten times a year) a teacher or parent will come up to me, looking very stern, and say something along the lines of “I really don’t think horror is appropriate for teenagers.” Some reel off the things in my books that they disapprove of (gun fights, explosions, riots, stabbings, sinister experiments, monsters ripping limbs off people, mutant killer dogs, freaks in gas masks dragging prisoners off to their doom in the blood drenched tunnels of Furnace, etc). Some even go on to suggest I write “nice” books that won’t put ideas into children’s heads or make them go off and do horrible things.

In such cases I explain to these people that they have totally missed the point.

Furnace is a book where bad things happen, yes. Terrible things. Gallons of blood is spilled, limbs and lives are lost with alarming frequency, terrifying creatures stalk the cells at night and, later on in the series, millions of innocent people perish in gruesome fashion. But nowhere in the books is this violence and terror glamourized. In fact, as with almost all stories in this genre, the purpose of it is to bring out the best in your characters – because with horror comes humanity.

At its heart, the Furnace series is a story about friendship and courage, about heroism and hope, and about love too – not the smoochy “love” of certain popular YA books, but the love you have for a brother, a best friend, the love that keeps you standing shoulder to shoulder with someone even when the battle looks lost. At the start of the story Alex is a criminal and a bully. And inside Furnace he has to commit much worse crimes to stay alive. But the horror of what happens makes him a better person because he comes to understand that without courage, without friendship, without hope, he will lose himself to the nightmare of the prison and the warden’s devastating plans.

In short, when things are at their very worst we see people at their very best. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre, because it reveals the hero inside all of us, even when that hero is buried so deep we think it doesn’t exist – just like with Alex at the start of the book. When characters are threatened with violence they show tolerance and perseverance and forgiveness (as well as kick-assedness), when they are face to face with their nightmares they show boundless courage, when they are confronted by evil – whether it is age-old and world-ending or simply human cruelty – they show goodness, the inhumanity of their world brings out their humanity, and at the very end of things, when all seems lost, they have hope. These things don’t come easily, of course, the characters have to fight for them and they don’t always win. But essentially it is the horror of their story that saves them.

And as to whether or not horror is suitable for children and teenagers, I would argue that reading a good horror story is an essential part of growing up! Fear as an emotion is older than we are as a species, we once needed it for our very survival because the hormonal rush it gave us turned us into superhumans. Nowadays we spend less time running away from lions, but fear – and the knowledge that we can overcome it – is still an important part of growing up. Reading horror stories gives us a taste of what it is like to face up to danger, to be challenged and victorious, tested and triumphant. This is why I was so addicted to horror as a teenager, I think, because I needed to know that I could face the challenges of growing up. I needed to know that I had the strength to survive. Horror stories give us the confidence to live life the way we want to, the same way fairy tales implant vital lessons in the unconscious minds of young children. They let us know that we have what it takes to be our own heroes.

I have a friend who once complained that writing horror was cheating, that all we do is say “boo” and expect the reader to spend the whole book running away screaming. But he got it wrong too, because horror isn’t about running away. It is never about running away. It is about standing up to your fears, it is about how to confront and triumph and survive and grow. We do say “boo”, but what we really want is for the reader to say “boo” back, because that’s what horror does (for characters and readers alike) – it scares us, but in doing so it makes us stronger.

And that’s what I always try to tell people who moan that horror is simply violence, terror and rampant gore. H is for Horror, yes, but is also stands for Heroism, Humanity and Hope.


Huge, huge thanks to Alexander Gordon Smith for taking the time to write this post. I am often questioned by friends as to why I like reading horror books and watching horror films and Gordon has said it far more eloquently than I ever could. If you are a fan of the Furnace books then the Furnace novella that I blogged about a while ago is now available to read online (but sadly not to buy for kindle over here in the UK). To read The Night Children click here.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Review: This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel

The purest intentions can stir up the darkest obsessions.

In this prequel to Mary Shelley's gothic classic, Frankenstein, 16-year-old Victor Frankenstein begins a dark journey that will change his life forever. Victor's twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor is able to cure him. Unwilling to give up on his brother, Victor enlists his beautiful cousin Elizabeth and best friend Henry on a treacherous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, dangerous alchemy and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn.

Victor knows he must not fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love - and how much he is willing to sacrifice.

Back in July I was one of a number of bloggers invited to a bloggers' brunch held by the nice people at Random House Children's Books. During their presentation about their forthcoming titles there was one book that really stood out for me: This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel. I first stumbled across Mr Oppel's work through his brilliant Airborn (and sequels), and with his writing talent now being focused on a prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein how could I be anything but very excited?

This excitement was not misplaced. I had expected a dark, gothic horror-based story but instead I got so much more. The horror element is more psychological than most stories of this genre written for teens these days - rather than gore it relies on steadily building tension through some pretty dark scenes, interwoven between scenes of pure action and adventure, with a smattering of romance thrown in for good measure. However, for those of you who hate the 'R' word it is an essential part of the story, and anyway it is certainly not the sort of romance that will have boys throwing the book across the room in despair.

This Dark Endeavour tells the story of young Victor Frankenstein and his twin brother, Konrad. Just as with many twins, the two boys differ in personality quite considerably: Konrad is the laid-back, confident one who seems to be good at everything he lends his hand to, whilst Victor often feels in his shadow. This feeling of inadequacy grows even more in Victor's mind when he discovers that his growing love for his cousin Elizabeth is not reciprocated, and instead she and Konrad are fast becoming an item. Despite their differences though, Victor and Konrad and very close and when Konrad falls dangerously ill with some mysterious condition Victor will do anything to try to make in better.

I am not an expert on the period in which the story is set so I am not able to comment on the accuracy of the author's historical detailing. However, accurate or not, the quality of his prose gave me a very real sense of being there in eighteenth century Switzerland. It was a time when science, religion and superstition were 'battling it out' for supremacy in the minds of many of the inhabitants of Europe, and despite the massive leaps that were being made in the various fields of science there was still a belief by some in the ancient study of alchemy. Early on in the story Victor stumbles across a hidden 'Dark Library' within the family home, a room lined with shelves full of mysterious, heretical and potentially dangerous books. When it seems that no doctor is able to cure his brother, it is to one of these such books that he turns, and from this moment the story starts to be engulfed by a sinister darkness.

To outline the adventures that Victor embarks upon in search of the ingredients he requires in order that a potion can be made would be to spoil the story for you. There are moments where you would be hiding behind a cushion if this were a film or TV drama, but where another author may have created a little more blood splatter, Oppel relies purely on his ability to get into the minds of his readers, much as Mary Shelley did with her original story. In fact, on finishing this I immediately re-read her story (yet again), and with this as a comparison I felt that Mr Oppel had done a great job of protraying the voice of the young Victor Frankenstein.

If you want something a little more challenging and psychologically scary than the likes of Higson and Shan for your Hallowe'en reading (or for that matter at any time of the year) then you really should give this book a try. I believe it is the first book in a pair of stories, and I for one am really looking forward to seeing where Mr Oppel takes us next. My thanks go to the good people at David Fickling Books for sending me this book to review.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Second Blogoversary (with Bumper Hallowe'en Book Giveaway to Celebrate)

The Book Zone (For Boys) is two years old today. It has been another year with some incredible highs, but also one or two lows where I have almost packed the whole thing in due to the pressures of work. I look back over the past year and I am still disappointed when I see months where I couldn't write as many reviews as I wanted to, and I feel like I have let down some of the incredibly generous publishers who sent me books around that time. I guess this is a feeling I will have to get used to though as writing this blog has become almost like an addiction and I'm not sure I could pack it in for good. maybe it is time to find someone else to  give me a hand?

As ever, my huge thanks go to the authors and publishers that have made this past year so enjoyable again by keeping my supplied with books and taking the time to answer my interview questions, as well as to the other bloggers out there who have been a constant source of inspiration and guidance. However, (and please forgive me for repeating the words I used twelve months ago) my greatest thanks go to the readers of this blog, whether you are boys, girls, parents, teachers, librarians, book lovers, or a combination of the above - thanks you for reading and I hope you will stay around for another year at least.

As a special birthday celebration I have a fantastic prize up for grabs, and as it is nearly Hallowe'en it just had to be horror related. I have been sorting through my books and seem to have a number of double copies, and so one lucky reader of The Book Zone could win the following:

Department 19 by Will Hill (signed copy)
Dancing Jax by Robin Jarvis (signed copy)
The Dead Ways by Christopher Edge
CRYPT: The Gallows Curse by Andrew Hammond
Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough
White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick
The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley
Crawlers by Sam Enthoven
Birth of a Killer by Darren Shan

and possibly more. I am going to continue adding to the list as I sort out more books from the piles around the house.

To be in with a chance of winning all of these books just fill in the form below by the competition deadline of 8pm GMT Friday 28th October 2011.

Contest open to UK residents only.
Neither the author 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 21 October 2011

Attention Grabber #2: Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide by William Hussey

Attention Grabber is my new weekly feature where I post what I think is a great opening paragraph to a book, the sort of opening that pulls young readers in and hooks them from the start.

This week's Attention Grabber is the one I had originally intended to launch this feature with, and it comes from Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide by William Hussey. If any of my students start a story with "It was a dark, stormy night" I immediately direct them towards this:

‘HELP! Someone – anyone –please, help me!’

A roar of thunder drowned out Luke’s cries. Step by stumbled step, the strangers dragged him across the bay. The boy’s pyjamas dripped with rain and his bare toes squelched in the wet sand. A rope had been tied around his wrists and, with every tug, he looked up at the figures that held his leash. Robed and hooded, the strangers appeared ghostly in the moonlight.

‘Who are you? Where are you taking me?’

No answer – just the rumble of the sea, the screech of the wind and the whip-crack of lightning.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Review: The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey (The Monstrumologist Book 3)

When Dr. Warthrop goes hunting the “Holy Grail of Monstrumology” with his eager new assistant, Arkwright, he leaves Will Henry in New York. Finally, Will can enjoy something that always seemed out of reach: a normal life with a real family. But part of Will can’t let go of Dr. Warthrop, and when Arkwright returns claiming that the doctor is dead, Will is devastated–and not convinced.

Determined to discover the truth, Will travels to London, knowing that if he succeeds, he will be plunging into depths of horror worse than anything he has experienced so far. His journey will take him to Socotra, the Isle of Blood, where human beings are used to make nests and blood rains from the sky–and will put Will Henry’s loyalty to the ultimate test.

Like many fans of Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series I was truly gutted when I read that his publisher had decided not to extend his contract beyond three books. From what I could make out, this decision came quite late, after Mr Yancey had completed the third book, thus not giving him the opportunity to finish telling the story of Will Henry. Of course, this rather low moment was followed several weeks later by a massive high when it was announced that Simon and Schuster had decided to extend the author's contract to a fourth and final book in this most fantastic of horror series. With my objective hat on I can sort of understand why the series has not sold as well as the author and publisher had hoped: it is simply too good. It would appear that there is more money in selling a multitude of Twilight wannabes, rather than truly literate, complex horror stories that have more in common with Shelley's Frankenstein and Stoker's Dracula than most of the mass-market (but top selling) rubbish that has saturated the market in recent years, especially in the US.

The Isle of Blood is nothing short of being a masterpiece of horror literature, and is definitely my favourite in an already outstanding series. It is the kind of book that takes over all of your waking thoughts, and then invades your dreams, turning them into the most horrific of nightmares. And I had thought the first two books in the series were pretty damn scary! I think what makes this book stand out as my favourite is that this now really is Will's story. Despite Will being the narrator, the first two books were very much about his mentor, Pellinore Warthrop. This is a man who is incredibly driven, but also tragically haunted, a man whose personality is so complex it almost puts the likes of Sherlock Holmes in the shade as a literary character. In The Isle of Blood Will is abandoned by his mentor, and with him taken out of Warthrop's sphere of influence for the first time we start to see what makes him tick as a person in his own right. However, when given the opportunity to live a normal life, with an adopted family and a proper education, what will he choose? Has he already spent too long with Warthrop?

Anybody who has read the first two books in this series will already know that Will has been to some pretty dark places so far. However, they are as nothing compared with the darkness that faces him in The Isle of Blood, and the life-changing decisions he is forced to make. The horror in this book is not just about monsters as the events that seem to unfurl like a tsunami, carrying Will along with an unstoppable force, had a huge impact on my emotions and scared me more than some of the more horror-laden scenes. Perhaps this was the teacher part of me, witnessing a first hand the tragic loss of innocence that this eager and bright young man experiences.

Rick Yancey has so far provided us with two incredibly nasty monsters: the anthropophagi of the first book and the wendigo of the second. Both of these pale into insignificance in comparison with the magnificum of this book. Without giving too much away this is an organism that could have devastating consequences on a global scale, simply by the briefest of contact with a tiny amount of fluid known as pwdre ser (even typing that simple phrase is enough to send shivers down my spine now - google it and be even more afraid). To say any more would be to spoil the story as you really need to read this in its entirety to fully experience the impact this creature will have on your thoughts.

Before I sign off I wanted to bring you a moment of humour from this book that made me chuckle out loud. Will Henry's narration is laced with a number of dry, and very dark, bon mots, and this is a perfect example of such. When asked by Warthrop whether he should "cut the torso in half, at the seventh thoracic vertebra", Will Henry narrates:

"I confessed I did not have an opinion; I was only thirteen, and this was my very first dismemberment".

I have no doubt in my mind at all that if the publisher had rebranded this as a series of adult books, with a high profile marketing campaign, then they would have been begging Mr Yancey to write far beyond his contracted first three books. My thanks go to the good people at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy to review. If you love horror, and feel that other books do not challenge you enough, then please give this series a go before you leave YA behind and move on to books aimed at the adult market.

Monday 17 October 2011

Review: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (Heroes of Olympus Book 2)

Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon, God of the Sea, has woken from a very deep sleep and come face to face with two snake-haired ladies who refuse to die.

But they're the least of his problems. Because Percy finds himself at a camp for half-bloods, which doesn't ring any bells for him. There's just one name he remembers from his past. Annabeth.

Only one thing is certain - Percy's questing days aren't over. He and fellow demigods Frank and Hazel must face the most important quest of all: the Prophecy of Seven.If they fail, it's not just their camp at risk. Percy's old life, the gods, and the entire world might be destroyed . . .

I have been looking forward to reading this for pretty much a whole year, although it really does not seem like twelve months since I read the first Heroes of Olympus book, The Lost Hero. A word of warning before I go on though: if you haven't read that book yet then proceed with caution as this review may contain a few spoilers. Apart from the fact that I love Rick Riordan's writing, and that The Lost Hero was, in my opinion, a return to form after the slightly disappointing (for me at least) The Red Pyramid, one of the key reasons for my excitement regarding this book was its title. Anyone who knows a small amount about Roman mythology knows that Neptune was their god of the sea. In other words, Neptune is the Roman equivalent of Poseidon, therefore meaning that The Son of Neptune could mean only one thing..... the return of Percy Jackson! 

Yes, PJ fans, your hero is back in another action-packed adventure, and I loved every moment of it. Despite my excitement about this book, in the back of my mind I guess I was a little worried that it would either a) not match the quality of the original series and/or b) feel like I had read it all before. I had nothing to be worried about: first off, the quality is as high as ever and secondly, Rick Riordan very cleverly prevents b) from happening by doing what he did to Jason in The Lost Hero, i.e. completely wiping his memory of all that had come before. He can remember his name, and he has a slowly fading memory of a girl called Annabeth, but that is it. And so we begin all over again.

The book starts at roughly the same moment in the Heroes of Olympus timeline as The Lost Hero ended. Percy is on the run in California, pursued by a pair of revenge-hungry gorgons who just refuse to die. His demigod instincts lead him to the entrance to a camp that he did not know existed, and despite the nasty sisters hot on his heels, he also manages to 'rescue' an old lady and take her in with him. Of course, in the world of Percy Jackson old ladies are rarely what they first seem, and in this case his rescuee is no other than Juno (the Roman equivalent of Hera, and someone who has at times been something of an irritating thorn in PJ's side). 

Camp Jupiter is very different to Camp Half-Blood, with the layout and architecture all set out to emulate the style that was typical in ancient Rome. The set-up in the camp is also very different to that of its Greek equivalent. As would be expected with any society based upon that of ancient Rome, everything is very regimented, with the camp members sorted into cohorts, each with its own lead centurion, and all overseen by a senate and a pair of praetors. Naturally there is a good deal of suspicion towards Percy, however his taking Juno into the camp, and using his powers over water to aid the camp members in defeating the gorgons, means that he is quickly accepted into the fold, albeit with hefty dose of suspicion from some members, one of which knows Percy from a long time ago (and we are talking the earlier part of the original PJ series here).

Obviously if this whole story was set in Camp Jupiter then it might have been quite difficult for even Rick Riordan to keep things interesting, and so it is not long before Percy finds himself setting off on another quest, but with a brand set of friends that he needs to learn and to trust, and vice versa. The adventure that ensues is as good as any that we have read from Rick Riordan in the past, and even though there is the occasional mention or appearance of monsters and characters from Percy's past, it still feels very fresh and most definitely not predictable in any way. Hazel and Frank, the two new characters who are tasked with accompanying Percy on the quest both come with a both secrets and flaws, and these elements keep us guessing at the final outcome right up to the climax of the story.

I'm not sure this is my favourite Percy Jackson adventure, although it comes close. Although I am not generally a fan of stories written in the first person I am a huge fan of Percy's voice in those original five books, and in this book, which is narrated in the third person, he has to share the limelight with Frank and Hazel. As we know Percy already the author seems to assume that all of his readers have read the original books, and therefore in this story I found it a lot easier to engage with Hazel and Frank as their characters were developed so much more fully. This is not a criticism as at 500+ pages The Son of Neptune is already a pretty hefty tome and to have spent more time on Percy would probably have made it too long for its main target audience.

The Son of Neptune was published on 4th October and my thanks go to Just So for Puffin books for sending me a copy to read and review. If you have not yet read the original Percy Jackson series then you really should do before embarking on a journey with the Heroes of Olympus series.

Friday 14 October 2011

Attention Grabber #1: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

I often get asked what subject I teach, with many people assuming that because I love books and promote reading for enjoyment that I must be an English teacher. Wrong! My main subject is Design Technology (aka CDT aka woodwork depending on how old you are). A few years ago at the school where I teach, in order to try to get more students achieving a good pass at GCSE in English and Maths, we introduced a scheme called Study Plus (google it for more info), and because I am in a senior position at the school and I am (or like to think I am) quite literate, I was asked to deliver the English aspect of this.

One of the things we have been working on recently is how the students can make their creative writing more interesting (aka No More Dull Writing!) by using more adjectives, and more complicated words. In order to help get this message across I have been using the opening paragraphs of a number of the great kids and YA books that I have read. It is pretty much universally recognised that if you want a young person to read a book you have to grab them in the first few pages, and I thought that this would make a great new feature for The Book Zone. I had genuinely intended to launch this feature with the opening paragraph of William Hussey's Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide, but I picked up a book yesterday that had me changing my mind completely. The book in question is Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, a book that I had assumed would be Twilight-girly, but a fellow blogger has assured me could be enjoyed by boys as well. The opening paragraph had me hooked, and the students also enjoyed it when I read it to them, and so when I have finished reading the latest Rick Riordan book I will probably continue with Clockwork Angel.

So, Attention Grabber #1 is Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare:

The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts.

William Herondale jerked back the dagger he was holding, but it was too late. The viscous acid of the demon's blood had already begun to eat away at the shining blade. He swore and tossed the weapon aside; it landed in a filthy puddle and commenced smoldering like a doused match. The demon itself, of course, had vanished - dispatched back to whatever hellish world it had come from, though not without leaving a mess behind.

So many great adjectives in that piece - it really inspired my students.

Attention Grabbers will be a regular weekly feature on The Book Zone from now on - if you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

News: Zom-B - the new zombie series from Darren Shan

I am a little behind with this as we had a parents' evening at school today and I have only just got home, but I have been wanting to share this press release with you all day, especially as it fits in so well with Horror Month. Any news about a new Darren Shan series is enough to have me grinning from ear to ear and I am sure there will be legions of his fans around the world salivating at the prospect of Darren writing a twelve book zombie series, with a book released once every three months. If you are a Shan-fan then read this press release and then tell me you're excited as I am:

Press Release

Darren Shan moves to Simon & Schuster with new teen series Zom-B

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd today announced the acquisition of a new series from international bestselling children’s author, Darren Shan.

Zom-B was acquired by Ingrid Selberg, Director of Children’s Publishing for Simon & Schuster UK, from Christopher Little of The Christopher Little Literary Agency, for a major seven figure sum for UK & British Commonwealth rights (excluding Canada), including e-book rights, in twelve titles. The books will be edited by Venetia Gosling, Fiction Editorial Director at S&S UK Children’s, with the first title planned for publication in hardcover in Autumn 2012.

Zom-B is a radical and exciting new series, written in serial form across twelve books. Simon & Schuster plan to publish in hardback with simultaneous e-books, one book every three months starting in Autumn 2012, feeding fans new material, and building series momentum, all the way through to 2015. Paperback editions will follow.

Darren Shan is the number-one best-selling author of the twelve book series The Saga of Darren Shan, the Demonata series, and more recently The Saga of Larten Crepsley. His books have sold over 25 million copies around the world and have been translated into more than 30 languages. Darren divides his time between London and Ireland.

Ingrid Selberg said of the new acquisition: “We are absolutely thrilled to welcome the inimitable, bestselling Darren Shan to the S&S children’s list. The Zom-B series combines classic Shan action and a fiendishly twisting plot with hard-hitting and thought-provoking moral questions. This is challenging material, which will captivate existing Shan fans and bring in many new ones. We are very excited and proud to be publishing this extraordinary author.”

Darren Shan said: "I am very excited to be taking my new zombie series to Simon & Schuster. The team impressed me greatly with their vision for the work and their enthusiasm, and I look forward to becoming part of the family there and unleashing a string of literary bone-chillers on the world!!!"