Wednesday 31 October 2012

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

Darren Shan has really treated his fans this Halloween. A few minutes ago over at his website he revealed the title and the cover for the third book in the Zom-B series. The book is called Zom-B City, and if you thought that the previous covers were great just feast your eyes on this beauty. A zombie clown!!!!

Spooky Reads For Hallowe'en 2012

It's that time of year again when I like to highlight some of the great spooky reads that I think should be on your reading list this Hallowe'en. All of the books except Constable & Toop have been reviewed on The Book Zone (review coming soon for C&T). And as an extra special treat I have also included a special Hallowe'en playlist for you to listen to as you peruse the list.

The Fury by Alexander Gordon Smith

Imagine if one day, without warning, the entire human race turns against you. Every single person you meet becomes a bloodthirsty, mindless savage, hell-bent on killing you - and only you. Friends, family, even your mum and dad, will turn on you. They will murder you. And when they have, they will go back to their lives as if nothing has happened. The world has the Fury. It will not rest until you are dead. Cal, Brick and Daisy are three ordinary teenagers whose lives suddenly take a terrifying turn for the worst. They begin to trigger a reaction in everybody they meet, that makes friends and strangers alike want to tear them to pieces. These victims of the Fury - the ones that survive - manage to locate each other. But just when they think they have found a place to hide from the world, some of them begin to change . . . They must fight to uncover the truth about the Fury before it's too late. But it is a truth that will destroy everything they know about life and death.

Constable & Toop by Gareth P Jones

Sam Toop lives in a funeral parlour, blessed (or cursed) with an unusual gift. While his father buries the dead, Sam is haunted by their constant demands for attention. Trouble is afoot on the 'other side' - there is a horrible disease that is mysteriously imprisoning ghosts into empty houses in the world of the living. And Sam is caught in the middle - will he be able to bring himself to help?

Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill





After the terrifying attack on Lindisfarne at the end of the first book, Jamie, Larissa and Kate are recovering at Department 19 headquarters, waiting for news of Dracula’s stolen ashes.

They won’t be waiting for long.

Vampire forces are gathering. Old enemies are getting too close. And Dracula… is rising.

Unrest by Michelle Harrison

Seventeen-year-old Elliott hasn’t slept properly for months. Not since the accident that nearly killed him. Sometimes he half-wakes, paralysed, while shadowy figures move around him. Other times he is the one moving around, while his body lies asleep on the bed. His doctors say sleep paralysis and out of body experiences are harmless - but to Elliott they’re terrifying. 

Convinced that his brush with death has attracted the spirit world, Elliott secures a job at a reputedly haunted museum, determined to discover the truth. There, he meets the enigmatic Ophelia. But, as she and Elliott grow closer, Elliott draws new attention from the dead. One night, during an out of body experience, Elliott returns to bed to find his body gone. Something is occupying it, something dead that wants to live again . . . and it wants Ophelia, too . . .

Black Arts by Prentice & Weil

Elizabethan London: a teeming city of traders and thieves, courtiers and preachers, riff-raff and quality, cut-throats - and demons. When scrunty Jack the 'Judicious Nipper' picks the wrong pocket at the Globe Theatre, he finds himself mixed up in an altogether more dangerous London than he could have imagined - a city in which magic is real and deadly.

An outbreak of devil-worship has led to a wave of anti-witch fervor whipped up by the Elect, a mysterious group of Puritans recognizable from their red-stained right hands, led by the charismatic Nicholas Webb, a growing power at Court. Rumour has it that he wants to purge the city entirely and build a New Jerusalem. Jack has his own reason for hating him: he saw him kill his mother.

Helped by Beth Sharkwell the Thief Princess of Lambeth, Kit Morely the Intelligencer and Dr Dee the Queen's Wizard, Jack pits himself against Webb's Puritans. But this is no straightforward struggle. Things are not as they seem. In fact, ever since his encounter with Webb, there has been something wrong with Jack's vision. He keeps seeing things. Demons.

Doom Rider by David Gatward

Seth Crow has lived a thousand lives, and in each one he's been murdered before he turns thirteen.

And now he's being hunted again. But this time it's different...

The Apocalypse is coming. And the only ones who can save the world, hold the power to destroy it.

Hollow Pike by James Dawson

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

Zom-B by Darren Shan

Zom-B is a radical new series about a zombie apocalypse, told in the first person by one of its victims. The series combines classic Shan action with a fiendishly twisting plot and hard-hitting and thought-provoking moral questions dealing with racism, abuse of power and more. This is challenging material, which will captivate existing Shan fans and bring in many new ones. As Darren says, "It's a big, sprawling, vicious tale...a grisly piece of escapism, and a barbed look at the world in which we live. Each book in the series is short, fast-paced and bloody. A high body-count is guaranteed!"

The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda

Against all odds, 17-year-old Gene has survived in a world where humans have been eaten to near extinction by the general population. The only remaining humans, or hepers as they are known, are housed in domes on the savannah and studied at the nearby Heper Institute. Every decade there is a government sponsored hunt. When Gene is selected to be one of the combatants he must learn the art of the hunt but also elude his fellow competitors whose suspicions about his true nature are growing.

The Bonehill Curse by Jon Mayhew

Necessity Bonehill is arrogant, a bully and trapped in Rookery Heights Academy for Young Ladies. Bored and aimless, she spends her time training with the retired, and slightly insane, Sergeant Major Morris or fighting with the local peasant boys. So when her Uncle Carlos sends her a seemingly empty bottle with the instructions, “Never open it,” she can’t resist the temptation and pulls the cork. 

But Necessity unleashes an evil genie, a demon of pestilence and a creature that bears her parents a terrible grudge. With only seven days to rescue them, Ness has to find out how to kill the genie. She begins a desperate quest that takes her through the dark streets of London and to the Oasis of the Amarant in uncharted Africa. If she fails, her parents die and the world will fall prey to the genie’s hideous plague.

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 . . .

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Guest Post: London MCM Expo Comic Con

A couple of weeks ago Caroline Fielding, one of the fab school librarians that I follow on Twitter (aka @cazapr1), tweeted that she was going to be taking a group of her students to the London MCM Comic Con at Excel. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and was slightly envious that I hadn't thought of it myself. I asked Caroline if she would like to write a few words about it for The Book Zone, and she very kindly sent me the following last night. It is certainly something I would like to sort out for some of the students at my school for next year.

On Friday 26th October I and a colleague took 10 pupils from years 9-11 to the London MCM Expo Comic Con at the Excel Centre.  The colleague is a cover supervisor who has a passion for graphic novels and runs a graphics club at school, he sent me a link to the Comic Con site saying “the kids want to go to this, how can we organise that?” and so I set the wheels in motion.  I did the grown-up bits – getting permission, writing letters, booking the tickets – and my colleague got the kids really enthusiastic about it.  Because it was extra-curricular we all paid for our own tickets and transport but I ordered them for everyone. 

It is a large venue with a lot happening so we decided to keep the pupils in line of sight, next time we go I think we need more staff!  Most of the time we stayed together, a couple of them were beyond excited to meet one of their YouTube favourites behind one stall while others haggled over badges and other merchandise, but there were points where, totally stereotypically, the boys were in one of the many arcades playing games while I wandered around the stalls with the girls.  I was persuaded to sign up for a manga magazine for the library and bought a t-shirt for my husband but other than that, to be perfectly honest, I just loved watching some of my best pupils have a lot of fun, and really enjoyed being part of their great day.  There was a lot of pointing and staring at people in costume and getting photos of everything but the school camera is rubbish so the pictures I have to hand aren't great, will have to get them all to e-mail me the photos they took.

We'd told the pupils they had to be in school uniform and, despite one of them stretching the idea a bit far by wrecking his old blazer and coming as a zombie school boy, they all looked pretty fact they kept being asked if they were cosplay school children!  One of them said to that “no we're on a school trip with our Librarian”, pointed at me and said “she's the best Librarian in the world”.  Need I say more? :-)

Monday 29 October 2012

Review: Arabesque by Colin Mulhern

Amy May is the best at everything she does. But how do you know you're really the best until you're tested? Until you're pushed to the limit?

A botched kidnapping attempt drags Amy and her best friend into the depths of a criminal underworld, a world where the players think with bullets and blackmail. Where they will stop at nothing to get what they want.

And what they want, only Amy May can provide.

This is going to be a fairly short review (honest!). Not only because I am trying to cut back on the length of my ramblings, but also because I have some frustrations regarding this book that I can't go on about too much as I would be creating massive spoilers.

I haven't (yet) read Colin Mulhern's debut YA novel, Clash, although on the strength of this one I am definitely going to try to find the time in the not-too-distant future. Crime is definitely becoming one of the genres of the moment for young adults, and Colin Mulhern is up there with the rest of the crowd as far as the quality of his writing and his characters are concerned. Arabesque is a gritty crime thriller that if televised would sit very well as a post watershed drama. It has a cracking fast-paced storyline, and I absolutely loved the main character Amy May. 

Amy has been brought up by her father to be someone who strives to be the best at whatever she does. This does not just include her promising career as a potential Olympic gymnast - in the early chapters of the book we are given hints that her father has for some reason brought her up to be able to look after herself, be it through hand-to-hand combat or even with a firearm. Initially we can only guess as to why this might be, but as the story progresses we are drip-fed occasional morsels of information that add to Amy's slightly unusual upbringing.

A botched crime leads to Amy and her best friend Mia being kidnapped. Unfortunately for the girls, the group that kidnap them are more than a little inept, and they very quickly find themselves at the mercy of Andrew Galloway, a far more ruthless career criminal. Galloway has plans for Amy, and in order to ensure that she follows them he separates her from Mia, who is taken away to a place where more than her life is at risk. Amy has to decide - will she try to protect her friends by carrying out Galloway's diabolical plan? Or will she forget Mia and try to save her own skin?

I mentioned at the start of this review that I harboured a number of frustrations regarding Arabesque. Before I go on to them I just want to state that I loved the majority of this book. I found it exciting and tense, and think it would make a great read for older teens - it does deal with some fairly adult themes that would make it unsuitable for younger teens. However, there were also one or two things I took issue with. The first of these was a major coincidence that enters the story a handful of chapters before the end. Some might call it a major twist (I saw it coming a mile off), and following some time reflecting over it I can just about accept it, and on its own I think it would have gone pretty much ignored in this review. However, something happens at the very end of the book that in my opinion just does not make any sense at all. I'm trying to explain myself a bit more without creating spoilers, and I think the best I can say is that a character ends up somewhere that they really should not be. There is just no reasonable explanation for this character's presence at this stage of the story. Unless of course, I have missed something completely in the earlier part of the story. 

And that's all I can say about it. Please read the book - it is well worth your time - but I would love to know if anyone out there shares my opinion.

My thanks go to the fab Non at Catnip Books for sending me a proof copy of Arabesque to review.

Sunday 28 October 2012

News: Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud

Now it is half term I can finally catch up on sharing some of the book news that has come my way in the past week or so. The first, and definitely the most exciting piece of news involves the legend that is Jonathan Stroud. I am a huge fan of his Bartimaeus books and I have been looking forward to his new series, Lockwood and Co., ever since I first heard about it at the Random House Bloggers' Brunch earlier this year.  

Last week I received a bitter sweet press release from the lovely people at Random House. Bitter sweet because although it has some great news about Jonathan Stroud and his new book, we are still going to have to wait until September 2013 to read it.

Press release:


RHCP announce publication plans
and a film deal for Lockwood & Co.

Thurs 25 October, 09:30: In a year’s time the first book in Jonathan’s Stroud’s new series, Lockwood & Co. will be published. RHCP is delighted to announce a Hollywood movie deal and major promotional plans for the book.

Movie News
Emily Hayward Whitlock of Knight Hall Agency Ltd is delighted to have signed off a major seven-figure deal with Illumination Entertainment for Jonathan Stroud’s new series Lockwood and Co on behalf of the Laura Cecil Literary Agency.  Illumination Entertainment are planning to make this their first live action film having recently made films such as Despicable Me and Dr Seuss’ The Lorax. They are backed by Universal Studios.

Variety magazine has broken the movie news today:

Digital and Marketing Campaign
On top of this exciting movie news, RHCP is firming up the global, interactive and ambitious marketing campaign planned for September 2013 to launch Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase. RHCP is liaising with Stroud’s international publishers, including Hyperion in the US and Bertelsmann in Germany, to share ideas and content, with a view to building a worldwide community of Lockwood fans.

“We’re going to pull out all the stops on this one,” says RHCP MD, Philippa Dickinson. “We’re really thinking creatively and innovatively about how we can make Lockwood stand out from the crowd to make it the must-read book next autumn.”

The launch of The Screaming Staircase will be supported by a piece of interactive online storytelling, in which readers are invited – as honorary investigators for Lockwood & Co – to seek out ghosts and discover the grisly tales behind each haunting. There will be many ways to get involved, including armchair sleuthing, creative writing, and even a location-based smartphone app for the truly intrepid.

Philippa Dickinson expands: “We’re currently laying the groundwork for an immersive experience based in the rich and spooky new world Jonathan has created; and we hope to bring his devoted Bartimaeus fan-base together with a legion of new readers in order to explore it.”

As well as reaching in to the virtual world, an ambitious traditional publicity campaign is planned. Jonathan will be touring the globe for three months over the autumn doing a range of high-profile events, signings and media junkets. Pre-publication buzz activity will include an appearance at BEA in America, augmented reality book proofs, wide-scale sampling to reading groups, and digital activity designed to create chatter, such as jacket reveals, twinterviews and virtual events.

Lockwood & Co. : The Story Begins
Lockwood & Co. is Stroud’s first series since his bestselling Bartimaeus sequence, which has sold over 6 million copies worldwide and is available in 36 languages. The first title, The Screaming Staircase, will be published in the UK on 2nd September 2013 and introduces readers to the charismatic Anthony Lockwood, his sidekick George and their new young employee, Lucy. London has never been spookier, and Lockwood & Co, a small, ramshackle psychic detection agency, is up against murderous spectres, terrifying apparitions and dastardly rivals.

Stroud’s invention, energy and stylish wit make this superb new series something to be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Fans of Bartimaeus will be overjoyed to see Stroud is returning to London as the setting for his new story, but this time it’s a much darker city. An epidemic of ghosts – known as The Problem – is causing chaos and Lockwood and his colleagues must seek a solution. Stroud’s readers will welcome a new cast of characters and his characteristic masterly blend of humour, suspense and adventure.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Review: Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard

The distant and unloved colony world of Russalka has no land, only the raging sea. No clear skies, only the endless storm clouds. Beneath the waves, the people live in pressurised environments and take what they need from the boundless ocean. It is a hard life, but it is theirs and they fought a war against Earth to protect it. But wars leave wounds that never quite heal, and secrets that never quite lie silent.

Katya Kuriakova doesn't care much about ancient history like that, though. She is making her first submarine voyage as crew; the first nice, simple journey of what she expects to be a nice, simple career.

There is nothing nice and simple about the deep black waters of Russalka, however; soon she will encounter pirates and war criminals, see death and tragedy at first hand, and realise that her world’s future lies on the narrowest of knife edges. For in the crushing depths lies a sleeping monster, an abomination of unknown origin, and when it wakes, it will seek out and kill every single person on the planet.

Yesterday was The Book Zone's third blogoversary, and in the post I wrote to 'celebrate' I mentioned that I was going to be writing shorter reviews in the future. With this in mind, I want to sum up my feelings regarding Katya's World as succinctly as possible:

Katya's World is a great boys' own science-fiction adventure with one of the most resourceful and kick-ass female main characters since Derek Landy gave us Valkyrie Cain.

Naturally, me being me I can't just leave it at that - Jonathan L Howard probably spent months writing the book so the least I can do is try to do it some kind of justice by writing a lengthier review.

When I first started reading Katya's World I couldn't help but compare it with Kat Falls' Dark Life books, for no other reason than that they both share a sub-oceanic setting. At first the world created by Kat Falls in Dark Life was coming out on top, however it wasn't long before I was fully immersed in Howard's story and completely forgot about Dark Life. I also found myself much preferring Katya's World, with its pure science (fiction) roots as opposed to the 'young people living in the deeps gain super powers' plot elements of Dark Life.

Katya's World is set in a future where, due to population saturation on Earth, man has colonised a number of accessible planets outside the solar system. One such planet is the ocean world that became known as Russalka. Previous colonisations of other planets has demonstrated that success is more likely to be achieved if colonists are of the same ethnicity, and Russalka's case its initial new inhabitants are all from the same part of Russia. Since then, relationships with Earth first became strained and subsequently developed into an all out invasion of Russalka by Terran forces. As the book starts the war is a not-too-distant memory. The inhabitants of Russalka live their day-to-day lives as best they can, but constantly wondering if or when they will be attacked again. 

We know all of this because the author tells us in his prologue to the story, and sadly this is the only part of the whole book that grated with me. As I was reading the prologue I was wondering when I had last seen a similar info dump at the start of a YA book, and I came up blank. As the story then progressed I found myself spotting parts of the story where the back history of Russalka and its people could have been more cleverly inserted into the plot. This style of prologue is not the kind of thing that we would expect to read in an adult title these days, so it comes across as a little patronising to young people when an author feels it necessary to include one for them. I would love to hear Mr Howard's reasoning for its inclusion.

The story follows the Katya of the book's title. Katya Kuriakova is a fifteen year old who has just finished her training as a submarine navigator, and the book opens with her embarking on her début voyage as the navigator on Pushkin's Baby, her Uncle Lukyan's mini-sub. As they are about to depart with their cargo of electronic components, an officious young officer of the Federal Maritime Authority commandeers their vessel and orders them to transport him and his prisoner, the alleged pirate Havilland Kane. So begins an adventure that sees Katya tested to her limits as she comes up against pirates, insurgents, and worst of all, a terrifying legacy of the war against the Terrans that could destroy everyone on the planet.

The two stand out elements of Katya's World in my opinion were the atmosphere that Howard creates, and his array of colourful characters. When these elements are combined they make for a truly believable science fiction story that feels very real, even though it is set on a far off planet in a distant future. The characters in particular are well developed, and even those who have little more than a small supporting role to play in the proceedings come across as much more than two dimensional creature-fodder. Katya herself makes a great heroine - she is resourceful and intelligent beyond her years, but is fragile and scared when the situation merits it. Her beliefs, both political and moral, are somewhat ingrained as the result of the loss of her father and her upbringing. As such, when she finds that her world is not as black and white as she thought, she finds these beliefs tested to their limits, as she has to decide who is good and who is bad, and whether those who live in between the two can be trusted when everything hits the fan.

Katya's World is a great read for fans of science fiction and adventure stories, and will have huge appeal to both boys and girls. The story does come to a satisfying conclusion, with no ridiculous cliffhangers, but as the start of a planned trilogy there is more than enough left unresolved to have readers clamouring for the sequel. Katya's World is scheduled to be released on 13th November, and my thanks go to Amanda at Strange Chemistry for sending me a proof copy to read.

Monday 22 October 2012

Third Blogoversary (with Bumper Book Giveaway to Celebrate)

The Book Zone (For Boys) is three years old today, and just saying that comes as something as a relief to me. In the past few months I have come very, very close to announcing the end of The Book Zone as it started to feel like a chore. At one point I thought I had found someone to help me out with review writing, but sadly I got let down. Things then slowed down considerably back in July due to work pressures, but I fully expected to use a sizeable portion of the school summer holidays to catch up on the back log of reading and reviews. When that time came I just could not find the motivation to blog, or even to read many of the books on what had become a stupidly tall To Be Read pile. Instead, I devoted my summer to catching up on some of the many adult books that I had bought but never found the time to read. I also made the conscious decision that come the start of the new school year I would be easing off on the blogging, dropping from 20ish posts per month, down to a more sustainable 10ish. I feel that now is the right moment to apologise to all those publishers that sent me books which I have not yet read or reviewed - I will try to get around to them as quickly as I can.

The news that my very good friends Liz and Mark de Jager are bringing their brilliant My Favourite Books blog to an end, as well as rumours that another high profile blogger is also thinking of throwing in the towel, quickly brought back my buried thoughts about quitting. But then I think back to my reasons for starting the blog in the first place - to "raise awareness of the vast wealth of 'boy-friendly' books that have been published since Harry Potter burst onto the scene", and then I am wracked with guilt and feel that I am letting people down if I stop. And so, at least for the immediate future, The Book Zone will continue, with slightly less output per month, and probably significantly shorter reviews as opposed to my usual rambling essays.

With all that doom and gloom out of the way I want to concentrate on a few highs of the year. The greatest of these is also the most recent: the writing god that is Anthony Horowitz taking part in a Q&A for The Book Zone. Another great moment was when I met Michael Grant earlier in the year at the Electric Monkey launch event. I had only just finished Bzrk and it was great to be able to tell him just how much Bzrk messed with my mind (in a good way). I have also taken great enjoyment from the number of amazing books that have continued to come through my letterbox, many of them from début authors. Some of these books will make it on to my Best of 2012 list when I publish it in December, and one of these débuts may even be my 2012 Book of the Year. There is still a couple of months to go but at the moment there are two or three books in the running for this 'award'.

As ever, my huge thanks go to the authors and publishers that have made this past year so enjoyable again by keeping me supplied with books and taking the time to answer my interview questions, as well as to the other bloggers out there who have been a constant source of inspiration and guidance. I want to mention Liz and Mark again, as well as Sarah who also writes for My Favourite Books, as their blog as been my 'benchmark' ever since I started writing The Book Zone and if anyone ever asks me advice on blogging I always send them there first - My Favourite Books will be sorely missed. My thanks also go to the readers of this blog, whether you are boys, girls, parents, teachers, librarians, book lovers, or a combination of the above - thanks you for reading and I hope you will stay around for as long as I do.

As a special birthday celebration I have a fantastic prize up for grabs. I have been sorting through my books and seem to have a number of double copies, and so one lucky reader of The Book Zone could win the following:

Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill
Summertime of the Dead by Gregory Hughes
All three books in Sarah Silverwood's Nowhere Chronicles
The Enemy by Charlie Higson
Brothers to the Death by Darren Shan
The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

and possibly a few more.

To be in with a chance of winning all of these books just fill in the form below by the competition deadline of 8pm GMT Monday 29th October 2011. Due to the cost of postage this competition is open to UK residents only.

Contest open to UK residents only.
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.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Review: Seconds Away by Harlan Coben (Mickey Bolitar Book 2)

This action-packed follow-up to international bestseller Harlan Coben's striking young adult novel, Shelter, follows Mickey Bolitar as he continues to hunt for clues about the Abeona Shelter and the mysterious death of his father - all while trying to navigate the challenges of a new high school.

When tragedy strikes close to home, Mickey and his loyal new friends - sharp-witted Ema and the adorably charming Spoon - find themselves at the centre of a terrifying mystery involving the shooting of their classmate Rachel. Now, not only does Mickey need to keep himself and his friends safe from the Butcher of Lodz, but he needs to figure out who shot Rachel - no matter what it takes.

Mickey Bolitar is as quick-witted and clever as his uncle Myron, but with danger just seconds away, it is going to take all of his determination and help from his friends to protect the people he loves, even if he does not know who - or what - he is protecting them from.

I will start off this review by saying that I have not read any of Harlan Coben's adult crime thrillers. These days I don't seem to read a great deal of crime, even though ten years ago my shelves were filled with the likes of Jeffery Deaver, J.A. Kerley, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Richard Montanari.... The list could go on and on, but at some point, somewhere along the line, I seem to have stopped reading crime (although from the above you will be able to see that I was fond of a particular type of crime novel). However, when the lovely people at Indigo sent me a copy of Harlan Coben's first YA crime novel, Shelter, sometime last year I started reading it immediately. And I loved it. I've looked back through my blog looking for the review I thought I had written for Shelter, but either I imagined posting it or, like one or two other posts seem to have done recently, it has just disappeared.

Seconds Away picks up straight after the events of Shelter, and you really have to have read the  first book in the series for this one to make a great deal of sense. For those of you who read Shelter a year ago and may have forgotten key elements of the story have no fear - Coben cleverly weaves enough reminders into the opening chapters to refresh your mind of the events in that first book, and also the bombshell he dropped at the close of the book that has left fans begging for more ever since.

I know that there have been some readers who were left a little confused at the end of Shelter, as there seemed to be two very different elements to it. For the most part it was a gritty crime thriller, with Mickey Bolitar and his new friends being drawn into a thrilling and deadly mystery rooted firmly in modern crime. However, there also seemed to be something of a supernatural element to the series spanning story arc, an element that seemed more than a little out of place in a straight crime story. Ninety year old ex Nazis who still look young, anybody? In Seconds Away Coben gradually reveals more information behind this element and by the end readers will have a much better understanding of this, and like me they will also be just as hungry for the next instalment.

As with Shelter then there are two stories going on in this sequel. There is the standalone element - Mickey's friend Rachel is injured and her mother killed in a shooting at her house, and Mickey, Ema and Spoon set out to solve the mystery - and then there is the greater mystery: that surrounding Mickey's life, the death of his father, the Bat Lady, the Butcher of Lodz and the Abeona Shelter. Coben uses all of his writing experience and expertise to craft a story that has you racing through the pages, desperate to get to the solution to both mysteries. And there is no point second guessing either - the plot twists and turns like an Alpine giant slalom, and just as you think you have guessed 'whodunnit', somthing else is revealed and you find yourself staring open mouthed as the letters W.R.O.N.G. flash teasingly through your brain.

Crime is a genre that has huge adult appeal, with book stores having ranks of shelves dedicated to authors of these books. However, it is only in the last eighteen months or so that it has crossed over to the YA market, with the likes of Harlan Coben, Colin Mulhern, Niall Leonard and Peter Cocks writing for this younger age group. I know some of the boys at school much prefer these kind of stories that are grounded in a realism that they can relate to, as opposed to fantasy and horror stories. Seconds Away was published in hardback by Indigo earlier this month and my thanks go to the publishers for sending me a copy to review. 

Saturday 20 October 2012

Review: CRYPT: Mask of Death by Andrew Hammond

A figure wearing a white mask swoops down a deserted hospital corridor towards a quarantined patient. Covered in black sores and writhing in agony the patient can't be saved by modern medicine. But then, the masked figure is not a modern doctor...

Bodies are being discovered all over London, all marked with the same black sores - it seems a contagious disease is spreading across the city. But when witnesses all report seeing the same mysterious masked figure it seems there's something more sinister going on.

This is a case for CRYPT: a team of elite teenage agents who use their extra sensory perception and arsenal of high-tech gadgets to investigate crimes that the police can't solve.

Andrew Hammond is back with the third book in his CRYPT series, and yet again it does not disappoint. Main characters, Jud Lester and Bex De Verre, have been fully established in the previous two books and so Andrew Hammond is able to spend a little more of this story developing the supporting cast. And he doesn't just concentrate on other teen members of the CRYPT team - in fact most of these remain in the background as somewhat two dimensional bit players. Instead, the author has chosen to flesh out some of the adults in the cast, and we begin to find out more about what drives Bonati and Vorzek. Khan also makes a welcome return, almost as if he is now a fully fledged member of the team rather than a DCI in the Met.

Andrew Hammond has shown in the previous two books that he is not afraid of including more than a little gore in his writing. Mask of Death is no exception, and with a plot that revolves around the Great Plague of 1665 he relishes in the opportunity this gives him to make your stomach turn. It also allows him to take his young heroes further out of their comfort zone by jetting them off to Venice in search of clues as to why plague doctors are rising from the dead and attacking modern day Londoners. Venice is always a great setting for a horror story and the author makes good use of the super spooky setting.

My one criticism of the previous book in this series, Traitor's Revenge, was that it lacked the explosive climax of its predecessor. I am happy to report that the action and suspense in Mask of Death builds gradually to a cracking ending, with Jud and Bex risking their lives in the line of duty yet again.

My thanks go to the lovely people at Headline for sending me a copy to review. I am also happy to see that another instalment is scheduled for February 2013 - just the title, Blood Eagle Tortures, is enough to put a demonic smile on my face (google Blood Eagle and you will see why).

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Zom-B Poster Competition Result

The lucky winner of the signed Zom-B poster is:

Scott Taylor

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 Simon and Schuster for providing the prize.

Monday 8 October 2012

Review: Hattori Hachi - Curse of the Diamond Daggers by Jane Prowse

Called to Japan with her family and friends, Hattie Jackson discovers her destiny is to resolve the cataclysmic rift in the Hattori family that began centuries before. To do it, she must reunite the three deadly Diamond Daggers, while somehow surviving the dirty tricks and ruthless fighting skills of her most terrifying enemies. But more is at risk than she thinks. The daggers carry a mysterious power of their own - one that can corrupt the very heart of their bearer...

I loved the first two Hattori Hachi books, as you can see from the quote on the front cover of the third book in this series, Hattori Hachi: Curse of the Diamond Daggers (my first ever front cover quote - hurrah!). They are up there with Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant series as perfect examples of boy-friendly books with female main characters. I know it is something of a generalisation to say that boys prefer their books to have a male main character, and the debate as to why this is (and if it is actually true) has gone on for years, but my experience suggests there is certainly a degree of accuracy to it. True or otherwise, those first two books are perfect for action loving boys, and this third instalment is more of the same (and I mean that as a great compliment). If you need more persuasion to give these a try, check out my reviews here and here.

The first two books dealt with Hattie's discovery of her heritage, and subsequently her role as the Golden Child of the Hattori family. Sounds cool doesn't it, until you discover that it could mean being killed by an army of ninjas led by evil ninja warlords. I'll take the safety and comfort of my sofa any day of the week, thank you very much.Over the course of those books she fought and defeated two of the world's greatest masters of the ninja arts, and now she is almost ready to head off for her mother's homeland of Japan, to finally face her destiny. Will she be triumphant, or will she fall victim to one or all of the cursed Diamond Daggers?

I said earlier as a compliment that this third book was more of the same. By that I meant that it is very tightly plotted and well written, with a fantastic set of supporting characters. Some of these, like Toby, we are still getting to know, but this does not make them seem any less real that the characters that we met in the opening chapters of The Revenge of Praying Mantis. We also have many more action set pieces, all kept fresh by the change of location to Japan. And of course, the coolest thing of all, are the ninjas. And there seem to be more of them than ever before in this book, including a full on ninja battle towards the end of the story. More ninjas also mean more ninja secrets, and I loved the way Jane Prowse gradually built tension throughout the story by focusing on the more stealthy elements of being a ninja such as the art of disguise; identity theft; stealth attack; wire walking.

This book neatly rounds off the Hattori Hachi trilogy, although an author's note at the end of the book will smiles to the faces of HH fans, as we are promised that her story is not yet finished and there will be more to read in the future.

My thanks go to Jane Prowse for sending me a copy of Hattori Hachi: Curse of the Diamond Daggers to review. For more details and the opportunity to download a free ebook of The Revenge of Praying Mantis head on over to the official Hattori Hachi website here

Sunday 7 October 2012

Review: Pulp Detective Magazine

Pulp Detective magazine is a monthly short story magazine aimed predominantly at 9-16 year olds and it is based on the concept of the pulp fiction magazines popularised in the first half of the 20th Century. It features three short stories set in the fictional world of Bay City, each dealing with the shady underworld surrounding the city at the time of the Great Depression and Prohibition in 1930’s America.

I spotted mention of this on another blog a couple of weeks ago and immediately got in touch with the good people at Plesio to enquire further. They replied very quickly, sending through a pdf of a very impressive looking first issue. In fact, I was so impressed that I popped into town last Saturday to pick up a copy from the local branch of WH Smith. Yes, this magazine should be available in pretty much every town centre, and also in many newsagents. Quite a feat for a new publication - someone somewhere who has clout obviously has great taste as well.

Outside of specialist comic shops there are very few monthly publications available for boys in this age group (and yes, sorry girls but I will make that distinction here as you have long had the monopoly on monthlies in this country). It would appear that magazine publishers forget that teen boys exist until they hit eighteen and start buying lads' mags, and it is great to see Plesio trying to rectify this situation with Pulp Detective.

Issue #1 of Pulp Detective contains three stories, the first of which finishes with a classic "To be continued .....", the intention being that readers will want to buy the next issue to continue reading the story in the next issue. The next two stories all come to an end, but I would imagine that future issues will feature some of the same characters. All the stories are set in Bay City, with a map of the city very helpfully included, with key locations from the stories labelled. All three stories are very well written and beautifully illustrated, and at 125+ pages readers are certainly getting their money's worth with a cover price of only £3.25.

I really hope that Pulp Detective becomes as successful as The Phoenix Comic, giving readers something to progress on to as they mature. There once was a time when pulp magazines ruled, and a return to that day would be fabulous, perhaps even with a widened range of titles to include science fiction and horror as well. However, it is still very early days for me to be making wishes like that, so go on out there and get your hands on a copy for the 9+ boy(s) in your life.

Friday 5 October 2012

Interview with Anthony Horowitz (author of some of the best books ever written for kids)

I really cannot think of the right words to describe how happy and honoured I am feeling right now to be hosting a Q&A with the legend that is Anthony Horowitz. I have been reading Anthony's books for as long as I have been teaching (and that feels like a lifetime sometimes), and when I started The Book Zone I never dreamed that the likes of Anthony Horowitz and Rick Riordan would be answering questions that I had sent them. Oblivion, the final book in The Power of Five series, was released yesterday and that's about all I think I need to say as an introduction:


Hello Mr Horowitz. Welcome to The Book Zone (For Boys) and thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions for us. Congratulations on the publication of Oblivion – I know there are many, many people who have been waiting for this final instalment to The Power of Five series, and having read it, I thought it was a fantastic finale to the series.

Many readers of The Book Zone will not know that The Power of Five series first started back in 1983 as the Pentagram series. How does it feel to be saying goodbye to characters that you created so many years ago?

It's a relief! First of all I wrote the series a long time ago and then I completely re-wrote it. But the fifth and final book took ages to come and I rather fear there are children who have grown up waiting for it. I always knew OBLIVION would be a large, epic and (for me but hopefully not for the reader) an exhausting one. I'm just delighted it’s over and it’s worked out so well.

I read somewhere that you feel Oblivion to be the best book you have written. What is it about Oblivion that makes it so special for you?

Partly, it’s the characters. I think Pedro, the Peruvian street urchin, and Scott, the American twin who sells out and goes bad are two of the most interesting and well-drawn characters I've ever created. Partly it’s the amount of action I've managed to pack into the book which takes place all over the world with volcano eruptions, drug lords, slave markets, battles on the ice etc, etc. But above all, I think the book is my most personal. It has something – vaguely – to say. That may not matter to you but it matters to me.

How much of the future world you depict in Oblivion is based on current real life events and concerns? How much research did you need to do to create such a bleak future for Planet Earth?

I hope it isn't too bleak although I’d agree that nothing too cheerful seems to be happening. A lot of the book came out of the newspapers and the sense we have that things aren't going too well. The banks are collapsing. The weather is doing weird things. There's growing tension in the Middle East. Even so, Oblivion is meant to be an optimistic book. It's about the next generation saving the world – and let’s hope that happens in real life.

I watched the video of you in Antarctica and I believe it is well known that you like to visit the locations that you feature in your books. Do you have a favourite location from this series?

It would be hard to beat Antarctica, the last great wilderness on the planet. The ice was spectacular and the light – even at midnight (the sun never set) unforgettable. I saw hundreds of penguins, whales and wild birds although I'm afraid they didn't make it into the novel. But the glaciers and the ice-bergs with their uncanny, blue luminescence certainly inspired the last section.

Everyone loves a villain – do you have a favourite one from The Power of Five series? What do you think it is about great villains that readers love so much?

Jonas Mortlake is my favourite villain because he’s mean and disgusting without being all-powerful. He’s not like a James Bond villain with plans to conquer the world. He’s much more interested in his own survival. What makes him work, I think, is that he’s inspired by a real person, drawn from the news – but obviously I can’t say who without being sued. Maybe that’s what makes a good villain. You have to believe in them.

You have stated in several interviews that your next project is the story featuring Yassen Gregorovich. Is there anything else you can tell us about Yassen at the moment? Will you be writing it for a new young audience, or for the legions of older readers who grew up reading your Alex Rider books?

I never quite know who I'm writing my books for. I hope adults as well as children will find their way to Oblivion. Yassen (I'm searching for a new title) will be a stand-alone book. You won’t have to have read the whole Alex Rider series – but at the same time I’d guess that people who do know the books will enjoy it more than those who don’t. I plan to start writing it in November.

Do you have any other projects planned that you can tell us about, either for teens or adults? Is there any chance you might write another Sherlock Holmes book?

Right now we’re filming a new series of Foyle’s War which will air in 2013. I’m also working on the sequel to Tintin for Peter Jackson. After Yassen, I’m going to write a sort of sequel to “The House of Silk” but this one won’t feature Holmes or Watson although other characters from Conan Doyle will appear. It is set immediately after the death of Moriarty and the disappearance of Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls and actually opens in an Austrian morgue.

On The Book Zone I run an occasional feature titled My Life That Books Built. A number of authors have told readers of The Book Zone about the book(s) they read when they were younger that helped mould them into the reader and/or writer they are today. Are there any such books from your childhood?

I often talk about Tintin being an early influence. He was a writer and has such colourful adventures. Likewise, Willard Price’s Adventure series was a constant joy when I was growing up. And then there was Ian Fleming and James Bond…

Thank you again for joining us here on The Book Zone, and for providing so many readers with so many hours of reading pleasure.

And thank you for your interesting questions.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Review: The Power of Five: Oblivion by Anthony Horowitz (spoiler free)

Having escaped from Hong Kong, the Five Gatekeepers - Matt, Pedro, Scott, Jamie and Scarlett - are scattered in a hostile and dangerous world. As they struggle to re-group and plan their next move, the malevolent King of the Old Ones gathers his forces in Oblivion: a desolate landscape where the last survivors of humanity must fight the ultimate battle.

If you have arrived here at The Book Zone (For Boys) for the first time, because you searched for a review for Oblivion, the fifth and final book in Anthony Horowitz's stunning The Power of Five series, then hello and thanks for dropping by. It doesn't matter if you are a boy or a girl (or an adult who, like me, loves reading books targeted at children and young adults), all are welcome here. If you arrived here by these means then you also do not need me to tell you anything about the previous four books in the series, as I am sure you have already read them at least once, and in some cases multiple times. If, however, you have stumbled across this post and you have not yet had the immense pleasure of discovering this series then stop reading right now and go and read them, starting with Raven's Gate, as although this review will not contain any spoilers for Oblivion, I cannot promise the same about the rest of the story so far.

Some people have been waiting patiently for four years for this final instalment to the series to be released whilst Anthony sat on his backside twiddling his thumbs wrote a fantastic end to the Alex Rider series, and a brilliant addition to the Sherlock Holmes stories. However, some people (me included) have been waiting just a little bit longer for Oblivion - it has been twenty three years since Day of the Dragon, the fourth book in the Pentagram series, was published, a series that Anthony would go on to rewrite as The Power of Five. I did not discover these books back in the 80s when they were first released - I had to wait until I discovered them in a Birmingham charity shop not long after I started teaching in 1995, but seventeen years is still quite a wait. Was it worth it? Hell yes!

Before I say any more, I want to remind you of the closing lines of Necropolis, words that sent many a Power of Five fan's heart racing with concern, and no doubt caused howls of frustration to echo out across the land:

"The Five had entered the door without knowing where they were going, so none of them would have arrived in the same place. They would be as far apart now as they had ever been. Worse than that, the door had been disintegrating even as they had passed through it, and the final blast had played one last trick on them. If the five of them had survived the journey, they would find out very soon.

It would be a very long time before they found each other again."

What a cliffhanger that was! It left fans wondering whether all of The Five would survive, and where on earth the doorway would take them. It was also the perfect set-up for Oblivion. I don't think it is creating a spoiler to say that not only are The Five scattered around the world (again), but the doorway also sent them all ten years into the future, by which time the King of the Old Ones has had his wicked way with Planet Earth. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong - war, famine, disease, environmental meltdown, death and destruction - you name it, it has happened somewhere or other. Nowhere on earth has gone unaffected, giving the poor, unsuspecting Five quite a shock as they arrive through a variety of doorways, not knowing where the others are, or even if they survived the hasty escape from Hong Kong. They also quickly discover that the doorways are all inexplicably no longer working, meaning they will have to rely on more traditional means of travelling if they are to come together again to banish Chaos and the Old Ones back to whichever hell they came from.

You would be right in thinking this a seemingly impossible task, especially given that the minions of the Old Ones have had ten years to prepare for their arrival. Have no fear though, this is an Anthony Horowitz book and the man does have a knack of bringing things together to create a nice neat ending. Be warned as well though, this is an Anthony Horowitz book and the man does have a propensity for killing off main characters. There are both sides of the coin for you. What would you prefer? A nice neat ending with a favourite character being slaughtered by the Old Ones? Or perhaps a death-free end for The Five and their friends, but loose ends left blowing in the wind. I would certainly prefer the former of the two, and again, it's not really creating spoilers when I tell you that this is the road that Mr Horowitz chooses to travel, although you could stick hot pins under my toenails and I still wouldn't tell you who dies and who lives, or whether any of The Five manage to fully triumph over the forces of evil.

I'm rambling now, and that is because I am finding it very difficult not to create spoilers. I was one of the incredibly fortunate few who received an early proof of this book (naturally I dropped everything to read it) and I have been agonising over this review for some time. It is only now, the day before its release, when I feel I can no longer put off writing it any longer, and so I have forced myself to sit down and get it written. Why am I finding it so difficult? Well, I really, really loved this book but to really explain why would just create so many spoilers. I loved the characters, and the way Anthony really tests them to their limits; I loved the many, many action scenes (he does action so well); I loved the varied (almost) post-apocalyptic locations and their (often insane) inhabitants who have all been affected in some way or another over the past ten years. And most of all, I loved how Mr Horowitz has taken many of the issues facing our planet and its population today, and imagined what they would be like after ten years of Chaos and his Old Ones. The imaginary future he creates is all the more scary because in the back of your mind you realise that unless something is done pretty damn soon by the world's numerous governments then his fiction could become a very painful not-too-dissimilar reality for us all.

Oblivion is more than 650 pages long, and I am sure there will be some who will question this. However, I doubt many of these detractors will actually read it, and if they did they would quickly realise that when your five main characters (and various friends) are scattered around the world, it does take many, many words to lead them up to the ending that he delivers for his fans. However, I'm also not going to sit here and say that the book is perfect, as in my mind it isn't. I have one small gripe, and that is I felt it could have been just a handful of pages longer. Just twenty or thirty, as after the wonderful (or should that be horrific?) journeys he creates for his Five, the final climactic scenes in Antarctica just seemed to come to an end a little too quickly for my liking. However, I don't want to dwell on this as I had so much enjoyment reading this final instalment to a series that in one way or another has kept be enthralled and entertained for more than fifteen years.

So what next for Anthony Horowitz? Well why don't you come back tomorrow when I will be joined by the great man himself. Yes, Anthony Horowitz has taken part in a Q&A for The Book Zone, where he tells us a little more about Oblivion and also gives us a few hints as to what he has in the pipeline. Obviously, I've already seen his answers and I'm pretty excited about his plans.

My huge, huge thanks go to the lovely people at Walker Books, and the wonderful Justin Somper for so kindly arranging for me to have an early copy of this book. Oblivion is published today - if you are a Power of Five fan then go out and get your copy and make sure you keep the weekend free of any other plans. You won't regret it.