Friday 30 November 2012

Review: Metawars 2: The Dead Are Rising by Jeff Norton

The Changsphere offers a safe haven for the Uploaded, and with more processing power than the Southern Corner could ever offer, the Uploaded begin to grow, develop, and yearn to be alive again. With the Changsphere offering competition to the Metasphere, more and more avatars take up residency in it. But the Uploaded begin to prey on live avatars, infecting them, and their users, with their personalities and becoming reborn in the real world. The dead are rising. 

Now reborn into the real world, the once dead avatars will not let anyone shut down the Changsphere - the source of their rebirth. Meanwhile, Jonah, Sam, and Axel struggle to keep the Metasphere safe from Granger's assault on the Western Corner, which is housed in the old subway lines under New York City. But Jonah struggles with whether they are doing the right thing: in fighting Granger, they face a more dangerous virtual world, where millions of Uploaded now roam freely, stalking users for their virtual avatars and their real bodies.

Why does the phrase 'more of the same' seem to sound more negative than positive. In my review, I described Fight For The Future, the first book in Jeff Norton's Metawars series, as a "super fast-paced and well plotted story that sucks readers in from the very first chapter" and the sequel is, to coin a phrase, more of the same. So I put it to you that in this case, 'more of the same' is far from negative and is in fact high praise indeed.

The story picks up very soon after the climactic finale of the first book, with Jonah and Sam still in Australia. Jonah is spending a huge amount of time inside the newly formed Changsphere, enjoying the company of his father, who, like the rest of the Uploaded, has somehow recovered most of his memories. However, Jonah very quickly discovers that there is something not quite right with the Uploaded, and at Gamescon, now newly relocated from the Metasphere to the Changsphere, everything hits the fan. The Uploaded, with their newly regained faculties, now realise that they are dead in the real world, and they are hungry for life. And the only way to get it is to consume the avatar of a living person, and in doing so usurp that person's body in real life.

Whilst all this is going on, Matthew Granger is up to his old tricks, and this time he is out for revenge. Having escaped from the Guardians as the end of Fight For The Future, he has managed to make his way to Manhattan Island, now an independent republic, and a safe-haven for anyone who has enough money to be able to afford to live there. His solution to the Changsphere is an extreme one, with little care for the avatars that have moved over to the rival virtual world, and it isn't long before Jonah and Sam find themselves heading for Manhattan to attempt an invasion of the Western Corner, although the real world journey from Australia, via Hong Kong, is fraught with danger.

As with the previous instalment, The Dead Are Rising, is much more than just a science fiction action adventure story. It raises a number of question regarding identity, and Jonah continues to find his conscience twisted and torn as he struggles with the various moral dilemmas that come his way. These books are ideal for book groups as they would encourage young people to debate on a number of issues related to technology, virtual worlds, global corporations and eco-terrorism.

Metawars: The Dead Are Rising is already available in book stores, and the good news is that the third in the series, Battle of the Immortal, is less than six months away, with a provisional release date of 2nd May. My thanks go to Orchard Books for sending me a copy to read and review.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Review: Snake Bite by Andrew Lane (Young Sherlock Holmes)

Kidnapped and taken to China, Sherlock finds himself plunged into adventure. How can three men be bitten by the same poisonous snake in different parts of Shanghai? Who wants them dead, and why? The answer seems to lie in a message hidden in a diagram like a spider’s web. But solving it leads to an even more urgent question: what has all this got to do with a plot to blow up an American warship? Sherlock is about to brave terrors greater than any he has faced before . . .

Five books in and Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes books just seem to get better and better. I raced through the latest, Snake Bite, in a single sitting, and yet again I was left wanting more and more, and this may even be my favourite of the series so far.

Snake Bite is very different from the previous books in the series in that it hardly features any of the characters that have appeared in previous books. In fact, the only two that do make an appearance are Sherlock's brother Mycroft and his tutor Amyus Crowe, and this only in the book's prologue as they agonise over the disappearance of Sherlock. It would appear that he has been kidnapped, most likely by The Paradol Chamber, but for what reason we are left to speculate along with Mycroft and Crowe.

The first chapter proper opens with Sherlock at sea, on board the Gloria Scott, just off the southernmost tip of Africa. He still has little idea as to how he came to be on board the ship - he can remember falling asleep in his uncle's library, and the next thing he knew he was at sea, initially being treated as a stowaway. However, through hard work he has become accepted by the crew as almost one of them, and so begins his greatest adventure so far. An adventure that sees him travelling all the way to China, facing pirates along the way, and making new friends and, of course, new enemies along the way.

In previous books Andrew Lane has already done a considerable amount of fleshing out of his young Holmes, gradually giving him the skills, character traits and morals that Sherlockians the world over know and love. We have seen Sherlock learn to play the violin, we have seen the birth of his deductive powers and his desire to question, and we have seen Sherlock's very obvious sense of what is right and what is wrong. In this book Andrew Lane continues to give us the glimpses into how the adult Sherlock was 'made', as we see the young version learning Chinese, and also his first introduction to the martial arts of the Far East (and very useful these skills prove to be as well). We also see how Sherlock developed the ability to converse naturally with people who in those days would have seemed a long way below his station - a skill he puts to great use in Conan Doyle's stories.

Without wanting to spoil things for readers I will also mention that the ending of this book is not so cut-and-dried as in the previous stories. There were elements of it I was not so happy with (a certain letter rings a little false in my mind, but I am no historian and it may be very typical of society at that time, and it does explain a significant aspect of the adult Sherlock's character), but the author's note about the return of The Paradol Chamber in the next book was very welcome news.

I want to leave you with one short excerpt from the book that put a huge smile on my face. As in previous books, Andrew Lane likes to drop in the occasional huge nudge and a wink towards the future Holmes, and this is one I loved. Sherlock is on board the Gloria Scott, and is thinking to himself that Mycroft's policy of staying at home and therefore keeping safe might actually be a wise philosophy as working on board such a ship is a very dangerous occupation. However, he quickly dismisses this as it would mean missing out on all kinds of adventures. At this, he smiles to himself and thinks: "Maybe the thing to do was to make friends with a doctor - that way you could always ave treatment close at hand."

My thanks go to the wonderful people at Macmillan for sending me a copy of Snake Bite to review.

Monday 12 November 2012

Review: 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?

One of my favourite horror films is Peter Jackson's The Frighteners. In my opinion, it has the perfect blend of horror and comedy, and it so deserves to be more widely acclaimed than it is. Released in 1996, and therefore some years before Jackson achieved god-like status with his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it tells the story of Frank, a guy who develops psychic powers following a car accident. These psychic powers allow him to see and communicate with ghosts, and he uses this power to con people into thinking their houses are haunted, so that he can charge them for an exorcism. However, everything starts to go wrong when a Grim Reaper style ghost starts killing off the town's residents and it is down to Frank and his merry band of ghosts to save the day.

Why am I telling you this? Because Constable & Toop, the latest book from award winning writer Gareth P Jones, reminded me so much of that film, but in a Victorian setting. It is funny, scary, occasionally gruesome and has a great cast of characters, in both main and supporting roles. Oh yes, and it is beautifully written as well. I don't give starred reviews on this blog, but I gave this one five stars on Goodreads after I finished reading it.

The 'Frank' character is Constable & Toop is Sam Toop, a young boy who can see ghosts. And he sees a great deal of them - partly due to living and working in the funeral parlour where his father is a partner. Sometimes ghosts come looking for him, as they need closure in order to move on and he is a nice boy who will give up his time to help them. However, one fateful night his estranged uncle, a career criminal and murderer, comes crashing into his life. All of a sudden Sam finds his beliefs and his relationship with his father challenged, as dark secrets from the past gradually come to light.

In addition to Sam's story, there is also that of Lapsewood, a ghost who has for many years worked meekly as a ghostly civil servant. Finding himself suddenly transferred to another department and out of his comfort zone, Lapsewood stumbles across a dark and dangerous mystery - ghosts are going missing and houses that have previously been harmlesley haunted are becoming deadly for the ghostly entities that inhabit them. Lapsewood's and Sam's stories begin to intertwine and soon they find themselves racing to save both of their worlds, thwarted along the way by a pretty nasty piece of work in the form of an exorcist (and as villains go, this one is brilliant!).

Constable & Toop is brilliant from beginning to end, as Gareth P Jones skilfully weaves a fantastic and well plotted story of mystery, thrills and chills. Everything about the story is spot on - the characters, the descriptions of the Victorian setting and its inhabitants, the ghosts and their lives in their world, and the attention to detail. I would not be surprised if the author wins more awards with this book to add to those he has received for his previous works.

My thanks go to the lovely people at Hot Key Books for sending me a copy to review. This is a great book to give to horror loving kids as a stocking filler for Christmas - not too gory, not too scary, just the right amount of funny, and beautifully written.

Before you go please check out the following two videos. The first is Gareth singing his Constable & Toop song (I gather he writes a song to accompany each of his books and this one will totally get stuck in your head for weeks), and the second video is Gareth's fab trailer for the book.

Sunday 11 November 2012

News: Graphic Novel News From The Past Week

Another very busy week at work has kept me away from blogging about the various news items and press releases that have come my way recently, so I thought I would package them all together in this one post.

Judge Dredd Selected For World Book Night

The first, and for me and many others by far the most exciting, was the news that the World Book Night list has at last included a graphic novel. Long time visitors of The Book Zone may have noticed earlier in the year my call for this medium to be recognised by the WBN organisers. You can see the post here, where I suggested that if people agreed with me then Batman: Year One would make a very worthy contender. I watched the numbers of votes for this grow steadily on the WBN site, and for a long time it was in the Top 100, only falling away in the final few days. I was resigned to there being yet another year with there not be a GN on the list. 

However, to my great delight and surprise it was announced in the week that Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges had been selected, despite this title at no point appeared in the WBN Top 100, which goes to show that the selectors have decided to recognise this medium of storytelling. A quick check online showed that this book has been printed in a small format edition, which I guess makes it more suitable for WBN (e.g. cost, consent from publisher, etc) than other larger format, colour titles, such as the aforementioned Batman story. I have already registered my desire to be a giver for this book come WBN, but I imagine I am one of thousands of Dredd/2000AD fans who will be doing this, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Emma Vieceli To Draw Alex Rider Graphic Novels

Walker Books this week announced that they have signed Antony Johnston to write two more Alex Rider graphic novels. I have to confess, that I had completely missed the release of Eagle Strike in this format, although I have the first three titles and love them. I think Johnston has done a great job of transferring Anthony Horowitz's stories to the GN format. The four graphic novels to date have featured the artwork of Kanako and Yuzuru, but it was announced this week that for the next two titles they will be replaced by Emma Vieceli

Emma first came to my attention through the work she has done on some of the brilliant Manga Shakespeare titles (popular with both students and English staff at my school), and her popularity has since soared with the art she produced the the Vampire Academy graphic novelisations. As a fan of Emma's work I am very excited about this news, and I look forward to seeing the end result when Scorpia and Ark Angel are published.

Bryan Talbot To Write Two More Grandville Books

On Friday I journeyed into London to listen to listen to legendary British writer and comic artist Bryan Talbot. He was presenting at Foyles, as part of the Comica Festival, and I was very fortunate to win a ticket through his publisher, Jonathan Cape. I am a huge fan of the Grandville series, and it was wonderful to hear Bryan talk about his work. He was also joined by his wife Mary, and together they talked about their collaboration on Dotter Of Her Father's Eyes. 

One of the most exciting bits of news to come out of the evening was that Bryan is intending to produce another two Grandville books, with a story arc that starts in Grandville Bete Noire, his latest title which was officially launched at the Foyles event. I came away from the event with a lovely signed and sketched copy of Bete Noire, and Mr Talbot was kind enough to do the same to the copy of the first Grandville book that I had taken along with me.

Bryan also mentioned that he has a new book coming out in January called Cherubs! Published by dark Horse comics, with artwork by Mark Stafford, this hardback edition will collect together "the previously published first part of the supernatural comedy adventure, "Paradise Lost", with the longer, unpublished second half, "Hell on Earth"." I love the official blurb for this book and I will definitely be getting it in the new year:

An original graphic novel with script and layouts by Eisner-award winner Bryan Talbot and art by the hottest Brit Indy artist, Mark Stafford, CHERUBS! is a totally irreverent, fast-paced supernatural comedy-adventure that's heaven-sent and hell-bent!

Put in the frame for the first murder in Heaven, the outrageous celestial rugrats pursue the renegade archangel Abbadon to New York on the eve of the Apocalypse! Befriended by Mary, an exotic dancer, and pursued by unstoppable Seraphim terminators, they alone stand against the Devil and his hordes as he prepares to stalk the earth once more!

Vampires! Demons! Zombies! Werewolves! Fairy hookers! The descent into Hell! Fluffy the Vampire Slayer! The Doggy-Do Gang! Almighty God! What¹s not to like?

Sunday 4 November 2012

Review: Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill

Introducing Darcy Burdock, a new, cool, all-conquering girl character with a fresh and distinctive take on the world.

Ten-year-old Darcy is one of life's noticers. Curious, smart-as-a-whip, funny and fiercely loyal, she sees the extraordinary in the everyday and the wonder in the world around her.

Britain finally has an answer to Jeff Kinney and his Wimpy Kid! Many have tried, but few have come close in my opinion, but come next March the trials and tribulations of Greg Heffley will be consigned to bargain bins in book stores across the UK. There will only be one name on everyone's lips, and that is Darcy Burdock. (OK make that two names as Darcy's creator, Laura Dockrill, is certainly not someone who will be easily overlooked and/or forgotten).

Before I say any more about Darcy Burdock I feel I need to make a couple of things clear. This blog is called is The Book Zone (For Boys), but this does not mean that the books I review are only for boys. Far from it, and I know that there are many girls who read and comment on this blog. The point of this blog is to showcase books that boys should find interesting and fun to read, and many of these are just as suitable for girls. Darcy Burdock is possibly a book that some may be a little surprised to find reviewed here, but bear with me and I will let my love this this book be fully explained. Secondly, I very rarely post reviews so far ahead of publication date, but the lovely people at Red Fox are so excited about this book that they are happy for reviews to start appearing now.

I first heard about Darcy Burdock when I met the book's writer and illustrator, Laura Dockrill, at the Random House Bloggers' Brunch earlier this year. Laura read a few pages to us, and I was immediately hooked, even though I had initially thought it might not be a book that would sit well on my blog. I couldn't have been more wrong - just two pages from Laura and I knew I had to read this book when it was published. Thanks to the lovely people at Red Fox I haven't had to wait until February, as a proof copy landed on my door mat just a couple of weeks ago, and I pretty much dropped everything to read it.

Darcy Burdock is not written in diary format, but most of it is written in first person and Darcy's voice will have you crying tears of laughter within the first few pages. The best word I can come up with to describe the way Darcy tells her story is 'RANDOM' - as you read it you can't help but imagine the "ten but so nearly eleven" year old girl standing in front of you, talking at a thousand words a second, her mind making massive leaps from subject to subject. She twists words around and makes up her own (Angrosaurus Rex, mermalade, kneebows). And best of all, she notices everything, which means her descriptions of life and the people she encounters are to die for. I can't remember the last time I read a first person narrative where the character sounded so real from the very first page, and I guarantee that masses of children  and probably adults too, will fall head over heels for Darcy come next March.

There are parts of the book that aren't written in Darcy's voice, as she also includes some of her own stories. You see, Darcy desperately wants to be a writer, and when something affects her, be it making her angry or sad, she invariably turns to her coveted notebook and turns her thoughts into a story. And wonderfully, these add to the appeal of the book rather than distract the reader from Darcy's ramblings, as her writing voice is just as funny and endearing.

I'm going to be shouting about this book for some time as I really think that it has huge boy appeal - it is certainly NOT a girly book. I guess that the marketing for Darcy Burdock will be somewhat more girl oriented than boy friendly, but I really hope that this book finds its way into the hands of just as many boys as girls, as I reckon the 8+ age group will love it. It is also a fab read-by-parent-at-bedtime book as well, although I'm not sure anyone could read it out loud as well as the author, so let's hope that Laura's desire for it to be released as an audio book, read by her, is realised.

Darcy Burdock is scheduled to be published on 28th February 2013, and if you haven't heard of Laura Dockrill before now then expect her to become a household name sometime in the next year. I hear from the people at Random House that Laura will be appearing all over the place in 2013, and if she is doing an event in a town near you then make sure you get along to it as I know that you love every minute of it. In the meantime, you can follow Laura and Darcy on Twitter (@LauraDockrill and @DarcyBurdock). To find out more about Laura you can visit her website at

Thursday 1 November 2012

Review: Garbage Pail Kids (National Non-Fiction Day 2012)

I have been caught a little unawares as far as this year's National Non-Fiction Day is concerned. I checked the NNFD website earlier this week and saw it listed as being on 3rd November this year, and as we are away from home until Saturday morning I thought I would leave my NNFD post writing until then. Imagine then my horror when I am on Twitter earlier today and spot it being mentioned over and over that today is National Non-Fiction Day! I had forgotten that NNFD is actually the first Thursday in November every year. This means that I only have one of the books with me that I wanted to write about this year, as the other is sat on my desk at home. I have chosen something a little different this year's NNFD offering, but please believe me when I say that it is a little beauty!

Garbage Pail Kids, a series of stickers produced by Topps in 1985 were designed to parody overly saccharine Cabbage Patch Kids. Each sticker card features a Garbage Pail Kid character depicted in a grotesque and biting image, christened with a humourous character name involving wordplay. The series was the creation of Pulizer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman, who in collaboration with other successful artists, turned the cads into a pop-culture phenomenon. Garbage Pail Kids will feature all 206 rare and hard-to-find stickers from Series 1 through 5, originally release in 1985 and 1986 and contains an introduction by Spiegelman. Garbage Pail Kids includes a limited edition set of four rare and unreleased stickers, is packaged in a wax-coated jacket and is guaranteed to appeal to die-hard collectors as well as a new generation of fans.

If you are an adult who was 10 years old or above in 1985 then you don't need me to explain exactly who the Garbage Pail Kids were. If you are a teen or younger, and you have a devilish and macabre (some may say sick) sense of humour, then you have one hell of a treat in store for you with this book.

The Garbage Pail Kids originally appeared as a series of collector stickers, the first series of which appeared in 1985. Money was tight in those days as I come from a big family, so I was not able to become an obsessive collector of these stickers, but I had a number of friends who could afford them, and we would delight in their subversive and frequently disgusting images. I think they were eventually banned at my school, a story that was repeated across many schools in the UK and the USA. Parents and teachers hated them, ergo kids loved them!

The stickers came about as a reaction to the twee-ness of the Cabbage Patch Kids (and also, as explained in Art Spiegelman's introduction to this book, because Topps did not manage to strike early enough to get a cheap license from the makers of those dolls). Instead of images of those rather unnerving looking dolls, they featured horrible (in the best sense of the word) parodies. The artwork on these stickers was invariably of a very high quality, and they became so popular that they ended up running for a massive fifteen series, finally coming to a close in 1989.

Earlier this year the awesome people at Abrams Comic Arts published a retrospective book of the first five series. This book is page after page of artistic nastiness, with each page showcasing a different card in wonderful enlarged format, with every card in these series displayed. This hardcover book has a wax-coated dust jacket, designed to emulate the wrappers in which the stickers and accompanying strip of chewing gum were sold. We are also treated to a packet of four previously unreleased cards, although I haven't yet been able to bring myself to detach them from the inside back cover.

I think this book has huge appeal for today's youngsters, even though I know that there will be some teachers and parents who will frown at me saying so. Children's fiction has changed immeasurably since the late 80s, and kids are now able to read a plethora of books that just would not have seen the light back in those days. Author's such as Darren Shan, Lemony Snicket, Barry Hutchison.... the list goes on and on.... have taken great delight in making kids squirm, whilst also ensuring that the disgusting and macabre are laced with humour.

The Garbage Pail Kids book should also not be underestimated for its educational value. Bear with me whilst I explain.... The names of the various GBK kids are great examples of alliteration, word play and rhyming. A few personal favourites of mine (and I will include images at the end of this post) include Adam Bomb, Drew Blood, Toothie Ruthie, Michael Mutant, Hugh Mungous, Brenda Blender, Stormy Heather and Gore May. And there are so many more I could mention.

I love this book, and have already pored through it three times since it arrived on Wednesday from the wonderful Tina at Abrams. She also sent me a similar book that showcases the Mars Attacks cards, again by Topps, but as I left this at home you will have to wait until anther day for my review.


(Please note - images are taken from the internet. Those shown in the book are of a very high quality and do not show the die-cut lines that appeared on the stickers)