Thursday 27 September 2012

*** WIN A Framed Zom-B Poster Signed by Darren Shan

Today is the release day for Zom-B, the first book in Darren Shan's new zombie series. I posted my review a month ago (click here to read it) and I know Darren's legions of fans have been eagerly waiting for this day to arrive. When I got my copy the lovely people at Simon and Schuster very kindly let me have a second copy for my godson Danny who has been a Shan fan for many years, and should you put more faith in the thoughts of a teenager rather than those of a teacher then this is what he thought of it:

I've read ZOM-B twice now and really enjoyed it both times. The first time i read it in one night, I couldnt put it down it was that good. I found the storyline very typical of Darren Shan and I absolutely loved the way he described the zombie "scooping" their dinners' brains out of their heads. The cliffhanger at the end of the story was brilliant. I cant wait for the next book to come out. I am definately a big fan.

Now, thanks to the generosity of those fab people at Simon and Schuster I have this awesome signed and framed poster (see below) to give away to one lucky winner. All you have to do is answer the question in the form below and fill in your details. The deadline for entries is 7pm BST on Thursday 11th October.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.

Huge thanks go to Simon and Schuster and Angel Publicity for arranging this competition.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Review: Ratburger by David Walliams

Things are not looking good for Zoe. Her stepmother Sheila is so lazy she gets Zoe to pick her nose for her. The school bully Tina Trotts makes her life a misery – mainly by flobbing on her head. And now the evil Burt from Burt’s Burgers is after her pet rat! And guess what he wants to do with it? The clue is in the title…

A copy of Ratburger by David Walliams arrived on Thursday, courtesy of the lovely people at HarperCollins. If I hadn't had a huge pile of work that needed marking for the next day I would have dived in immediately as I was just in the mood for some Walliams humour. I spent the whole of the next day looking forward to reading it, and once the school day had come to an end I forwent the encouragement of my colleagues to join them for an end of week shandy at the local public house, and instead drove home with but one intention - to read Ratburger from cover to cover.

As I confessed in my review of Gangsta Granny, I was something of a latecomer to the books of David Walliams, but since then I have read all three of the titles that preceded it. Gangsta Granny was definitely my favourite of the four, and when comparing in order of their release it is easy to see how David Walliams is developing as a writer. Ratburger is no exception, with the author's writing continuing to develop, and there is now no doubt in my mind that his books will eventually become recognised as classics, and that in the future we will be talking about his work in the same breath as Roald Dahl.

Ratburger differs from David Walliams' previous books in one very obvious way - none of those books had a stand out villain. We all know that kids (and most adults) love a really nasty villain, and now it is as if the author is rewarding his readers for their patient wait. Burt (yes, not a particularly dastardly evil name, but this is a David Walliams book) is as nasty as any of the classic villains from the annals of children's literature. I don't want to ruin things by telling you too much about him - as it says on the back: "...there's a clue in the title of the book...". And Burt isn't the only villain of the piece - there is also a wicked stepmother and a thuggish school bully to add to the misery of main character Zoe's life.

As with his previous books, Walliams continues to show his mastery of both character and pathos. Just like Dahl, the lives he creates for his main characters are generally unhappy, although not to the point where they wallow in their misery. Zoe has pretty much accepted that her life is not going to improve and so she makes the most of the few nice things that come her way. This means that his young readers are sympathising with the protagonist from the get go, finding it easy to imagine themselves in a similar situation, something I remember doing when I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The BFG when I was a child.

If you read reviews of David's books you will very quickly get the impression that he is single-handedly turning a generation of under 10s into book lovers. Someone give this man a medal! Ratburger is a must-buy book for any child of 8 or older, and even though it has some rather disgusting moments, slightly younger children will still love it when read as a bedtime story. Don't be squeamish parents - kids love grusome! I now feel the need to buy this book for every child of this age that I know, but sadly I can't afford to. However, my godson's younger brother, who has yet to become an avid reader like his older brothers, will be the lucky recipient of the audio book (which I so want for myself). I heard David Walliams reading a passage on The One Show last week, just after I had finished reading the book, and the voices he gave his characters made me want to read it all over again.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Crusher Competition Result

The lucky winner of the copy of Crusher by Niall Leonard is:

Helen Langley

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

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Review: The History Keepers: Circus Maximus by Damian Dibben

The History Keepers are in terrible danger once more. Stocks of Atomium - the crucial ingredient which allows them to travel through time - are perilously low, and the agents must embark on a risky mission to find more. And now a new and even more evil member of the Zeldt family is planning a hideous take-over of the Ancient world, and they are forced to travel further back into history than ever before in order to save the day. Well, all of the days actually.

When I posted by review of The Storm Begins, the first book in Damian Dibben's action time-travel series, I had no option but to mention a certain other popular series for young people in this genre. Readers of this blog will know that I am a huge TimeRiders fan, but back in that review I confidently proclaimed that based on the fun I had reading The Storm Begins there was definitely room for another time-travel adventure featuring teen protagonists. The sequel, Circus Maximus, has only confirmed these initial feelings.

The Storm Begins was typical of many first-in-series books in that a certain portion of the story had to be given over to introducing the main characters, and the nature of the History Keepers group. With this already done, Damian Dibben is able to hit the ground running with Circus Maximus, with the first of the book's many action scenes starting in pretty much the very first chapter. From the conclusion of this scene onwards the pace of the plot is superfast, and is just the kind of story that could suck in even the most reluctant of readers.

One of my (very slight) criticisms of the first book was that despite being great fun to read the characters seemed a little two-dimensional. With this second book Dibben spends more time adding flesh to the likes of Jake Djones, Nathan Wylder and Charlie Chieverley, whilst also bringing some of his secondary characters out of the background and into the action. In addition, he also introduces a brand new villain - if you thought Prince Zeldt was nasty just wait until you 'meet' Agata Zeldt, "the most evil woman in history". Damian Dibben does OTT villains very well, and they really are the people you love to hate. (By the way, my only criticism of this book is the author's need to repeat this statement about Agata more tomes than is necessary, along with a few other pieces of information. We really only need to read them once). 

The two History Keepers books so far suggest that this could become a hugely popular series for the 9+ age group, especially if the planned movie is made of the series. These books are aimed at a slightly younger audience than the more complex TimeRiders series, their emphasis being much more on fun and adventure. The ending of Circus Maximus is not exactly a cliffhanger, but it most definitely sets things up for further adventures for Jake and his friends, and definitely left me wanting to read more.

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

Sunday 16 September 2012

*** Competition: WIN a copy of Crusher by Niall Leonard

Last week I posted a review for Crusher, the new YA crime novel by Niall Leonard.

Now, thanks to the generous people at Doubleday you have the chance to win a 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 Friday 21st 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.

Friday 14 September 2012

My Life That Books Built: Guest Post by Niall Leonard (Crusher Blog Tour)

Last weekend I posted my review of Crusher, Niall Leonard's gritty crime novel for young adults. Today, as part of the Crusher blog tour, Niall has very kindly joined us to tell us about the books he read when he was younger that moulded him into the reader and writer he is today. Over to Niall:

My Life That Books Built by Niall Leonard

I come from a big family where everyone was a voracious reader. My mother used to buy us books by the ton from second-hand shops and every book was re-read until it fell to pieces. After way too much of Enid Blyton and her prim, perfect English world, it was No Boats On Bannermere by Geoffrey Trease that really grabbed me. His tale of a brother and sister in England’s Lake District, caught up in a hunt for medieval treasure hidden from Viking raiders, made me feel for the first time I was reading about real kids my own age in a real place. When I wrote Crusher I was hoping to capture some of that sense of familiarity, to portray events that could be taking place in the here and now. While writing this blog post I was amazed to discover there are several more books in the Bannermere series – now I mean to catch up on them all.

Back when I was a teenager there were nothing like as many fantasy and supernatural stories as today. Instead we were encouraged to read historical adventures, maybe because adults thought that tales about Norsemen raiding, murdering and pillaging would somehow be educational. That’s how I first encountered the Viking trilogy of Henry Treece – Viking Dawn, The Road To Miklagard and Viking Sunset – vivid gripping yarns that gave me a taste for historical adventures I never lost. I went on to enjoy the bawdy, dark humour of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels, and the adventures of CS Forrester’s Hornblower, but when I discovered the Aubrey-Maturin saga by Patrick O’Brian I never looked back.

A sailor, scholar and sometime spy himself, O’Brian wrote twenty volumes set in the time of the Napoleonic wars, from Master and Commander to Blue at the Mizzen. Every book is rich, complex, funny and gripping, and amazingly, every story is based on real people and actual events. The saga spans two decades and features two heroes – Jack Aubrey, at sea a brave and brilliant naval commander but on land a fool, and Stephen Maturin, the grumpy, introverted doctor and secret agent working against Napoleon. Staunch friends, Aubrey and Maturin’s adventures range from encounters with South Sea cannibals to running battles with French spies in nineteenth-century Boston. Laced with humour and action and studded with impenetrable naval terms, I’ve read every book in the series four or five times and every time O’Brian still somehow keeps me on the edge of my seat.

I never thought I would find an epic to equal them until my brother recently introduced me to the Bernard Cornwell’s Alfred The Great series, every bit as vivid and engrossing and historically detailed. Cornwell’s hero, Uthred, is an Saxon noble kidnapped as a child and raised by Vikings, returning home to become King Alfred’s most valuable warrior, yet at the same time despised and mistrusted by him. Cheated of his family inheritance, Uthred is determined to win it back – and the last book I read in the series, he still hadn’t succeeded…

If the books of Patrick O’Brian and Bernard Cornwell had been around when I was a teenager I’d probably never have read anything else, and sometimes I think I’ve never have written any novels or screenplays either – their work is so hard to equal. It’s not just the depth of their learning and research, it’s their knack of building stories on historical fact and bringing them to life with living, breathing, struggling and flawed characters. Then I think, to hell with that. Maybe I’ll never match up to those literary giants, but at least I can have fun trying, and if I do, hopefully the readers will have fun as well!


Huge thanks to Niall for taking the time to write this for The Book Zone. Please come back tomorrow when I will be launching a competition where you could win a hardback copy of Crusher. In the meantime, here's the book trailer:

Monday 10 September 2012

Review: Dark Eyes by William Richter

Born in Russia, but adopted by a wealthy American family, Wallis Stoneman has lived a life of glamorous luxury. But, aged sixteen, she rejects the world that doesn’t feel like her own to live on the streets of New York.

Now life is tougher than Wallis imagined – and it’s about to take a deadly twist. When Wallis discovers her real father’s identity, a fight to stay alive begins. Because Wallis’s real father is a terrifying Russian gangster on the hunt for her mother.

And he’ll stop at nothing and no one – even his own blood – to find her…

When I received an email from the good people at Penguin Razorbill asking with details about Dark Eyes, asking if I would be interested in a review copy I immediately clicked on reply and said: Hell, yes please! Naturally, the words they used in their press release were designed to suck me in: thriller, fast-paced, intelligent - just my kind of thing. Add in a female protagonist and a tagline of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for teens and I was equal parts excited and intrigued, and although I'm not sure it is a particularly valid comparison, Dark Eyes is still a thoroughly entertaining and fresh YA story.

Main character Wally is not a particularly easy character to warm to. Adopted from Russia as a child by a wealthy American couple she has never had to want for anything. However, this is not enough for her and she now spends her life squatting in empty New York buildings, helping her small group of friends to live off the streets, selling on anything they can scavenge. She comes across as somewhat spoiled and arrogant at first, but persevere as she will begin to grow on you. 

Her fake ID having been stolen, Wally heads out to Brighton Beach to score a new one, and her life suddenly gets turned completely upside down, as the guy she goes to see hands over a package containing a gem stone, a manila folder of documents, and a letter addressed to her using her original Russian name. What's more, Wally also finds herself being followed by person or persons unknown. So begins an exciting, modern thriller that twists and turns as Wally becomes obsessed with finding out the meaning of the letter and thus the truth behind her adoption, putting her life, and those of her friends, in extreme danger.

I suggested that readers need to persevere as far as warming to Wally's character is concerned, and this also applies to the story as a whole. Unlike many YA stories it doesn't race along at a breakneck pace from the first chapter. Instead, it builds slowly, gradually building the tension as Wally puts together the various pieces that reveal a story involving russian mob bosses, betrayal, deception and murder. Once the back story is covered the pace then picks up, and I found it very difficult to put the book down, desperate to get to the story's conclusion.

On Saturday I posted a review for Crusher by Niall Leonard, in which I applauded the author's inclusion of swearing, violence and a small, non-graphic sex scene. William Richter does exactly the same in Dark Eyes - the violence isn't tempered and the language is exactly what you might expect to hear from teenagers who have been living on the streets. Just like Crusher, this book is just one step from being an adult thriller, just as its intended readers are knocking on the door of adulthood, and as such it is right that includes these more adult elements, although I know that some parents, teachers and librarians will disagree with me.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Skulduggery Pleasant Competition Result

The lucky winner of the signed copy of Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked by Derek Landy is:

Lucy Mackenzie

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

Saturday 8 September 2012

Review: Crusher by Niall Leonard

The day Finn Maguire discovers his dad bludgeoned to death in a pool of blood, his dreary life is turned upside down. Prime suspect in his father's murder, Finn must race against time to clear his name and find out who hated his dad enough to kill him.

Scouring the sordid London underworld for answers, exposing dark family secrets and facing danger at every turn, Finn is about to learn that it's the people you trust who can hit you the hardest...

The market for adult crime fiction is huge, but until relatively recently you could count the number of crime books published for young adults on the fingers of one hand. Fortunately publishers and authors have obviously decided that there is a market out there for gritty young adult crime fiction, the most notable example to date being Peter Cocks' Eddie Savage books, and now author Niall Leonard brings another hugely enjoyable story to the party.

Main character Finn Maguire's life is not a particularly happy one. He has bombed out of school, his father is a washed up ex-TV actor, now wannabe writer, and the only way any food gets on the table is through the pennies Finn earns working at the local burger joint. However, even though life is pretty miserable, things get very much worse before the opening chapter comes to a close as Finn arrives home from work to find his father has been murdered. And you think that's bad - before he knows it Finn finds himself carted off to the local nick, placed into an interview room and treated as a suspect rather than a potential witness. With little evidence to suggest he was responsible Finn is soon released from custody, albeit somewhat reluctantly by the officer in charge of the investigation, at which point he decides that he is going to track down his father's murderer.

The true strength of this book is the characterisation of Finn - Niall Leonard certainly knows how to write disaffected teenagers. So many people wrongly believe teens who bomb out of school to be knife-carrying delinquents who are just hanging around on street corners waiting for the next riot to kick-off. Whilst this is true of some, the majority are honest, fiercely loyal and desperate to work and prove themselves to the world. Unfortunately for so many their situation makes this very difficult. This is exactly how Finn is, which is why he so bravely sets out to find out who murdered his father. The other characters too are well developed, and add true sparkle to the story.

Where the story falls down slightly, especially in comparison to Peter Cocks' Long Reach, is the plotting. Whilst it is exciting and fast-paced, making it almost unputdownable, there are a few glaring holes and convenient coincidences that mean that a certain degree of disbelief suspension is required. However, I would suggest that the underlying plot of 'teen out for justice' is more believable than Long Reach's 'teen being recruited as undercover cop'.

Niall Leonard never patronises his teen audience. There is violence, swearing and also a brief sex scene. It is so welcoming to read a book that hasn't been sanitised by a nervous editor or publisher - teens do drink, swear and have sex and to remove these elements from a book about an older teen would be to do the readers a disservice. For this I applaud both Niall Leonard and Doubleday.

Crusher is scheduled to be released on 13th September and my thanks go to the lovely people at Doubleday for sending me a copy to review. Please come back here on the 14th September for a guest post by Niall Leonard himself.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Puffin Post Birthday Card Competition

Schools are starting back (boo!) which can only mean one thing - the summer has officially ended. To add to your misery, the Paralympics will soon be over, the nights are getting longer, and before we know it it will be.... sorry, it's September and I refuse to mention the C word until at least mid-November!

If you have the 'back to school blues' (or if you are a parent and your kids are suffering) then how about indulging in a little creativity by designing a special birthday card to help Puffin Post celebrate its 45th birthday. Full details are below:

You can also download this as an A3 poster by clicking here.

Monday 3 September 2012

Guest Post - Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked Launch

Recently, the fab Inis Magazine ran a competition where a handful of lucky winners would be able to meet Derek Landy at an exclusive fan event set up to launch the latest Skulduggery Pleasant book, Kingdom of the Wicked. One of the winners, superfan Colleen McGuigan from Armagh, wrote this piece about the event for us and took some photos as well:

I couldn't believe that I had won the Inis competition and was ecstatic to have the chance to meet Derek. When I arrived at Easons the excitement was already building as preparations were taking place for the book signing - the queue was already huge!

I was waiting in the cafe upstairs when Derek arrived and I was introduced to him as the competition winner. I hadn’t expected my meeting with him to be so intimate - we sat down at a table and I got to interview talk to him for twenty minutes!

Derek was funny and friendly and more than happy to answer my questions. I was a little star struck but he was so down to earth and normal he made it easy to talk to him.

The first thing I asked about was the movie - and where things stood with it? The good news is there's a movie deal about to be announced in the next few weeks and that Derek would like it if an unknown actress could play Valkyrie.

I couldn't resist asking about what other actors he had in mind for other his characters! “I would have said Catherine Zeta Jones or Olivia Wilde as China Sorrows”.

I asked Derek if he preferred writing the good or the evil characters? “The evil characters are fun to write about, but if I didn’t enjoy writing about Skulduggery and Valkyrie the books wouldn’t be any good!”

We continued to chat and as my time with him was nearly up I asked what he would continue to write once the Skulduggery series ended. “There will be more books, I just don’t know what they will be yet. But they will be really well written. Of course.”

Derek gave me a signed copy of Kingdom of the Wicked - it's so good! - and I showed him some of my Skulduggery artwork; he thought they were pretty good! (The man has good taste after all.)

It was soon time for the book signing to start downstairs, so we said goodbye and shook hands, took a few dozen pictures and Derek headed down to meet the hundreds of fans waiting for him.

A huge thank you to Inis, Easons, Harpercollins and especially to Derek - it was one of the best experiences of my life and an incredible pleasure to meet him!”

Saturday 1 September 2012

Review: TimeRiders: City of Shadows by Alex Scarrow

Liam O'Connor should have died at sea in 1912.

Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2010.

Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2026.

But all three have been given a second chance - to work for an agency that no one knows exists. Its purpose: to prevent time travel destroying history . . .

Hunted by cyborg assassins from the future, the TimeRiders must abandon New York and go on the run. They escape to Victorian London and the streets where Jack the Ripper roams. But, before they can establish their new base, they make their most shattering discovery yet - and it will change everything . . .

Are you a fan of Alex Scarrow's TimeRiders series? If the answer is yes and you have not yet got your hands on a copy of the sixth book in the series, City of Shadows, then you must do so immediately. And if you have not yet read any of the books in this series then go out and get the first TimeRiders books as you have one hell of an exciting ride ahead of you.

Over the course of the first five books in this series Alex Scarrow has gradually woven an incredibly intricate plot, creating a multitude of seemingly unrelated threads. This does at times make reading each new book something of a challenge when six months have passed since the publication of the previous book, as the plots are so complex that remembering everything that has gone before is not always easy. For those five books we have been very much like Scarrow's trio of teen protagonists, very much in the dark as to the real nature of their task and finding things out as the story progresses. For those of you desperate to find answers to some of the questions that have been bugging you for so long then prepare to stunned. And shocked. And amazed. City of Shadows is the game changer for the whole series.

The significance of Sal's teddy bear?
The man who gets merged with a horse in The Eternal War?
Who sent the team of assassins after the TimerRider team in Gates of Rome?
Foster's story?

By alternating the story between a variety of different periods in time, and especially the future where we meet Waldstein properly, in this book Alex Scarrow provides answers to all of these questions, although staying true to form, he then goes on and creates even more questions for his readers. In fact, just like the characters we continue to be led to believe one thing, and then suddenly discover that we may have been wrong all along. Yep, this book will seriously mess with your head.

I feel it is only fair to add a small extra comment on this book for those fans who, like me, were looking forward to a story set predominantly in Victorian London, featuring Jack the Ripper. In actual fact, less than a third of the story is set in this era, with most of the narrative being devoted to 2001, and the actions the team have to take immediately following on from the end of Gates of Rome. This books is less about rectifying contamination events in time, and much more about how the characters survive as they have to cut themselves loose from their Brooklyn base. However, I don't think you will be disappointed with the story - I certainly wasn't.

I remember when the first TimeRiders book was published, another author told me that she had wanted to call one of the books in her series Time Riders, but her publisher had asked her to choose an alternative title as they felt that books with the word 'time' or 'time travel' in the title didn't sell. I don't know why they believed this - perhaps they had market research findings that suggested, despite the popularity of Doctor Who on TV, that children and young adults did not find time travel stories particularly cool or exciting? If that was the case then Alex Scarrow has single-handedly injected both of these elements into the genre and made it a very hot property indeed.

The seventh TimeRiders book is scheduled to be published in February 2012, so not too long to wait. Alex recently revealed the title and cover on the official TimeRiders blog and I'm already looking forward to reading it.

Relocated to Victorian London, the TimeRiders joy-ride back to 1666 to witness the Great Fire of London. In the ensuing chaos, Liam and their newest recruit, Rashim, find themselves trapped between the fire and the Thames. They escape onboard a river boat, only to be confronted by an unscrupulous captain with his heart set on treasures of the high seas . . .

Back in 1888, Maddy and the rest of the team are frantically trying to track them down. But with limited resources at their new base, can Liam and Rashim survive the bloodthirsty and barbaric age of piracy long enough to be rescued?

My thanks go to the lovely people at Puffin for sending me a copy of City of Shadows.