Tuesday 31 July 2012

Review: Bloodline by James Rollins (A Sigma Force Novel) (adult book)

Please click on the link below and head on over to my adult book blog - The Book Zone (For Boys) Big Brother - to read my review of Bloodline, the eighth book in James Rollins' brilliant Sigma Force series.

Monday 30 July 2012

The City's Son by Tom Pollock - Extract #1

In a handful of days (2nd August to be precise), Tom Pollock's brilliant d├ębut, The City's Son, will be officially released. The City's Son is one of my favourite books of the year so far and so I was flattered when Tom asked if I would be interested in hosting one of four extracts from the book on the run-up to its publication date. I have been blessed with the brilliant opening chapter, the very extract that pulled me into the book. The three further extracts can be read as follows:

Tuesday 31st July - My Favourite Books
Wednesday 1st August - Fantasy Faction
Thursday 2nd August - Pornokitsch


You can also access the extract by clicking here.

Saturday 28 July 2012

News: Hattori Hachi Global E-book Giveaway

I've mentioned before that I am not a fan of In My Mailbox posts - to me they seem a little too much like bragging about the number of books received in a week, and I'm pretty sure my readers don't want/need to read that week in week out. However, yesterday morning I received a book in the post that I can't resist shouting about, as my review of the first book in the series is quoted on the front cover. My first front cover quote!

The book in question is Hattori Hachi: Curse of the Diamond Daggers by Jane Prowse. I have been a huge fan of Jane's kick-ass ninja heroine, ever since I read the first book in the series back in 2010. You can read my reviews of The Revenge of Praying Mantis here and Stalking the Enemy here. The great news is that the third book in the series has just been released, and to celebrate this Jane and her publisher Silver Fox are running a global eBook giveaway of the first Hattori Hachi book. This giveaway is only going to be running for a limited period and will stop once Hattori Hachi has reached at least one person in every country of the world.

So go on, head on over to and download it for free whilst you have the chance. If you loved fast-paced action stories then you will love Hattori Hachi.

Thursday 26 July 2012

World Book Night Needs a Graphic Novel On Its List

I have just nominated the ten books that I would love to see chosen for World Book Night 2013. My choices are mainly made up of personal favourites, many of which I know do not have much chance of being selected, such as Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell, The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison and Department 19 by Will Hill. I have also included other, more widely popular personal favourites such as Treasure Island, 'Salem's Lot and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. However, ever since WBN was launched I have been disappointed that there has not been a graphic novel on the final lists. I want to change that this year and so I have nominated:

Batman: Year One - arguably one of the greatest Batman stories ever written.

Watchmen - Alan Moore at his very best, and recognised by many as one of the most influential comic books ever to have been written.

Now of these two I personally think that Batman: Year One has a better chance of being selected, but what do I know? It would be great if everyone who reads this would add this book to their list. And whilst you are voting add your other favourite comic books to your Top 10, so we can show the WBN organisers just how popular graphic novels are in the UK. On their website they say the following:

"We consider the balance of the list to ensure that lots of different genres or types of books are included", so where are the graphic novels? Does this mean that people aren't nominating them?

So please get on board with this and vote. Head on over to and register so that you can vote, and then spread the message on Twitter and facebook. 

The campaign starts here!

GRYMM Blog Tour: Guest Post by Keith Austin

Earlier this month I posted my review of GRYMM, the uber-creepy new book from author Keith Austin, and today we are joined by Keith as part of his blog tour. One of the stand out elements of GRYMM for me was its truly grotesque and characters and so when asked what I would be interested in as a guest post I begged for something character related. I subsequently received this fantastic piece about Malahide Fleur, one of those deeply-disturbing characters from the book:

(Excerpt from Grymmer: The True Story of the Town that Died of Shame by Eric Elland)

Malahide Fleur came into existence in a small village, a speck really, in the far reaches of the south of France, the only son of the local baker. As a baby he looked like a large wriggly maggot, all chubby cheeks and rolls of fat. It was like he had been born without bones.
            His father thought he looked like an uncooked croissant; his mother, on the other hand, didn’t think much of him at all and was gone by the time he was six years old. So Malahide Fleur grew up indulged by his doting father, an eternally chubby boy waddling along behind him in the crepuscular light before dawn, watching the magical process by which water and flour and sugar and butter and yeast became the cakes and rolls and baguettes that Monsieur Fleur sold in his old timbered patisserie-boulangerie in the town square.
            The people came from far and wide to visit Fleur et Fils, their greedy eyes feasting on the beautiful wares that sat in the window, their noses sniffing in the comforting smell of baking bread and the honey-brown aroma of melting sugar.
            However, it wasn’t long before Fleur pere was surpassed by Fleur fils. Malahide was, he discovered, gifted. He had the touch, the golden something that turned a simple mille-feuille into a million dollars in your mouth. Malahide, who was never seen in the front of the shop, nevertheless created little peepholes in the walls where he could watch people dig into their paper bags before they even left the shop. He loved to see their eyes close as they bit into his pastries and cakes.
            But it still wasn’t enough. It was as if the more expert he became at his art the more he could see its flaws and imperfections. He was like a great painter who could only see the one errant brushstroke in an otherwise perfect artwork. And it drove him crazy. WHY were his croissants not symmetrical? WHY did that lemon cake rise differently every time?
            His father indulged him for a while but then came the incident with 92-year-old Alabaster Fresnoy and the hell-hot chilli-and-chive croissant that caused her so much distress (see Grymm, pages 106/7). It was an experiment too far. The cat that had somehow puked up his own bottom was one thing – as was the rabbit that somehow became addicted to, well, rabbit and ate its own right leg – but putting Mrs Fresnoy into hospital …
            His father didn’t understand. His father forbade him to continue his … work. “You keep this up, you kill someone, mon petit asticot. So, non, non, non. Arrete, I say, arrete now.”
            His father seemed to think that good enough was good enough. And it wasn’t.
            His father laughed at him.
            And when he wasn’t laughing he was angry. Especially when Malahide threw away a perfectly good batch of dough because it hadn’t risen “properly”. After that it was a beating. And another. And another.
            And then one day the village awoke to find an obscenely fat teenager, a gargantuan, pasty-white wobbly man-boy, standing in the street screaming for people to “come quick, come quick!”
            And they came quickly to find the older Fleur face down in the bowl of the mixer, the curved blade caught against his body, his head and shoulders deep in a batch of sticky dough.
            (Afterwards, they said the son made bread out of the very same dough in which his father had perished.)
            The products on sale had changed then; the cakes became sweeter, the cream creamier, the bread tastier. Within weeks the shop was crammed with rabid, frantic customers every morning. Fights broke out over the baguettes, curses were uttered by the pain au raisins and woe betide anyone who got between the mayor and his tuiles aux amandes.
            And then, one bright day, the shop didn’t open at all and the crowds went wild. They ripped up the ancient cobbles from the main square and smashed the windows to get at the patisseries. Men and women fought over the gateaux, grabbing handfuls and stuffing them into their mouths despite the broken glass.
            By the time the gendarmes arrived two people were dead, three were clinically insane, and the rest were sitting around covered in cream and strawberry jam – only, on closer inspection, it wasn’t strawberry jam.
            In the basement they found a table heaped with old cookbooks and ancient scrolls written in ink and quill, with blood and finger, forbidden books, hidden books; books for a man in search of the perfect recipes and who would do anything to uncover them.
            On top of the oven they found a nondescript black baking tray on which row after row of gingerbread men were lined up. As they watched they began to twitch and move. When one of them sat up and bared little razor-sharp teeth the police pushed them to the floor and crushed them under their big black boots.

Grymm by Keith Austin is out now, published by Random House imprint Red Fox.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Review: Earthfall by Mark Walden

If you are caught, you will not return.

If you escape, they will hunt you down.

The past is dead. 

You are the future. 

If life on Earth is to survive 

You must not be captured. 

Get ready to run. 

Everything depends on you. 

Prepare for 


It is no secret that Mark Walden's H.I.V.E. books rank amongst my favourite series of the last few years, so I was intrigued when I first heard that he was writing a new series. In that previous series Walden proved that he has a talent for writing fast paced, exciting action stories with a sci-fi twist, and now Earthfall shows that he is no one-trick pony. Science fiction has a much greater emphasis in this story, but the all the other elements that we have come to love in the H.I.V.E. books are also all present and correct: young heroes who have to overcome insurmountable odds if they are to survive; heart pounding action/chase scenes; high tech gadgetry; and a plot that draws the reader in and then races along so that before you know it you have read the book in a single sitting.

Alien invasion of earth stories have made many appearances recently on both the small and the big  screen (Battle for Los Angeles, Battleship, Skyline, Falling Skies, the V reboot), and of course they have been popular themes for video games for some years. Sadly, until relatively recently this popularity has not extended to modern books for kids, Keith Mansfield's brilliant Johnny Mackintosh stories being the exception, and we have been crying out for more well-written sci-fi for young people. POD by Steven Wallenfels managed to beat Walden's Earthfall as far as release dates were concerned, but much as I enjoyed POD, I found Earthfall to be a vastly more enjoyable read.

The story starts with an as yet unnamed boy, fleeing through the streets from the things he refers to as drones. We soon discover that he has spent the past eighteen months hiding out beneath the London streets, thinking he is the only free person  in London, and surviving off anything he can scavenge. As the story proceeds we find out that eighteen months earlier everyone in London, and potentially the whole world, were turned into mind-controlled automatons as huge objects, miles in diameter, appear above the skies of the world's major cities.

After a year and a half of living in solitude, Sam is saved from the alien machines by Rachel, a machine gun toting teen, and he soon discovers that he is no longer alone - a small group of teens, led by a scientist and an ex member of the special forces, have been working together to find a way of defeating the alien menace. With Sam now on board, the fight for freedom ratchets up another level and what follows is an edge-of-your-seat race to find a way to destroy the aliens before the group are tracked down and destroyed.

Aliens invading earth stories have been around for decades, and so readers will be forgiven for thinking that elements of the story have been seen before. However, Mark Walden puts enough of his own spin on the story to make it seem fresh. Naturally, being a Mark Walden book, there is also a lot more to the story than just a small group of humans fighting for freedom, and there are enough twists in the story to keep readers guessing about the final outcome.

Mark Walden is gong to be a busy guy for the next few years if he is to keep his fans, both old and new, happy. This is the first in a new series (I do not know how many books are planned yet), and of course we are still owed at least one (and hopefully more) H.I.V.E. book, given that Aftershock ended on such a huge cliffhanger. My thanks go to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of Earthfall to review.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Review: The Boy Who Biked The World (Part One: On the Road to Africa) by Alastair Humphreys

Tom really wants to be an explorer.

His favourite book is an atlas and he follows adventurers not footballers. His schooldays are spent daydreaming about travelling from Tibet to Timbuktu. A private wish blurted out loud started his freewheeling adventure:

“I’m going to cycle round the world.”
His classmates laughed. No one believed him, least of all his teacher.
“The mountains will be too high!” “The desert is too hot!”
Everyone shouted their reasons why his dream was impossible.
But it was a funny thing, the more that people told him he couldn’t do it, the more Tom found himself wanting to prove them wrong.

Ride along with Tom as he abandons his fears and pedals onwards, in hope that the goodness of the people he meets will guide his journey and reveal the wonders the world has to offer.

I think I need to start this review by saying that this is one of those books where you need to completely suspend your disbelief from the get-go. If you can do this, as children can far more easily than most adults, then you will be rewarded with an enjoyable adventure story that is also packed full of facts (and as I keep on reminding you - kids love facts).

So why the need for disbelief suspension? The book tells the story of Tom, a boy of about 10 or 11 years of age, who dreams of adventure. One day he blurts out in class that he is going to cycle around the world. Naturally he is ridiculed by his peers and his teachers, but the ridicule just spurs him on even more and when he gets home he makes the same announcement to his parents. Whereas most parents would nod sagely and then explain the impracticalities of such a venture for a ten year-old, Tom's mum and dad make him some sandwiches, dig out the family tent and before we know it they are waving him off as he starts his epic journey. Tom then goes on to cycle through Europe, the Middle East and the whole length of Africa. Unbelievable, yes, but also a great deal of fun.

Alastair Humphreys has himself cycled around the world, and he has drawn on his own experiences whilst writing this book. As such, it is full of really interesting facts about the countries, cultures and people that Tom encounters on his journey. Some of these are built into the narrative, whereas others are presented in the form of Tom's handwritten journal. As well as the facts there are also the underlying themes throughout the story of facing your fears and aspiring to achieve your dreams. These various elements to the story would make great discussion points for primary school kids if used as a class reader, and it is also cross-curricular, covering subjects such as geography, religion, languages and a number of other subjects.

My thanks go to Alastair Humphreys for sending me a copy. To find out more about the author visit his website at

Monday 23 July 2012

Review: Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

Opal Koboi, power-crazed pixie, is plotting to exterminate mankind and become fairy queen.

If she succeeds, the spirits of long-dead fairy warriors will rise from the earth, inhabit the nearest available bodies and wreak mass destruction. But what happens if those nearest bodies include crows, or deer, or badgers - or two curious little boys by the names of Myles and Beckett Fowl?

Yes, it's true. Criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl's four-year-old brothers could be involved in destroying the human race. Can Artemis and Captain Holly Short of the Lower Elements Police stop Opal and prevent the end of the world?

My review for The Atlantis Complex, the seventh book in the fantastic Artemis Fowl series, was less than glowing. I felt that it just did not match the quality of the rest of the series, and part of me wondered whether Eoin Colfer was running out of ideas. Having now read the final book in the series, The Last Guardian, my feelings about The Atlantis Complex are possibly slightly more negative than they were when I read it - it just seems to be a little extraneous when put into the context of the series as a whole. The Last Guardian, however, if Colfer back on form and is a great final instalment for Artemis Fowl and Captain Holly Short.

Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian finds Artemis and Holly up against their old enemy, Opal Koboi, or is hell bent on bringing about the complete destruction of the human race, and the elevation to ruler of all fairy-dom that such an act is sure to bring for her. In order to do this she devises her greatest plan to date - somehow she must be released from prison, cripple the whole LEP organisation, awaken a squadron of Berserkers from their 10,000 year slumber and reopen a magical gate that will bring about Armageddon for all mankind. For anyone but Opal Koboi this would seem to be an impossible task - it's lucky for the human race that Artemis and his friends are hot on her trail, but will they be in time?

One of the main reasons I fell in love with the first Artemis Fowl book and subsequently the whole series, was the characters. Not just Artemis and Holly, but Butler, Foaly and Mulch as well. They have always been a delight to read, even when the plot was not maybe as strong as it could have been in some of the books, Every one of them has had a part to play in the ongoing saga, and in The Last Guardian it is as if Eoin Colfer does not want to end his series without each of them having one last key role to play in saving the world. 

The interplay between the key characters is as sparkling as ever, and the hilarious banter between them, something that has become a trademark of Colfer's writing, is all present and correct. I can just imagine the fun that Eoin Colfer must have had in writing the dialogue in these stories.

I'm struggling to say much more about the book without giving away information that will spoil it for readers. I know long-time fans had a huge number of questions running into this final book, and I'm not sure every one of them will be answered. I also know that fans have been speculating a lot about a number of things - the relationship between Artemis and Holly being the most popular topic on fan forums - and I know that some of these fans will be a little disappointed come the end of this book. However, I personally feel that Colfer has ended to book brilliantly - as readers we don't always require all the answers, and sometimes it is as rewarding for us to imagine what might happen next.

This is a year for 'last in series' books -  we recently saw the end of the Saga of Larten Crepsley by Darren Shan, a book that ended in a way that had me itching to re-read the whole of the original Saga of Darren Shan series. The final paragraph of Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian created a similar desire in me, and will have legions of fans reaching for well-read copies of the first book in the series. It will have some fans struggling to keep their jaws from dropping, but for me it was the perfect way to say goodbye to Artemis and Holly Short.

My thanks go to the good people at Puffin for sending me a copy to review. This may be the end for Artemis and friends but Eoin Colfer is set to return in 2013 with a brand new series, titled W.A.R.P., the first chapter of which is included at the end of this book. I can;t wait to see what he delivers next.

Thursday 19 July 2012

News: HarperCollins signs three more books from Department 19 author Will Hill

I've just received the below press release from the nice people at HarperCollins, and obviously I thought I should share it with you as I know that there is a lot of love for Department 19 out there. Two more Department 19 books will make that a series of five, and personally I think that this is brilliant news!

Press release:

HarperCollins is delighted to be continuing its relationship with YA author Will Hill by acquiring three new titles. Fiction Editorial Director Nick Lake secured UK & Commonwealth rights to two final books in the Department 19 series, plus one untitled YA novel. The deal was concluded by Nick and Charlie Campbell at Ed Victor Ltd.

First launched by HarperCollins in 2011, Department 19 was the number one bestselling YA hardback debut of the year and the series has acquired more than 7,000 fans on Facebook ( The books have also enjoyed sales success as ebooks, with Department 19: The Rising becoming HarperCollins' bestselling children's ebook launch in April. Hill’s writing has also been acclaimed in the press. "High action, fast plot, original and gripping, this is vampire writing without the sparkle – but with lots of blood!" said the Sun, while the Telegraph pronounced that, “Bram Stoker can stop turning in his grave: his 21st-century legacy extends beyond Twilight.”

Nick Lake said: "Will Hill is an incredible talent and we’re tremendously excited to have these new books to look forward to. With The Rising, he achieved that rare feat - a sequel that is richer and more gripping than its predecessor - and the strength of his writing is certain to garner him many, many more fans over the coming years."

Will himself said: "I'm absolutely delighted to have signed with HarperCollins for three more novels - the experience of publishing the Department 19 books with them has been an absolute pleasure. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with my amazing editor Nick and the fantastic sales, marketing and publicity teams, and I'm so thrilled that the Department 19 series will finish where it started; on the best list in the business."

Sunday 15 July 2012

Review: The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket

There's nothing unusual about the Brockets. Normal, respectable, and proud of it, they turn up their noses at anyone strange or different. But from the moment Barnaby Brocket comes into the world, it's clear he's anything but ordinary. To his parents' horror, Barnaby defies the laws of gravity - and floats.

Desperate to please his parents, Barnaby does his best to keep both feet on the ground - but he just can't do it. One fateful day, the Brockets decide enough is enough. They never asked for a weird, abnormal, floating child. Barnaby has to go . . .

Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon - and so begins a magical journey around the world, with a cast of extraordinary new friends.

Is there no end to the talent of John Boyne? 

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas = incredible!

Noah Barleywater Runs Away = amazing!

And now The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket has eclipsed both of these books in my heart and mind, and in doing so has also become a contender for my 2012 Book of the Year.

I first heard about Barnaby Brocket back in January, at a bloggers' brunch held by my good friends at Random House, and then again at their summer brunch. At both of these events, the team seemed somewhat awestruck when spoke about this book, with their descriptions littered with words like Dahl-esqe, heart warming, moving, emotional, and uplifting. I left that latest brunch looking forward to a number of their forthcoming titles, including the likes of Dodger by Terry Pratchett and Red Rain by R.L. Stein, but for some reason it was this new book by John Boyne that intrigued me the most.

If you have read either of Boyne's previous books for younger readers then you will know what to expect from Barnaby Brocket - a heart warming and uplifting tale that will tug mercilessly at your heartstrings, with some pretty heavy themes that are woven into the story with humour and deftness of touch that make the book suitable for the both younger audience at which it is aimed, and every age group onwards. You would also know to expect the unexpected.

If Alistair and Eleanor Brocket have on goal in life it is to be normal. To have normal jobs, live in a normal house and have normal children. They certainly do not want to do anything that makes them stand out from the crowd. They are mightily happy as the first two children born into the family prove to be normal to the core, but it is when the third comes along, the titular Barnaby, that the foundations of their world of normality are well and truly shaken. Unlike that of his siblings, Barnaby's birth is not an easy one for his mother, and then when he is born the doctor and nurses step back in amazement as he floats up to the ceiling. From this moment on we begin to see just how terrifyingly ghastly his parents can be in pursuit of their goal, as they try to deal with having a child who is as far from normal as can be. And their comes their ultimate act of betrayal as parents - abandonment. At this point, Barnaby embarks on a journey that sees him travelling around the world, encountering a host of other "different" people along the way.

Although the premise of a boy who somehow defies the law of gravity seems somewhat fantastical, at the root of the story is the concept of being normal, and what happens to those who don't necessarily conform to society's ideals of exactly what constitutes normality. Barnaby's "difference" is that he floats, but for many others it could be a disability, a desire to follow an unusual dream, or simply wanting to do something different from the wishes of a parent. As Barnaby meets person after person who at some point have dared to be different, and are proud of the decisions they have made in life, his own feelings regarding his 'affliction' are shaped, even though all he really wants is to get back to his parents back in Australia. Yes, the thoroughly nasty parents who abandoned him.

To describe Barnaby Brocket as Dahl-esqe is I feel very appropriate. John Boyne has again created a protagonist and host of supporting characters, both good and bad, that will enthral readers, young and old alike. As this book is written for younger readers then the bad characters are very obviously very bad, just as the good characters that Barnaby encounters are obviously very good. There is also a very strong moral running through the story, that may possibly seen exaggerated to the more older and cynical reader, but are an essential part of this as a story for kids (does anybody criticise the morals behind the likes of Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? I think not).

This is a perfect story for 8+ children, although it will be enjoyed just as much by those younger if read to them by an adult as a bedtime story. I wouldn't be surprised if, in thirty years time, people talk about this book as fondly as they do now about Roald Dahl's various masterpieces of children's fiction. The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket is destined to be a classic and my thanks go to the lovely people at Doubleday for sending me a copy to review, so I can say in a few decade's time that I was there at (or at least quite near) the beginning.

The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket is scheduled to be published in hardback on 2nd August.

Friday 13 July 2012

My Life That Books Built: Guest Post by Andy Briggs (The Jungle Warrior Blog Tour)

Towards the end of last month I posted my review of Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior by Andy Briggs. When I as asked by the nice people at Faber if I would be interested in hosting Andy for a stop-off on his blog tour, naturally I jumped at the chance. I asked if he would be interested in adding to my slowly growing feature called My Life That Books Built, and he duly sent through this great post about some of the books he loved when he was younger.


We all want to know what movies our favourite actors watch, what songs pop stars listen to, so it’s no surprise that one of the most frequently asked questions an author gets is “What is your favourite book?” This is often followed by “What do you think the best book you have written is?” (it is always the last one) - and of course “What car do you drive?” (a Land Rover) and “How much do you earn?” (not enough!). So, let me focus on the first question.

When I was younger, and even now, I adored comic books. Telling a story in 20-something pages, with only several panels per page is a real art form, and amateur writers could do far worse than study how well crafted those stories can be. For me, Spiderman, Daredevil and the X-men were my top three comics for consumption. The stories rattled along with a lightning pace, while the characterisation was subtle and allowed to develop over the course of years.

Comics gave way to books, and I discovered Gordon Boshell’s Captain Cobwebb series of eleven children’s books, which are sadly now out of print. They follow the fantastic exploits of two brothers, David and Toby, who undertake missions for their Uncle Septimus who mysteriously disappeared while sitting in a fairy ring. These stories were like dynamite for my imagination, unlike anything I had encountered before.

Another ground breaking book - which I still re-read as often as possible - is Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Forget the film or the (rather good) TV series, the book is a fantastic journey through the galaxy that will leave you breathless from laughing so hard. I would highly recommend the whole series.

 Of course, I found J.R.R. Tolkien, and still regard The Hobbit as one of the finest fantasy books every written. And speaking of fantasy, you can’t go wrong with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, especially the earlier books (particularly Mort) which remain bonkers and addictive.

 Sometimes I need a book to give me a shot in the arm and drag me kicking and screaming through a riotous adventure. For this, I would prescribe anything by Clive Cussler, particularly his Dirk Pitt stories. Cussler manages to effortlessly take a piece of history and weave it into a modern day adventure that will grip you by the throat until you turn the last page. They are a master class for frenetic adventure storytelling.

 Of course, I can’t leave out Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes - along with Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World - which formed my childhood impression of reading. Both books take place in the dark jungles and venture into the unknown. Reading such books made me want to become a writer and they left my mind open enough to want to explore the world and realize that, even with our global communications and advanced technology, there are still places in the world left undiscovered... waiting for their stories to be told.

TARZAN: THE JUNGLE WARRIOR is out now, published by Faber.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Review: The Adjusters by Andrew Taylor

Welcome to Newton, the perfect town...Where kids get perfect grades...And everyone seems perfectly happy - all the time...Except Newcomer Henry Ward isn't buying it. With a pair of misfit friends, he's determined to expose the dark secrets lurking behind Newton's bright facade. But asking questions about Newton and the corporation that owns it can be dangerous. The doctors in the sinister medical centre on the hill have a procedure called "adjustment" for kids who don't fit in...And Henry and his friends have just gone to the top of the waiting list.

I loved Andrew Taylor’s Superhumans series so I jumped at the chance to receive a copy of his new book, The Adjusters. Andrew has proven himself to be a great writer of action stories, and I guess I expected more of the same with his new book. I was wrong, and realised this as I was slapped in the face by a deliciously horrific scene in the prologue. Although there are a number of great action scenes in The Adjusters, they take more of a backseat this time around. Instead he has delivered a brilliant, but disturbing psychological sci-fi thriller that at times made me feel rather uncomfortable at times.

The story follows main character Henry Ward, a teenage boy who has moved to Newton with his mother who is an IVF specialist. She has secured a job at Malcorp, a top medical research facility. However, Henry very quickly starts to realise that there is something rotten at Malcorp, which is rather unfortunate as not only does his mother work there, but he also has live on site and attend the facility’s own school.

Henry’s suspicions are first aroused as they arrive in Newton and he comes across a terrified teenage girl who is obviously on the run from something. This leads to a run-in with the local cop, but his mother steps in and all seems to be fully explained. However, as he starts at his new school is feeling of discomfort grow and grow as there is something creepily unnatural about the other students. They are all just too perfect, and their intelligence levels are completely off the scale. And then there is the big boss of Malcorp, John Mallory. Sinister, warped, egotistical... none of these adjectives are really string enough to describe just how nasty this guy is. Very quickly Henry finds himself at the heart of a huge conspiracy, something that may not only affect him and his mother, but could potentially one day affect young people across the globe.

As I was reading this I was very much reminded of Ira Levin’s classic The Stepford Wives, and the 1975 film version (I have managed to avoid watching the remake starring Nicole Kidman). The story focuses on themes such as mind control, identity and how people who have a certain knowledge and power could experiment on individuals to turn them into little more than automatons, with no free will at all. There are also elements in the story that are similar to themes explored in Universal Soldier (starring Jean-Claude van Damme and Dolph Lundgren), but I won’t say any more about these for fear of spoiling the story for you.

I have no idea whether this is the first book in a new trilogy, or whether it is a standalone. The ending is great, but does leave things open for a sequel. However, much as I loved the story I think I would prefer it to remain as a standalone, and leave it to my own imagination to ponder on what could possibly happen next.

My thanks go to the good people at Usborne for sending me a copy of The Adjusters to review.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

News: Book Cover for Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan

On Saturday I attended a bloggers' event held by the lovely people at Simon and Schuster. The event was arranged so that they could showcase some of their forthcoming 2012 and 2013 titles. As we were taken through the new releases, month by month, it was very clear that many of their YA books scheduled for the remainder of this year are more suitable for girls than boys (this is in no way a criticism - girls are just as important). However, if I'm brutally honest there was only one title that I wanted to hear more about, and that was Darren Shan's Zom-B.

I have already mentioned in a blog post how much I was looking forward to reading this, and I was incredibly excited to come away from that event with a proof copy of the first book in the Zom-B series. Not only this, but we were also shown a finished hardcover copy (with dustwrapper) of the book, and I can report that it looks stunning. The end papers are illustrated by Warren Pleece, as are a number of pages throughout the book, and these images will really add to the story. I managed to read all but the last three chapters of Zom-B on the train home from London and it is everything I had hoped for and more. Watch this space as my review will appear nearer its September publication date.

We were also given a very sneak preview of the cover for the second book in the series, Zom-B Underground, and as Darren has now tweeted it and added it to his website I thought I would pop it on here for you guys to see. I am guessing it has been created by Cliff Neilson as I believe he was the illustrator responsible for the cover of the first book. As with the first, I think it is a brilliant cover, and this series of twelve books is going to look fantastic as a complete collection.

Make sure to visit Darren Shan's own website regularly for more Zom-B info as it is released.

Review: GRYMM by Keith Austin

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

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

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

I first heard about GRYMM by Keith Austin back in January at the Random House Bloggers' Brunch. At that event it was described as being a little like TV's The League of Gentlemen, and as this is one of my all time favourite TV comedy series how could I be anything by excited about reading this book? Fast forward to a few weeks ago when a copy of GRYMM came through my letterbox and I dropped everything to read it. Unfortunately reviewing it is a completely different matter as I think it is unlike pretty much any other book I have read and I'm really not sure how to describe it.

I guess I will start off my saying that I absolutely loved it but I have a feeling that this could become the Marmite of YA books, as there will probably be more than a few people who will hate it. And I'm not sure there is any room for sitting on the fence with this one. However, if you like your stories to be darker than a city banker's soul then GRYMM is for you.

Step-siblings Jacob and Mina hate each other with a passion, but unfortunately for them their respective parents are now married, and together have added a third child to the family. Baby Bryan is the only thing about which the pair agree - they both think he is the most disgustingly smelly creature ever to have been born (and I think that Keith Austin's descriptions of this child will have most readers agreeing with them). The threesome have been relocated with their parents to the middle of nowhere for the school holidays, as Mina's geologist father has been contracted to carry out some studies Grymm's local mine. As soon as they arrive in the town they realise that it is probably going to be very different from your average town, and they are certainly not wrong.

The first resident of Grymm that they meet is the sinister Thespa Grymm, who can only be described as witch-like in her appearance. Both Jacob and Mina are pretty creeped out by Thespa, and the conversation that ensues does little to change their first impressions of this strange woman. However, the pair soon discover that she is only one of a host of truly weird and potentially dangerous people in the town. Thespa Grymm warns the family that "nothing is quite what it seems in Grymm", and never has a truer word been said. 

Shortly after the family's arrival in Grymm the step-siblings awake one morning to an unusual silence. They soon discover that Bryan has gone missing, and worse still neither of their parents have any memory of him ever having existed. So begins a dark adventure that sees the pair fleeing for their lives on more than a handful of occasions as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery that is the town of Grymm and its mine.

Like the TV comedy show GRYMM was semi-likened to, it is full of grotesque and deeply-disturbing characters, and the town of Grymm is like an out-back version of Royston Vasey, situated on the edge of a desert rather than the rural north of England. Other inhabitants of the town include Maggot, owner of Maggot's Milk Bar (you really do not want to drink one of Maggot's shakes; Cleaver Flay the butcher, a man who has OCD as far as cleanliness is concerned, but the meat in his shop may come from rather questionable sources; Malahide Fleur, the baker, whose wares are the most tempting pastries known to man, but don't hang around for too long or....... I could list a host of other characters, but I won't as every one of them is a macabre treat just waiting to be discovered by the reader.

This book is one of those that really does need to be read to be believed, and I only wish I could come up with a more coherent way of describing it. Dark, macabre, bizarre, hilarious, chilling - none of those words are really enough, although together they may give you something of an idea what to expect when you open this book and venture into the town where nothing is quite what it seems.

Monday 9 July 2012

Review: The London Stone by Sarah Silverwood (Book Three of The Nowhere Chronicles)

The prophecy has come to pass.

The London Stone has been stolen and the Dark King rules the Nowhere. Only Mona and the new Seer dare to stand against him, leading an underground rebellion in the frozen wasteland... but what chance do they have, against both the Army of the Mad and Arnold Mather's soldiers?

There is still hope: if they can recruit a banished race to their cause, maybe Fin and his friends can force a final battle against the Dark King. But that aid will be hard-won, through an almost impossible quest, and even then there are no guarantees.

It will come down to three friends, standing together against all odds. And fulfilling their destinies, whatever the cost...

I loved Sarah Silverwood's The Double-Edged Sword, the first book in her The Nowhere Chronicles trilogy, and it was one of my favourite books of 2010. Its sequel, The Traitor's Gate, was just as enjoyable a read, but when I came to try to review it I found it very difficult to a) say anything that would not spoil the story and b) say anything that didn't just sound like a rehash of my review of the first book. Middle books in trilogies are something I often find difficult to review, as they invariably end on a cliffhanger, with the story far from finished, and The Traitor's Gate was no exception to this. In fact, it left us with multiple cliffhangers, a number of key characters looking as if they were about to shuffle off this mortal coil and more unanswered questions that week's worth of Newsnight politician interviews.

And so I have been waiting impatiently for the final instalment in this thrilling fantasy trilogy, and having finished the book last night I am happy to report that it was well worth the wait. Unfortunately, it is also no easier to review than the previous book, although not because of an unsatisfactory end to the story (far be it - the author finishes her tale brilliantly, although she doesn't pull any punches in doing so and it is certainly not the and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after that some people might prefer). No, it is difficult to review in detail as so much happens in these 300 pages, and to go into detailed explanations would spoil not only this book but also the two that preceded it (just in case you have not yet read them).

I can tell you that before things improve for Fin and those of his friends that remain, things go from bad to much, much worse. Justin Arnold-Mather was nasty enough before he got his hands on some magic, but once he does the power corrupts him completely, and he becomes a vicious dictator who doesn't think twice about killing any citizen of The Nowhere who dares speak out against him. At the end of the second book we saw Fin and Alex Currie-Clarke heading back to the Somewhere, on a mission to track down the traitor in their midst. Unfortunately, what takes place in the Nowhere in their absence is the stuff of which nightmares are made. 

In order to defeat Arnold-Mather, Fin will have to first risk his life by crossing West Minster Bridge and into The South, and then face even greater dangers in the Middle of Nothing as he journeys to beg the Magi to help him save. not only the Nowhere, but all the other worlds as well. Meanwhile, Mona, a new Seer and a small handful of Knights are left behind to continue the fight against the Dark King and his followers. Will Fin's journey be worthwhile? Or is he too late to prevent the destruction of the Nowhere and everyone he loves with it?

I have already mentioned that readers should not expect a happy ending for every character, but that is not to say that there are not many moments in this story that will have readers buzzing or even shouting with excitement. One such scene sent a tingle up my spine and I was hit my a wave of joy, and I know that many other readers who have come to love the band of aged Knights will experience something similar when they come to that part of the story.

If you love well-written, intelligent fantasy then you really should get your hands on this trilogy. It is one of those series that is probably even more rewarding when read back-to-back as the story is so rich in detail it took me a little while to pick up where things left off when I read both the second and third books, Fortunately, the author very helpfully includes a 'The story so far' piece to help remind us of the preceding events.

The London Stone is due to be published on 12th July and my thanks go to the nice people at Orion Indigo for sending me a copy to review. Its author, Sarah Silverwood, is better known as Sarah Pinborough, author of a number of adult books, and I hope she return to writing for young adults again sometime in the future.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Review: Casper Candlewacks in Attack of the Brainiacs by Ivan Brett

You know what it's like - you wait all day for someone to open a restaurant and then two come along at once. But this village isn't big enough for the both of them! Fists will fly and so will custard, mustard and sausage rolls as Casper and his dad try to won the world's biggest ever food fight.

There is very little I can say about Casper Candlewacks in Attack of the Brainiacs, that I have not already said about the two previous books in this fab series from Ivan Brett. Every good word I wrote about Death By Pigeon and Claws of Crime applies to this book as well, so in the interest of global sustainability I think I'm going to recycle those two reviews:

It should come with a health warning: if read at bedtime make sure plastic bed sheets are fitted as your child will laugh so much a little bit of wee may come out.

The characters are a delight to read, both main and secondary and Ivan Brett's word-play is sublime.

Publishers please take note - we want more books like this.

[Ivan Brett's ] future could be so bright a pair of shades just might be required pretty soon (and now, three books in, I hope he has invested in those sunglasses).

Please feel free to call this lazy reviewing, but there are only so many ways of saying a book (or series of books in this case) is brilliant and should be an essential requirement for all local and primary school libraries (and why not secondary schools as well, whilst we're at it). I have been recommending these books left, right and centre to everyone I know who has 8-11 children, and a good few who have younger kids as they also make brilliant bedtime readers.

In this third outing for Casper, the only sensible boy in a village full of idiots, things start to become decidedly weird as our hero and his peers start at senior school, in their case St. Simians in the nearby city of High Kobb. A run in with the school's resident family of neanderthal bullies soon becomes the least of his worries as he starts to realise that his previously idiotic classmates are suddenly showing signs of extreme intelligence. How could Lamp, inventor of ridiculous contraptions, suddenly be capable of finishing a grammar sheet before it is even handed out and other such feats of cerebral brilliance? Is it something in the High Kobb air, or is it something closer to home?

As well as this, Casper also has to contend with the forthcoming re-opening of his father's restaurant back in Corne-on-the-Kobb. All is going as expected (i.e. not particularly swimmingly) when things take a turn for the worse when a rival restaurant is opened on the same night, run by sinister French chef, Renee. So begins a battle of wits more vicious than anything seen in Midsomer Murders. Who will win the right to have the only restaurant in Corne-on-the Kobb? Will Casper's friendship with Lamp endure the ultimate of betrayals? And just what is it that is making everyone so clever?

Yes, Candlewacks fans, Ivan Brett has delivered yet again and in doing so he has proven that he is definitely no Falco or Tone-Loc*. 

My thanks go to the lovely people at HarperCollins (yes, I mean you Rosi) for sending me a copy to review.

* Did you get this reference, fans of obscure 80s pop?

Saturday 7 July 2012

Review: The City's Son by Tom Pollock

Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen.

But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind.

Every now and again a book comes along, usually out of the blue, and floors me with its brilliance. It doesn’t happen enough, but when it does the book in question will take over my waking and sleeping thoughts completely. The City’s Son by Tom Pollock is one such book, and whilst it is not necessarily going to be perfect for everyone, it was perfect for me.

Long time readers will know that I am a huge fan of urban fantasy set in London, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is one of my all time favourite books, and in recent years I have loved the likes of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho, Charlie Fletcher’s Stoneheart series and the first two volumes in Sarah Silverwood’s The Nowhere Chronicles trilogy. The London-set urban fantasy bar has been set very high by these authors, but with The City’s Son I feel that Tom Pollock set a very strong challenge.

The City’s Son is what China Mieville’s Kraken should have been, instead of the disappointing, and dare I say it self-indulgent, mess of ideas that it was. I bought Kraken with my hard-earned pennies and felt completely robbed. In contrast, I received a free proof copy of The City’s Son from publisher Jo Fletcher Books, but I will be front of the queue to buy the hardcover when it is published in August. Whilst I am at it I may as well compare it to Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift books as well, and no doubt upset even more fan boys when I say that in my mind it is far more accessible and a lot cleverer than Griffin’s work. “But The City’s Son is YA and Kate Griffin’s books are for the adult market” I hear them shout. I am fully aware of this, but The City’s Son is so well written, with a lyricism that is so rarely seen in a YA story, that it wasn’t until I had finished it and seen the cover revealed over at Fantasy Faction that I realised for certain that it was a YA book.

The City’s Son is an urban fantasy story that I believe has true cross-over appeal, and will be thoroughly enjoyed by both the teen and adult markets. Main characters Beth and Filius are teenagers, and yet the prose is of a quality more often found in adult stories (hence my initial confusion as it is not often you see teen characters in an adult novel). At the beginning Beth is expelled from school for a particularly vindictive piece of graffiti that she creates on the school playground, aimed at a particularly nasty teacher. Beth is a gifted artist, and stunning images created with her media of choice, spray paint, can be found all around Hackney. With a handful of uninterrupted minutes and a bag of spray cans Beth is able to bring the concrete and brick walls around her seemingly to life, but what she does not realise that the city she lives in is as alive as she is.

Beth’s life is less than happy. Her mother died suddenly three years earlier, and from that moment Beth’s father pretty much gave up on life and any kind of relationship building with his equally distraught daughter. Following her exclusion (which happens because of what Beth thinks is a betrayal by her closest and possibly only friend) from school Beth takes off to one of her usual hangouts, a disused railway tunnel, and it is here that her adventures begin. Beth finds herself literally caught in the headlights of a train, and as she tries to make sense of how a train could possibly be running on her disused tracks she realises that it was actually more of a train-like thing. Despite her fears she enters what she later discovers is a Railwraith, and in doing so sets herself on a journey that very quickly has her meeting Filius Viae, the city’s son of the book’s title.

Filius is the son of the Lady of the Streets, the long-absent goddess of the City of London, and the true hero of this story. Filius can run faster than any normal human, can ‘skate’ along electric cables, has amazing powers of self-healing and needs to food as he gets his energy from the materials of the city itself. His friends include people made from glass and electric light who live in street lamps, humans permanently cursed to live their lives within stone as statues, and most incredibly, Gutterglass, an entity made of pieces of garbage who can break up his/her body at will, and have it rebuilt miles away with the aid of the friendly neighbourhood worms and insects. All are embroiled in a battle against Reach, the King of Cranes, and supposedly evil god who, in the absence of the Lady of the Streets, has finally decided to assert his authority with a view to taking over the city.

I mentioned at the beginning of this review that The City’s Son has its flaws, although for me the sheer jaw-dropping scope and magic of Tom Pollock’s imagination made these fade into insignificance. Suspension of disbelief is required at times, especially when the various fantastic beings are on the move. There was a little voice whispering away in the back of my mind, questioning how the ‘normal’ inhabitants of London were completely unable to see the wolves made from scaffold, the people made from glass and the trains that don’t need to run on rails. However, as a life-long lover of escapist novels I am well practised at ignoring that voice, and if you can do so as well then the book will be all the more rewarding for it.

Naturally, there will be reviewers who will compare this to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere – let’s face it, it happens every time an author writes a story where London is treated almost as a character. Naturally, as a Neverwhere fan I also had this in the back of my mind as I was reading The City’s Son, and therefore I couldn’t help but chuckle at one audacious nod Tom Pollock makes to Gaiman’s story. Filius makes a reference to the green witches, to which an awestruck Beth asks if there really are witches in Greenwich. Filius mocks her in reply, asking if she expects there to be a sea of flour and eggs in Battersea.

If you have read Fletcher's Stoneheart trilogy then I would imagine that like me, you look at London's statues in a very different way these days. The City's Son will have a similar effect, but with the city as a whole. I have read many reviews for books in the past where the reviewer writes about the city in which the story is set as being like another character. Exactly the same can be said of the London that is portrayed in The City's Son. It comes across as a living, breathing entity and right from the opening chapter you know that it is so much more than just the setting for the story. London is the story. However, what makes this special from the likes of Stoneheart, is that Tom Pollock isn't writing about the famous buildings and landmarks, but the very fabric of the city itself. As such, whenever I am in London, I now feel my eyes drawn to the street lights, the graffiti, and the materials that the walls, pavements and roads are constructed from. Tom Pollock has breathed vibrant life into mundane London, the stuff that we take for granted and often miss as we gawk at the historical buildings or eccentric characters, and has made me look at the city in whole new way.

The City’s Son is most definitely not for younger teens. It is at times violent and brutal, and the dialogue contains more than the occasional swear word. As well as his characterisation, I found Tom Pollock’s dialogue to be superbly written, with the profanities only adding another layer of realism to it, an opinion that I know many older teens will share. However, alongside the violence there are also some incredibly poignant moments in the story, several of which literally took my breath away, and there were a couple of key scenes where I even had tears threatening to make an appearance. At no point does Tom Pollock patronise his target teen audience, and the ending to the story is a perfect example of this. It is a take-no-prisoners conclusion to the story that leaves the reader with jaw completely dropped.

I do not know how many books are planned for this Skyscraper Throne series, but if they are anywhere near as good as this then I am more than happy to sign up for the duration. The City’s Son ranks as one of my favourite reads of the year so far (and also one of my favourite book covers), and I can’t wait to read the sequel, The Glass Republic, due to be published in August 2013.

The City's Son is scheduled to be released on 2nd August and my thanks go to the lovely people at Jo Fletcher Books for sending me a copy to read and review.

Friday 6 July 2012

My Life That Books Built: Guest Post by David Gatward (Author of Doom Rider)

Back at the end of May I posted my review of the brilliant Doom Rider by David Gatward. The great news is that Doom Rider has now been released and should be in a book shop near you. I asked David if he would be interested in writing a post for us as part of the My Life That Books Built feature that I run occasionally. Dave has mentioned in many interviews that one of his favourite books as a child was Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and so here he is to tell us why it means so much to him:

Some people (I think) can say that a book changed their life. I'm one of those people and for me that book was The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by the legendary Alan Garner. I was eleven at the time, on holiday, and spotted the book on one of those carousel things you get outside souvenir shops. It was the cover I liked first (see? covers really are important!) and the title then drew me in (Weirdstone? Brisingamen? Words that evoke thoughts of mystery and magic, for sure.) Holiday money spent, and back at the caravan, I devoured the book.

I cite this as the text that made me want to be a writer. Not necessarily because I had an epiphany, but because it was THE book that made me really truly love what words could do. I lived in the world created in those pages. One scene particularly haunted me, where the heroes are trapped in a cave and have no choice but to dive into a sump (where the cave continues but is underwater) not knowing if they were soon to drown or come up into a fresh part of the cave. This was even more terrifying for me thanks to a swimming accident some years earlier. That scene is little more than two pages. Astonishing that it should still be with me, even now.

From that point on, the world of books and words had me. I was one of those kids that would write not six or seven pages for an English story assignment, but dozens and dozens. Myself and a mate would both write stories then read what we'd each come up with. I think also that the world of Weirdstone created in me a love of the darker side of writing and story. I like books and films that take a walk down that more gloomy threatening trail, where things hide in shadows and heroes don't always come out at the end with the girl, or indeed in one piece.

So now here I am writing full-time, seeing my stuff in bookshops and knowing full well that somewhere kids are reading the stories I've created. That never ceases to amaze me. I write stuff, it gets published, people buy it and read and seem to like it. So here's a big thank you to Alan Garner: that one book changed my life. And I'm forever thankful for that.


Huge thanks to Alan for writing this for The Book Zone. I loved both Doom Rider and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (which I read for the first time after David mentioned it in a Q&A he did for The Book Zone some time ago), and they are well worth buying, or borrowing from your local library.