Friday 31 August 2012

Comic Zone: Why I Love The Incredible Hulk by Barry Hutchison

Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that I have been championing Barry Hutchison's brilliant Invisible Fiends series ever since I first read Mr Mumbles. The final instalment, The Darkest Corner, was published earlier this month (see my review here) and knowing that Barry is a huge comics fan I asked him if he would be interested in writing a piece for The Book Zone's Comic Zone.

Why I Love The Incredible Hulk

I first fell in love with the Incredible Hulk (platonically I mean, nowt mucky) when I was but a lad of around six or seven. The Bill Bixby TV series would be on every Saturday night, and I’d sit down to watch it every week without fail.

I’d follow the mundane, often repetitive adventures of  Dr “David” Banner (they changed his name for the TV series, because they felt “Bruce” wasn’t macho enough) right up until the point he started to get angry. The moment his eyes went white and his boots began to rip, I’d be behind the couch faster than you could say “Gamma radiation”. There I’d remain, cowering in terror as I listened to the terrible roaring of the Hulk as he dispatched that week’s villain.

Some weeks the villain would be a heartless property developer. Other weeks a small-time gangster would get on Banner’s bad side. Whoever it was, they were always surprised when scrawny Bill Bixby became bulging Lou Ferrigno, whereupon he promptly smashed the immediate area to smithereens.

I’d stay there behind the couch until the Hulk had transformed back into Banner, then I’d emerge and retake my seat to catch the final few minutes of the episode. To me, the series was just the story of a lonely scientist wandering from place to place, and stumbling upon smashed up building more often than coincidence allowed.

And yet I loved it - not for the Hulk, but for the stuff around the Hulk. I was gripped by the scenes of Banner trying to maintain control, despite the villain of the week slapping him repeatedly in the face, or threatening to blow up a bus full of nuns. I was fascinated by the concept of there being a monster within each of us, just waiting to break free. Not fascinated enough to watch when it actually did break free, of course - that was far too terrifying - but fascinated all the same.

That fascination led me to discover the Hulk’s comics. Over the years the Hulk has gone through more changes (no pun intended) than any other comic book character. He’s been grey, he’s been red, he’s been super-intelligent and barely coherent. He’s run a casino, joined the Avengers, and freed an alien planet from tyranny.

But through most of these changes the writers behind the stories have forgotten what to me is the single most important thing - the Hulk is not the interesting character. Bruce Banner is.

Oh sure, we all want to see the Hulk cut loose from time to time. We want to see him punch a tank into space, or kick the Abomination squarely in the nuts, but the Hulk’s real struggle has always been an emotional one. He’s a hate-filled tumour on the brain of a mild-mannered scientist, and it is their ongoing battle - not the Hulk’s ability to hammer nails in with his face - which makes the Banner/Hulk character one of my favourites in all of comic-dom.

Five of My Favourite Hulk Stories

The Incredible Hulk Visionaries - Volume 1

This is the first collected edition of Peter David’s twelve-year stint writing the Hulk, and it’s one of the defining period’s in the comic’s history. OK, so the Hulk in these pages is grey and not green, and he’s been separated from Banner, but this was probably the first time the character - possibly even comics in general - were written for grown-ups and not ten-year-olds. There’s some dark stuff in these here pages, drawn by the then-just-starting-out Todd Macfarlane.

A lot of Peter David’s later work on the title may be better than this, but it’s great to be able to follow along right from the beginning.

Return of the Monster

Bruce Jones is quite probably my favourite Hulk writer. Many fans were disappointed with his run, because Banner got more page time than the Hulk did, but that’s exactly why I love his work. The Hulk has been blamed for the death of a boy, and Banner is on the run from pretty much everyone in the world. But poor old purple pants has been framed, and it’s up to Banner to try to find out whodunnit. The plot is complicated and swings from conspiracy thriller to violent horror as and when it needs to, and this is a great jumping on point for those new to the Hulk’s adventures.

The End

Another classic from Peter David, this one-shot comic was originally adapted from a short story he wrote about the end of the world. A nuclear war has wiped out all human and superhuman life on Earth, leaving only Hulk/Banner behind. Banner has gone mad from the isolation, and longs only for death. He attempts suicide again and again, only for Hulk to emerge at the last second. This is a tale as bleak as they come, and I’m a sucker for a good Apocalypse, so that’s why this is one of my all-time faves.

World War Hulk

While his inner struggles may be more interesting, it’s good to see the Hulk cut loose and smash things up every once in a while, and in World War Hulk he smashes up pretty much everyone in the entire Marvel Universe. Sometimes twice. Iron Man? Smash. X-Men? Smash. Fantastic Four? Smash, smash, smash and smash. This follows on from Planet Hulk, and while I wasn’t too keen on the alien-world setting of that story, the fall-out from it makes World War Hulk a hugely enjoyable read. WITH EXTRA SMASHING STUFF UP!

Marvel Zombies

OK, so this isn’t technically a Hulk story, but I love the way the Hulk is depicted in the first Marvel Zombies collection. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a zombiefied Hulk devouring Spider-Man’s leg, only for it to erupt through his stomach when he turns back to Banner. Lovely stuff.

Thursday 30 August 2012

*** Competition: WIN a signed copy of Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked

Last week I posted a review for Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked, the latest book in Derek Landy's brilliant series.

Now, thanks to the generous people at HarperCollins you have the chance to win a signed copy of the book, simply by filling in your details in the form below.
The first name drawn at random after the closing date will win a copy of the book. The deadline for entries is 7pm BST Thursday 6th September. This competition is open to UK residents only.

Contest open to UK residents only.
Neither the publisher or I will 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.

Monday 27 August 2012

Review: Zom-B by Darren Shan

Back at the beginning of the year there were three books scheduled for a 2012 release that I was looking forward to reading more than any others. The first to be released, Department 19:  The Rising was everything I wanted it to be and more. That left two: Zom-B by Darren Shan and The Power of Five: Oblivion by Anthony Horowitz, and on 7th July I finally managed to get my hands on a proof copy of the former when I attended a bloggers’ event held by Simon and Schuster. As soon as I sat on the train home I started it, and had to drag myself off said train when I got to my station, with only a few chapters remaining. I finished it in my car, in the station car park as there was no way I was going to drive the rest of the way home until I had finished it. Now, with exactly one month to go until the September 27th release date, I feel it is time to post my review of this book.

I loved it, from beginning to end, and I guarantee that it is going to be massively popular with Shan fans around the world, and will also gain him a whole legion of new devotees. There is so much I want to say about this book, to explain why I liked it so much, but here’s the problem: this book is near impossible to review without giving away a couple of major plot twists.

I usually hate it when I read a review and I am informed that there are massive “you will never guess these” plot twists, as I then spend most of the book guessing and second guessing said twists, more often than not successfully, so that when they are finally revealed I feel a little deflated. However, publisher Simon and Schuster and Darren Shan have both publically stated that these twists exist, even to the point where Darren pleads with early readers not to reveal them in a special introductory message at the beginning of the book. It’s a little like going to see The Mousetrap on stage, where they ask the audience not to give away the ending when talking to others about the play, but Darren Shan uses the famous Alfred Hitchcock quote, used when promoting Psycho, to encourage his readers to keep their lips sealed: “Please don’t give away our ending. It’s the only one we have.

I am so, so glad that I have read this book before the kids at school, as I am not sure they would have been able to keep the twists to themselves. One of these twists, which occurs a handful of chapters before the end, had my jaw hitting the ground with a thud, and me having to reread that particular paragraph several times to make sure I had read it correctly. I wanted to hug and throttle Darren Shan at the same time for his sheer deviousness and audacity.  And I also realised at that moment what Darren had meant in his opening letter when he said “I’m issuing you with the same challenge that I have set myself – see if you can find a way to discuss Zom-B with those who have not read it, without giving away the cataclysmic plot twists.” How on earth was I going to write a review of this book now?

The story opens in typical Darren Shan fashion. Brian is woken in the night by a raucous noise outside, and he looks out of his bedroom window to discover that the zombie apocalypse seems to have started in his small village in rural Ireland. Cue much mention of skulls being ripped open, brains being devoured, and blood splatter everywhere. Darren is doing exactly as he did in the opening chapters of Lord Loss: hooking his young horror-loving fans with promises of a gore-filled tale. In this opening chapter we are also given a glimpse of a man who I feel will play a major part in this series (which is due to be twelve books long, one released every three months from September). This Owl Man (as he will become known) has huge eyes, larger than any you will have ever seen, and he is not particularly pleasant, and he has a particularly nasty method of saving Brian from a painful devouring by zombies.

The story then shifts to London, and the narration from third person to first person. Our main character is B Smith, a teenager that fits the stereotypical mould when older generations are complaining about “teenagers these days”. Waster, hoodie-wearer, occasional shoplifter… the list goes on. However, there is one trait that B has that will generate plenty of bad taste in the mouths of readers as B is also racist. We have been promised that the Zom-B series is not just about zombies, but that Darren, whose recent Saga of Larten Crepsley work shows how much he has developed as a writer, also wants to challenge his readers with thought-provoking  themes such as abuse of power, genocide and racism. In this book we are faced with our first moral question: how much of B’s attitude is based on the beliefs of an overtly racist and bullying father, and how much of it is B consciously using it as a tool to intimidate others. It’s that age old nature or nurture argument?  However, the biggest question it will have readers asking, as they put themselves in B’s place, is how can you love your father if he is a racist thug who, when he loses his temper, beats you and your mum?

Of course, we are never allowed to forget the zombie part of the story, and it is constantly in the background to B’s growing problems at home and school as the story progresses. News reports from Ireland, and leaked footage on YouTube, show footage of people being attacked by brain-hungry monsters, and the subsequent destruction of the village by armed forces. B and the other students at the local comprehensive school initially dismiss the reports as some kind of publicity scam for a new movie, but deep down they can’t help but fear that there is an element of truth to the new reports. And then, one day, when they least expect it, everything hits the fan….. and that’s pretty much all I am going to tell you, except that Darren Shan’s zombies are as nasty as any you will read about or see on the big screen.

Zom-B has its gory moments, but it is much, much more than your average splatter-fest. As I have already intimated, the gore is restricted to the opening and closing chapters, and the pages in between are all about building characters and setting the scene, and if it wasn’t for the horror/fantasy element hiding quietly in the background it would seem more like a contemporary YA issues novel. Naturally, given that this is the first book in a series of twelve, and Darren wants to keep his readers hungry for brains more, it ends on a massive cliffhanger, with the final major twist appearing in that very last chapter.

There is so much more I want to say about this but can't due to the aforementioned risk of creating spoilers. Readers who pick this up expecting a complete story will be disappointed (although surely you should know Shan better then that by now). This is very much the first part of the much longer twelve instalment series, with one book promised every three months or so for the next few years. Simon and Schuster are taking the brave step of releasing these in hardcover, with a cover price of £12.99, which parents of some fans may baulk at, but having seen a finished copy of this first book, complete with gorgeous cover and inner illustrations, I would suggest that if it gets/keeps kids interested in reading then it is a small price to pay.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Review: Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked by Derek Landy

Magic is a disease.

Across the land, normal people are suddenly developing wild and unstable powers. Infected by a rare strain of magic, they are unwittingly endangering their own lives and the lives of the people around them. Terrified and confused, their only hope lies with the Sanctuary. Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain are needed now more than ever.

And then there's the small matter of Kitana. A normal teenage girl who, along with her normal teenage friends, becomes infected. Becomes powerful. Becomes corrupted. Wielding the magic of gods, they're set to tear the city apart unless someone stands up against them.

Looks like it's going to be another one of those days…

Has Derek Landy sold his soul to the devil? Or perhaps at some point he managed to capture a leprechaun? Surely writing talent this great is not gained through natural means? Surely there has to be some supernatural explanation as to how he continues to produce brilliant story after brilliant story, the latest weighing in at a hefty 607 pages?

I think this might just be my favourite Skulduggery Pleasant book so far. I say only think, as without re-reading the whole series it is nigh on impossible to state this with any certainty, and unfortunately at present I just don't have the time to revisit the other six books. Seven books in to this series I certainly did not expect a story that felt so fresh and original, especially given how superb the previous book was, bringing together so many different plot strands that had been created throughout the preceding instalments. Apart from the absence of Tanith in Death Bringer, long time fans had many questions answered regarding Skulduggery, Val, Darquesse and Lord Vile, and so this seventh book heralded a new plot arc for our heroes, and I have been wondering for some time how Derek Landy would have enough ideas left, or would we see a dip in form as we did with Eoin Colfer's seventh Artemis Fowl book?

Incredibly, the ideas are obviously still there, although like JK Rowling did as the Harry Potter series progressed, Landy has given this book a darker and more grown-up feel. It has all the elements we have come to expect from a Skulduggery story - great characters (new and old), a cardiac arrest inducing pace, and of course, Derek Landy's awe inspiring dialogue. I think I may have said this before - it is the dialogue in these books that sets them head and shoulders above most of YA fantasy/horror stories that have been written over recent years. However, added to these is a plot that is far more complex than usual, as new, seemingly unrelated strands are woven, and then gradually twisted together as the story progresses. For example, the book opens with a quartet of teenagers who have suddenly found themselves with magical powers, testing their magic and then using it in a diabolical way. We don't then read about this group until much, much later in the book, Landy keeping us on edge wondering when they will finally appear again, and when they do Val and Skulduggery may find they have finally met their match.

The plot is so complex in this book that to try to explain it further would either have me creating spoilers, or rambling on for another 500 or so words. Let's face it, if you're a Skulduggery fan you don't need me to tell you what happens in this books as you're going to be as eager to read it as I was anyway. I will tell you that you have one hell of an exciting literary ride ahead of you, and those of you who err more towards being horror fans rather than fantasy fans will delight in some of the more gory and gruesome scenes. There is one in particular, that had me grinning from ear to ear with devilish merriment (some might call me a little sick in the head for finding such delight in it) - page 576, if your interested. And then another corker on page 551/552. Poor Val!

The final chapter of the book will have you weeping - not tears of sadness but instead of frustration, as Landy brings his story to an end with a new plot strand that will have you desperate to read the next instalment, whenever that might be released. This new element to the story is something that I have been hoping would happen for some time, something I speculated about many books previously and I am really excited to see that Derek Landy has finally introduced it into his story. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has seen this coming, and many other fans will gasp with excitement as they turn those final pages.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked is scheduled to be published on 30th August, and my thanks go to the wonderful people at HarperCollins for sending me a copy to read and review.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Review: Metawars - Fight for the Future by Jeff Norton

Jonah Delacroix can't stand the real world - so he lives most of his life inside a global computer-based virtual world called the Metasphere, where everyone is represented by an avatar. When he discovers the avatar of his dead father, and assumes his online identity, a series of events are unleashed that compel Jonah to race across the real world with a secret society to protect the freedom of all mankind...

You would have to be some kind of hermit living in a shack on a remote Pacific island not to have noticed the glut of YA dystopian novels that have flooded the market of the past couple of years. If I'm brutally honest, I'm getting more than a little bored of them, but there is still one sub-genre of this that still excites me - tech. Over the past year or so I have had the pleasure of reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (written for the adult market but potentially just as exciting for older teen boys); Bzrk by Michael Grant; Insignia by S.J. Kincaid; and now Metawars: Fight for the Future by Jeff Norton. Every one of these books has the potential to turn a certain type of reluctant reader boy (or girl) on to reading, as they all have huge appeal for gamers.

Metawars starts off with protagonist Jonah Delacroix racing through the night time streets of London on his trusty rollerblades, desperate to win the sizeable meta-dollar prize that will keep him and his mother in food foe the next few months. Unfortunately for Jonah, as he is in spitting distance of the finish line he is thrown off his feet by an huge explosion - the terrorist Guardians that he hates so much have struck again. Meanwhile, across the other side of the Atlantic the US government has fallen, and Matthew Granger, creator of the Metasphere and long incarcerated leader of the Millennials is released from his prison by his armed supporters. Jonah does not yet know it, but both of these events are about to change his life immeasurably.

The world in which Jonah lives is not hugely different to ours in many ways. Millions live in poverty and can't help but see their future as being particularly bleak. To escape the day-to-day depression of their lives they spend increasingly more hours plugged into the Metasphere, a virtual world where people have jobs, socialise with each other, and in Jonah's case, attend school. Every person who enters the Metasphere has their very own avatar, constructed for them by the software, based upon the owner's own sub-consciousness. There are unicorns, dragons, robots, animals, and some even more bizarre avatars, but Jonah is stuck with a humatar, i.e. his avatar looks just like his real world self. 

In discussions at school Jonah is always the first to defend the Millennials (his father used to be Granger's personal pilot) and just as quick to damn the Guardians, who he believes murdered his father in a terrorist attack some years ago. However, very soon Jonah's world is going to be rocked as everything he believes is challenged, and the lines between good and evil become increasingly blurred. As events begin to unfold he finds himself on the run with the people he previously hated, not really knowing who to trust as he crosses both the virtual and real worlds, fleeing for his life.

Metawars is a super fast-paced and well plotted story that sucks readers in from the very first chapter, and I would have finished it in a single sitting if I hadn't already made plans to go out with friends. As it was, we were late arriving as I kept on telling my wife I wanted to read one more chapter. And then another. And another.

Jeff Norton has filled his story with a great number of cracking concepts and ideas that will fire up the imaginations of young people, and I think it would make a really good class reader for English lessons as there are so many elements that make great points for discussion. Both the Millennials and the Guardians feel that they are morally right, and every action they make is justified, whatever the collateral damage, and readers will find themselves challenged just as much as Jonah does. Although it is science fiction, many of the concepts are only a few jumps on from web and gaming technology that so many people, young and old, enjoy today and this makes the story all that more credible as a possible future world that may be experienced by today's teens.

If you have boys or girls that prefer sitting in front of a screen with a game controller in their hand to reading then this might be the book that gets them turning their console off, even if just for thirty minutes at a time. It is the first in a series, and although Jeff Norton brings this instalment to a satisfying end, it leaves enough questions to make kids hungry for more. The good news is, we don't have long to wait as the sequel, Metawars: The Dead Are Rising is scheduled for a November release. There is also a cool website that ties nicely into the book at where you can enter a competition to win an ipad.

My thanks go to the lovely people at Orchard Books for sending me a copy to review.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

RIP Harry Harrison

I was with great sadness this morning that I awoke to read of the passing of Harry Harrison. Mr Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books have been personal favourites of mine ever since I read the first in the series many years ago. I can't remember exactly when in my early teens I read The Stainless Steel Rat, but I do remember that I discovered it in Lillington Library, and on finishing it raced back to borrow every other book in the series that they had in stock. These books were something of a departure from my general reading diet at the time - long time readers of The Book Zone will know that most of the books I was reading at this point were mystery stories and thrillers - but I was captivated by his masterful blend of space opera sci-fi and comedy. And most of all, I wanted to be James Bolivar DiGriz.

In my opinion "Slippery Jim" is up there with Simon Templar as one of fiction's greatest anti-heroes, and it is a huge shame that he never reached the lofty pop culture heights managed by The Saint. The 'one man vs the universe' adventures of this thief, trickster, con-man turned intergalactic trouble shooter are invariably thrilling and always hilarious and despite having read them all so many times, I still return to them when I go through those horrible periods of struggling to get into other books, as I know I can rely on Harrison's stories to lift me.

If you have boys who love science fiction and/or comedy then I simply cannot recommend them enough. As my own personal tribute to Mr Harrison I have re-read The Stainless Steel Rat today and yet again I was left with the feeling that it, and his other stories, are timeless and can have just as much appeal with 12+ boys today as they did with me back in the 1980s. Aside from Jim DiGriz himself they are full of great characters - Angelina, the ex-psychopath who still harbours minor homicidal tendencies, especially where Jim's safety (or fidelity) is concerned; Inskipp, the forever grumpy and long-suffering director of the Special Corps; the diGriz twins, just as devious and charming as their father. And on top of this Harry Harrison also writes damn good villains - the Grey Men are a particular favourite, appearing in The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge, and also in a later book in the series (which I'm not going to name as it might contain spoilers).

The Stainless Steel Rat books have such broad appeal as they encompass so many different genres. It doesn't matter whether you love comedy, science fiction, action, adventure or stories of Hustle-style con-men, you will find something to love in these stories.

Rest In Peace Harry Harrison, and thank you for providing me with some many hours of reading fun.

Monday 6 August 2012

Review: The Darkest Corners by Barry Hutchison (Invisible Fiends)

The concluding part of this darkly funny, horror series Darren Shan called 'deliciously nightmarish'.

Kyle is a bit of a problem child. He won’t do what his dad tells him. But that’s because his dad wants Kyle to unleash the scuttling, screaming, killer creatures of the Darkest Corners and bring about the end of the world. Now might be a good time to rebel…

I know that Barry Hutchison has been rather nervous about the release of The Darkest Corners, the sixth and concluding book in his brilliant Invisible Fiends series. This previous five books in the series have garnered such fantastic reviews that I think Barry felt under pressure to make sure that the series was finished off in style, and in a way that would please the many, many fans that have enjoyed the series so much. Having read this final book I am happy to report that it is a superb end to the series, and Barry can heave a well-deserved sigh of relief. This book was waiting for me when I got back from watching an Olympic event, and I subsequently dropped everything, made myself comfortable on the sofa, and didn't do anything else until I had finished it in that single sitting.

At the end of The Beast, the fifth book in the series, Barry dropped a couple of massive bombshells which left his readers more than a little gobsmacked, and demonstrated that he was not afraid to kill off characters or make game changing revelations. As such, we go into The Darkest Corners really not knowing which of the key characters will survive, or if Kyle will be able to thwart the heinous plans of his depraved father. This makes every turn of the page something of a strain on the old nerves, and some readers might be nervous wrecks by the time they reach the all important denouement.

Aside from that I don't want to tell you much more about this book as I don't want to spoil anything for you. If, like me you are a fan of the series then I very much doubt that you will be disappointed with the events and the final outcome. Kyle has grown so much as a character over the course of the story, from the boy who was scared of a bump in the dark (rightly so with hindsight, considering what made that bump), and as each book has come and gone we have seen him grow into someone who we really believe could save the world from the monsters that he sees out of the hospital windows in that repeated prologue. Following the events that occurred in The Beast Kyle is pretty much left with very little to lose, and yet this has spurred him on even further to make sure his father is taken down for good. However, knowing his character we are constantly asking whether he will have the killer instinct when the final moment comes.

Invisible Fiends has been one of my favourite series of the past few years, and when I eventually give up blogging, and have a little more time to re-read favourite books then I will definitely be re-reading this series back-to-back. I feel I should thank Barry Hutchison for creating this brilliant series. Way back when I first reviewed Raggy Maggie I stated that I felt that Caddie was one of the greatest creations in children's horror literature. Since then we have had Crowmaster and Doc Mortis, and when you add Mr Mumbles to the list you have a stunning array of monsters that will live long in the memories (and maybe nightmares) of anyone who reads these books.

My thanks go to the lovely people at HarperCollins for sending me a copy to review (but I'm still waiting impatiently for those Invisible Fiends action figures to be produced).

Saturday 4 August 2012

News: Book Cover - Department 19: Battle Lines by Will Hill (Department 19 Book 3)

edit: Review now posted - read it at:

With all the excitement of the Olympics (and also being lucky to have a handful of tickets for events last week), I missed Will Hill announcing the title and cover of the third Department 19 book. Some of you may be getting fed up with me banging on about how brilliant the first two books in this series are, but I don't care and the number of hits my reviews of these books have received would suggest there are a lot of fans out there.

The title of the third book is Department 19: Battle Lines, although we are going to have to wait until March 2013 to read it. The cover, as we would expect, uses similar motifs as the previous two books, but the change of colour and the increasingly more powerful weapons that surround the D19 helmet make it look more menacing than ever. I have also included the blurb in case you have not yet read it - it has been on the HarperCollins website for a while but I wanted to hold off posting it until these further details had been released.

Click on this beauty to see it in all of its super-sized glory.
Dracula is on the verge of coming into his full power. Department 19 is on the back foot. Ladies and gentlemen: welcome to war. The stakes? Mankind’s very survival…

As the clock ticks remorselessly towards Zero Hour and the return of Dracula, the devastated remnants of Department 19 try to hold back the rising darkness.

Jamie Carpenter is training new recruits, trying to prepare them for a fight that appears increasingly futile. Kate Randall is pouring her grief into trying to plug the Department's final leaks, as Matt Browning races against time to find a cure for vampirism. And on the other side of the world, Larissa Kinley has found a place she feels at home, yet where she makes a startling discovery.

Uneasy truces are struck, new dangers emerge on all sides, and relationships are pushed to breaking point. And in the midst of it all, Department 19 faces a new and potentially deadly threat, born out of one of the darkest moments of its own long and bloody history.

Zero Hour is coming. And the Battle Lines have been drawn.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

A World of Stories - Vintage Children's Classics

When I attended the Random House Bloggers' Brunch a couple of months ago, we were given a presentation by members of the Vintage team. For some time Vintage have been releasing newly jacketed editions of classics by the likes of Dickens, Dumas, Fleming and Conan Doyle, and now they are looking towards the young end of the market with their new project - Vintage Children's Classics.

At that event we were shown various images of the newly designed book covers, and the team from Vintage explained how they were approaching the new project. They showed us details of the research they carried out, asking both children and the adults who buy the books for them what they felt makes the perfect book package, and used the information to add extra content and to guide the cover designs. There will also be a brand new website, also to be launched officially on 2nd August: and if you are near London then you really should head to Foyles at Southbank Centre on 11th August for the Vintage Children's Classics Family Fete.

Since that blogger event the lovely people at Vintage were kind enough to send my a handful of their new titles, some of which are old favourites of mine, others classics that, much to my shame, I have never read. As a set of books they look stunning, and I can't think of a nicer way to revisit these classics. The covers are, without exception, eye-catching and I would not be surprised if families start to buy these one-by-one, as so many children love to collect sets of things. So far I have read Emil and the Detectives and I am part way through Treasure Island. Once I have read a few more I will write another blog post about them.

The official launch of the new titles is tomorrow, 2nd August, and here is the official press release that presents the details in a much clearer way than I can:

This summer, Vintage Classics, an imprint of The Random House Group, will launch a new list of children’s classics which can be enjoyed by all the family. Vintage Children’s Classics will be a beautiful and affordable series of books intended to inspire and nurture a life-long love of reading in children and adults alike.

The launch list of twenty titles will feature perennial favourites such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island alongside much-loved contemporary classics exclusive to Random House including The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

Boyne commented: Books become classics when generation after generation can read them and experience the same emotional charge as their first readers. The children's classics that we return to as adults are the ones that feel every bit as good as they did when we first experienced the pleasures of reading, with stories that excite and move us and characters who feel the most alive.

After undertaking extensive research among 8 to 12 year olds, and the adults who buy books for them, Vintage has come up with the ultimate ingredients for a new series of children’s classics – from the cover design and back cover copy, to the extra content inside.

Each beautifully designed volume will contain exclusive extra ‘Backstory’ material, including quizzes and family activities and fascinating facts about the books and their authors. The series launch titles include:

• The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (£6.99)
• Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (£5.99)
• Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (£5.99)
• The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (£6.99)
• The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (£7.99)
• Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner (£5.99)
• Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (£5.99)
• I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (£7.99)
• The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (£5.99)
• Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (£5.99)
• Peter Pan by J.M Barrie (£5.99)
• The Railway Children by E. Nesbit (£5.99)
• The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (£6.99)
• The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (£6.99)
• Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom (£7.99)
• Swallowdale by Arthur Ransom (£7.99)
• Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (£5.99)
• What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge (£7.99)
• The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (£5.99)
• The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (£5.99)

The series will also be accompanied by the launch of a dedicated interactive website for Vintage Children’s Classics – – with fun quizzes, downloads and extra material where children will be able to find out more about their favourite characters and stories.

A further ten titles will be published by the end of 2012, with more titles in the following years. The books will be available in print and ebook format.