Monday 28 January 2013

Review: Granny Samurai, the Monkey King and I by John Chambers

Eccentric young wordsmith Samuel Johnson finds himself home alone while his diplomat uncle is off diverting a crisis in Azerbajan. As Samuel sits penning his memoirs and wondering how to divert the crisis in his own life – namely the big, hairy brute that is Boris Hissocks – he spots the little old lady next door acting very strangely. Is she actually chopping wood with her bare hands? Then the Monkey King comes knocking, and suddenly Samuel's whole world is turned on its head…

Question: What do you get if you cross the crazier moments of classic kung fu films by the likes of the Shaw Brothers with the modern day zaniness of Andy Stanton's Mr Gum?

Answer: Granny Samurai!

Last time I was in London I was perusing the length shelves of children's books in Foyles and this little beauty caught my eye and shouted "Buy me!". It was the title that initially called out to me, but one glance at the inside and its plethora of black and white illustrations had me walking to the checkout ready to part with my hard earned cash. It then sat on my TBR pile for a couple of weeks whilst I read a handful of books that I had been sent by publishers, and then finally I couldn't resist any longer. And I finished it in a single sitting.

This is a great book for 8+ kids, and like the Mr Gum books it is destined to be a book that is at its best when read out loud to a room full of children. Main character Samuel Johnson is, like his famous 18th Century namesake, something of a wordsmith, and the book is narrated in the first person in Samuel's voice, almost like a personal journal might be. Samuel's love of words is evident very early on, as he announces himself to be the scribe of the story, and some of the words he uses will challenge younger readers to investigate their meaning, either by looking them up in a dictionary, or more likely by asking a parent or teacher.

Samuel lives with his Uncle Vesuvio, who is absent at the start of the story, supposedly over in Azerbaijan in his role as a diplomat. Samuel has been left to fend for himself, a task made infinitely harder as he catches the attentions of Boris Hizzocks, the brutish school bully. Boris takes something of a fancy to Samuel, but not in any platonic sense, and his Neanderthal-like brain decides that Samuel is the perfect victim. Fortunately the old lady next door, who Samuel first sees chopping wood with her bare hands, comes to his rescue, but unfortunately Boris and his mother Maddy swiftly turn the tables on poor Samuel and finds himself expelled from his new school before he has had the chance to settle in. And then the minions of the Monkey King come knocking and all hell breaks loose.

Granny Samurai is a fantastic character, and I hope there are more stories to come from John Chambers that feature her. She is a women of few words, and even some of those she does utter do not make a huge amount of sense, but boy does she kick ass. Poor old Samuel does not seem to understand what she is up to, or where he fits in to the grand scheme of things, for most of the story, and so he just gets pulled along by the tsunami that is Granny Samurai's personality. 

I mentioned the films of the Shaw Brothers at the beginning of this review; when I was in my twenties I went through a phase of watching loads of old kung fu films on VHS, and I was reminded of these many times throughout this book, and a lot of them were just plain silly in places. Granny Samurai's 'Silent Shriek of Animalistic Annihilation' and the Monkey King's 'Non-Silent Howl of Ultimate Destruction', complete with one hand shaped like a cobra and one foot folded behind his head like a scorpion's pincer, would have fit quite neatly into some of those films.

To say any more about this book is a little difficult. If you have read any of Andy Stanton's Mr Gum books then you will know that they have to be read to be fully appreciated, and no review can really do them justice with giving away all the best bits. So it is also for Granny Samurai, the Money King and I. It was definitely money well spent, and I know that 8+ kids are going to love it, probably even more than I did.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Review: The Claws of Evil (The Battles of Ben Kingdom) by Andrew Beasley

Welcome to Victorian London; the home of the Artful Dodger, Sherlock Holmes...and Ben Kingdom, cocky street urchin - and the saviour of mankind. Unknown to mere mortals, an ancient battle is being waged across the city. Below the streets lurk the Legion, an evil gang of miscreants and criminals in league with the monstrous Feathered Men - determined to unleash Hell on the streets of London. Above the city's rooftops soar the Watchers, a ragtag band of orphans, mystics and spies, dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and guarding London against evil. Only Ben can put an end to this war - the only problem is, he doesn't know which side to choose.

Just over a week ago Andrew Beasley visited The Book Zone to tell us about his new series, The Battles of Ben Kingdom, as part of my 'Coming Up In 2013' feature. Thanks to the lovely people at Usborne, I had already been very fortunate to read the book by the time Andrew sent his piece through, and although the book isn't due to be published until 1st March, Usborne said they were more than happy for reviews to start being posted early. Rather fortunate for me, as I really want to shout about how much I enjoyed this book!

Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that as far as historical fiction is concerned I have a penchant for the Tudor, Restoration and Victorian eras. You will also know that I totally love urban fantasy stories set in London. And it should go without saying that I am a sucker for well-written Middle Grade adventure stories. As I read the publisher's blurb for The Claws of Evil, I already knew that it was ticking most of my 'must read' boxes, and I was not to be disappointed in the slightest.

A lot of urban fantasy stories set in our capital city seem to revolve around ancient battles, and The Claws of Evil is no different. Below the grimy, cobbled streets of Victorian London dwell the Legion, the villains of the piece. The book opens with a member of the Legion's Council of Seven confidently proclaiming that "London will soon be ours", and it would appear that each of the Council's members has a different plan for the city, now that the final piece of their greatest weapon could soon be in their grasp.

Living above the city, constantly on the move across the rooftops, never sleeping in the same place two nights in a row, live the Watchers. They are the light that fights against the Legion's dark, and have been London's protectors for time immemorial. They are constantly vigilant as they perch on the precarious, sloping roofs, equipped with skyboots designed to give them precious grip as they race across the rooftops. The Watchers also believe in an ancient prophecy that foretells of one who will some day defeat the Legion, although that same prophecy also makes mention of the cost that this person may have to pay.

Enter our protagonist, Ben Kingdom. Like me, you will already be guessing that he is the One, the hero of the Ancient Prophecy of the Watchers. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't, only time will tell. But he is a fantastic hero for this book - think the Artful Dodger, but with a moral compass. Ben only gets into trouble with the Law because he is a mischievous scallywag, and there is certainly never anything malicious about his actions. He lives in near-poverty conditions in the attic of a boarding house with his father and brother, and for reasons that become clear as the story progresses, he feels very little love from either of them. He is adventurous but naive, cocky and confident on the outside, but feeling unloved and lacking in self-belief on the inside. He is terrified of the so-called Weeping Man, a mysterious figure who is reported to be abducting the unwanted East End street kids, but digs deep to find extreme courage when he needs to. He is a character with which many 9+ readers will be able to identify.

As well as a great main character, in The Claws of Evil Andrew Beasley has created a host of colourful and exciting secondary characters, whether they be good or evil (or somewhere in between), human or mythological. Lucy Lambert, the scarfaced and fearless Watcher; Jago Moon, the blind man who sells Ben his much cherished Penny Dreadfuls; Professor James 'Claw' Carter, a man who thinks it is his destiny to rule the city, and is willing to work behind the backs of the Council to achieve his diabolical dream; Ruby Johnson, legionnaire and street thief, but could she be starting to see through the lies and depravity of her leaders? And there there is the Weeping Man himself, and opposites, the Feathered Men. Between them they add a soupçon of horror to the proceedings, that add to the sense of risk and adventure that encompass Ben as he is drawn into the ancient battle.

One of the stand out elements of the plot for me was Ben's confusion as to which side is good and which is evil. As I mentioned before, he is naive and quick to believe what he is told, especially if the teller is female and has a pretty face. His confusion is added to by the fact that some of the lead players in this ancient battle are people he has know for some years; people he has conversed with and trusted, leaving him with the ultimate dilemma - who should he trust? As such, readers will almost find themselves shouting "No, don't trust him, trust her", or vice versa. It is a story about choices, and how making the wrong one could lead to disaster for all.

I was lucky to be sent a proof copy of The Battles of Ben Kingdom: The Claws of Evil, but I have a feeling that I may also be going out and buying a finished copy when it is published, as I feel that it will be a rather attractive volume, with Usborne promising a decorative inside cover and and a customised hand-drawn map of London. 1st March isn't a huge amount of time to wait, and in the meantime you can read the book's prologue at

Monday 21 January 2013

Coming Up In 2013 #6: Monster Odyssey: The Eye of Neptune by Jon Mayhew

I have been a big fan of Jon Mayhew's writing ever since I first read the brilliant Mortlock. This superb gothic horror story was followed by two sort-of-sequels, all set in the same Victorian world, and both of them were as good, if not better than the first book. His new book, Monster Odyssey: The Eye of Neptune, is the first in a new series and is due to be published by Bloomsbury Children's Books in May this year. It is a departure from his previous macabre Victorian setting, but I am sure will be just as good a read, and I can't wait for May to arrive. In the meantime, here's Jon to tell us a little about Monster Odyssey, in his own words:

Dakkar – son of an Indian prince and heir to the kingdom of Bundelkhand – has been expelled from the best schools in Europe. Now he’s stuck in a remote castle studying with the mysterious Count Oginski, genius inventor of a top-secret machine: the world’s first submersible.

But in a dangerous world of spies and secrecy , someone would do anything to capture Oginski’s invention. When the count is kidnapped and Dakkar left for dead, the boy escapes in the submarine. And so begins a thrilling battle facing dangerous foes – horrifying creatures of the deep, lethal giant squid, and most of all a sinister figure known as Cryptos, hell-bent on taking over the world . Can Dakkar defeat such evil without becoming a monster himself?

I’m really looking forward to launching this new story as it concerns the youth of one of literature’s most intriguing characters: Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo! A departure from the dark streets of Victorian London, this story spans the globe and I had great fun bringing the various sea monsters to life. I wanted to explore what turned Prince Dakkar into Captain Nemo but wanted to capture the action and fantasy that Verne’s imagination gave us. I also wanted to create a fairly realistic historical setting. So expect pirates, naval battles but lookout for giant squid, sharks, and monsters of the deep aplenty! 

Friday 18 January 2013

Coming Up In 2013 #5: The Battles of Ben Kingdom: The Claws of Evil by Andrew Beasley

Put a mark in your diaries for 1st March because there's something special coming your way on that date. Thanks to the lovely people at Usborne I have already read The Claws of Evil, the first book in debut author Andrew Beasley's The Battles of Ben Kingdom series. All I will say for now is that I loved it, but please watch this space for my review coming very soon. 

If you want a little taster of The Claws of Evil then head on over to where you can read the book's prologue. I now have the pleasure of handing you over to Andrew who has been kind enough to tell us a little more about his new book:

Hi to all the readers of this brilliant blog! My name is Andrew Beasley and I wanted to share with you some of the inspiration behind my new novel, The Claws of Evil.

As a boy, I fell in love with the London of Sherlock Holmes with its swirling fog and the echo of footsteps in the gaslight. It was such a rich setting for adventure that I knew I had to set my story there. One of the best things about being an author is that you get to do a lot of reading for research and while I was learning about Victorian street kids the character of Ben Kingdom almost jumped straight off the page! Immediately I had a heart for this boy who always has the best intentions and yet somehow normally manages to do the wrong thing.

The other thing you discover when you are learning about Victorian children is how hard their lives could be, and although my story is a romp, I’m sure that some readers will come away thinking about the plight of street kids. Real history informs my story, but I didn’t want it to be a history lesson and so the young people that you meet in the Battles of Ben Kingdom belong to one of two gangs – who have been secretly at war for centuries. The Watchers survive on the rooftops of the city, whilst the Legion live in a secret system of tunnels, called the Under.

Ben, being Ben, isn’t sure which side he belongs to and his life is made a whole lot more complicated by the fact that both sides believe that he is destined to be their great leader. Basically, Ben is either going to be the champion of Heaven or Hell; not much pressure there then.

I have a host of other characters that I’m keen for you to meet too. There’s Jago Moon the blind bookseller, Professor ‘Claw’ Carter, and Mother Shepherd, who the Legion call ‘The Witch Queen of Spies’. Then there’s the Weeping Man and the Feathered Men, terrible creatures with… ah, but you’ll have to find out the rest for yourself.

Keep on reading – the world needs you!

Thursday 17 January 2013

Review: The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

Bartholomew Kettle won’t live long. Changelings never do. The child of a human mother and a faery father, he is despised by both his races. But one day Bartholomew suddenly finds himself at the centre of a web of intrigue and danger that spans the entire country. A powerful figure sits in the shadows, pushing the pieces in place for some terrible victory. Something is coming for Bartholomew. But when you’re a changeling, there’s nowhere to run.

I'm not a great reader of fantasy stories that involve faeries, the fey, or whatever the mot du jour is to describe such otherworldly entities. They simply don't interest me, in the same way that dragons don't (and I appreciate that I may have just committed book blogging suicide with that latter confession). However, when I first read about Stefan Bachmann's The Peculiar I was intrigued enough to accept the kind offer of a review copy from the wonderful people at HarperCollins. Perhaps it was the use of the magic word in their publicity material (steampunk) combined with the illustration of a clockwork bird on the cover? And yes, I can be that shallow.

Whatever the reason was that made me give it a go is lost in the misty depths of my ageing memory, but I am glad I made that decision, as I really enjoyed this book, even though the steampunk elements take very much of a back seat in this story. In The Peculiar, which is the first in a series/trilogy (I'm not sure how many books there are planned), Stefan Bachmann has created an alternative England where humans coexist alongside the fey, and it was this alternative England, and the characters that the author has created within it, that had me so entranced as I read the book.

To keep things brief, a magical door once opened between England and the faery world. Large numbers of the fey crossed over into the human world, there was a big war, the door closed, and huge numbers of faeries were stranded in England. Now the majority of the faeries are treated as second class (or worse) citizens, working in poor conditions in factories, and living in faery ghettoes. Life is not easy for these people of the Old Country, but it is a damn sight worse for the changelings, those born half human and half faery. These 'creatures' are pretty much hated by both sides, and if discovered are more often than not put to death. Bartholomew Kettle, one of the protagonists of The Peculiar, is one such being, his long absent father being faery and his ever-worrying mother human. Bartholomew and his sister lead a sheltered life, often hidden away in their small abode in the faery slum that is Bath. Bartholomew can almost pass as human, and so gets out of the house a little more than his sister, who with branches growing out of her head, is very obviously not completely of our world. If caught outside by the wrong people, and recognised for what they are, they could find themselves dangling by their necks from a long rope.

I mentioned earlier that Bartholomew was one of the protagonists, and that is because the story follows the adventures of two characters, the other being a civil servant called Arthur Jelliby. Arthur is not your typical fantasy adventure hero, but we see his character grow and grow throughout the story, far more so in fact than that of Bartholomew. Both characters find themselves up against the evil machinations of one of the few faeries who has managed to work their way into a position of influence in the government - the very nasty Lord Chancellor Mr Lickerish. Lickerish has big plans, and aided by some pretty nasty and uber-creepy creatures (just watch out for the lady in the plum dress) things may not be too rosy for England in the not-too-distant future.

The Peculiar is a wonderful fantasy story for middle grade aged readers. The plot moves on at a cracking pace that draws the reader in and refuses to let them go (even this miserable old anti-faery story blogger), and I would imagine it would have a similar effect on readers much younger than me. He will have readers cheering on the good characters, and booing the bad, but none are in the slightest bit stereotypical or pantomime-like. There are also no lengthy passages of exposition at the beginning - Bachmann makes his readers work, creating mystery and wonder as they try to piece together the seemingly disparate plot strands and characters, and how they fit into the alternate England and its history. And Stefan Bachmann started writing this book in 2010, when he was only 16! 

The book ends on a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers. Seriously, cliffhangers don't get much bigger than this. So if you don't like endings like this then maybe best wait until the sequel is released as you will want to read them back-to-back. Me? I'm really looking forward to diving back into this richly imagined alternate Victorian England, with its clockwork birds and creepy faery creatures.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Coming Up In 2013 #4: The Oathbreaker's Shadow by Amy McCulloch

As I mentioned the other day, there are a number of epic fantasy books for children and young adults scheduled for release in 2013, and this is the second one that I am showcasing as part of my 'Coming Up In 2013' feature. The Oathbreaker's Shadow by Amy McCulloch is a book I have been looking forward to reading for a long, long time as I first read details about it last June when Amy very kindly volunteered to work with one of my sixth formers for her A-Level graphic design project.

Today, Amy has joined us to tell us a little about The Oathbreaker's Shadow, and also reveals to us the story behind the idea. The Oathbreaker's Shadow is scheduled to be published in June by Doubleday, and I for one cannot wait to read it. And check out the stunning cover at the end of Amy's piece!

My first book – The Oathbreaker’s Shadow – is due out in June, and it’s an epic fantasy adventure set in an alternate Genghis Khan-era Mongolia, filled with bows and arrows, an enormous desert and a little bit of magic. Being the author, I find it almost impossible to compare it to anything, but if you like the Dothraki scenes in A Game of Thrones, Dune, and Avatar: The Last Airbender (that’s the Nickelodeon cartoon, not the blue-people movie) you might get close to a picture of what it’s like. But where did my idea come from? I think I’m unusual in that I can remember almost to the hour when the idea for The Oathbreaker’s Shadow first popped into my head!

It was March 23, 2006, the day before my 20th birthday. To celebrate, I was at The Lord of the Rings musical in Toronto. I was… well, excited is probably putting it mildly!

I remember sitting in the balcony before the curtain was due to rise, daydreaming as hobbits chased butterflies across the stage and through the audience. My mind was elsewhere: I was working on two essays for university, one based on Chaucer, the other on Genghis Khan’s successor Kublai Khan and the Mongol Empire. My mind was a jumble of medieval customs, both Western European and Mongolian — and although in many ways the gulfs between the two were vast and incomparable, one common thread kept jumping out at me: the emphasis placed on loyalty. In many of these societies, pledging fealty to a lord or khan or king was a normal social interaction — although whether those oaths were enforced by the romantic notions of honour and loyalty above all, or something far more practical like not losing your home or head, is another matter. In that moment, all the jumble and mixing of societies and ideas and philosophies and languages all crystallized into a single image in my mind, and I remember thinking: What if that pledge, that vow of fealty, had a physical consequence when broken? What if that consequence was a hideous scar or a haunting shadow - or both? How would that affect a person? And then my main character, Raim, sprung to life almost fully-formed: a young boy who has lived in this world, who had grown up prizing honour and loyalty above all else, and who accidentally breaks a promise. How would he handle that?

Then the curtain went up and the idea left me for three-and-a-half hours as wizards, orcs, elves and one uber-impressive Balrog took to the stage. But, like all good ideas, it stuck in my mind, waiting for me to be ready to exploit it.

I wrote the very first word of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow the next day. Almost 7 years later (!) and it’s going to be a real book, the first of a two-book series – and I can’t wait for people to delve in.

Monday 14 January 2013

Coming Up In 2013 #3: Curse of Kings by Alex Barclay

Epic fantasy is massively popular with adult readers, but apart from books a small handful of authors, there have not been many titles in this genre for young adults in recent years. It looks as if this situation might change in 2013 though as there are a number of big fantasy titles coming from début YA and children's authors. The first one I am showcasing as part of my 'Coming Up In 2013' is  written by Alex Barclay, who to date is better known as a writer of crime novels for adults. Aimed at the 9+ age group, Curse of Kings, the first instalment in Alex's The Trials of Oland Born, is due out from HarperCollins on 31st January. Curse of Kings has been described to me as Game of Thrones for younger readers so I'm sold on it already. Come back here on Wednesday for news of another epic fantasy book coming out this year. Now I hand you over to Alex:

Curse of Kings is about finding what is hidden; hope in a ruined world, bravery in a time of fear, truth in a complex of dark myths and prophecies, adventure in a world blighted by servitude.

Oland Born is a fourteen-year-old slave to The Craven Lodge, a violent band of warriors who overthrew the noble King Micah and destroyed the once-thriving Kingdom of Decresian.

One night, in a secret room in the castle, Oland uncovers a letter with his name on it… written by the long-dead king. To Oland’s horror, it reveals that if the kingdom is to be restored, it falls to him to do so.

The King assures him that “on such young shoulders, it will prove astonishing how light this burden will be”.

But the burden appears nothing other than oppressive, when, within moments, a stranger appears in the castle and tries to take him away.

It is just the beginning of The Trials of Oland Born…”

Sunday 13 January 2013

Review: Casper Candlewacks in the Time Travelling Toaster by Ivan Brett

Most villages have an idiot but Casper's village is full of them. So being bright makes Casper something of an outsider.

Luckily Casper has Lamp to him company – his less-than-bright best mate who is also a strangely ingenious inventor.

Lamp’s latest invention is a time-travelling toaster – or so he says. But can a toaster really transport them through space and time or will they both just end up as toast?

The final tale in the hilarious Casper Candlewacks series. You’d have to be an idiot to miss it!

I am beginning to feel a little like a stuck record when it comes to reviews for Ivan Brett's superb Casper Candlewacks books. So much so that I do believe I have now run out of superlatives to describe them. And as my review of the third book in the series, Attack of the Brainiacs, was little more than a recycling of my reviews of the previous two books, I'm feeling more than a little stuck right now.

If you have an 8+ boy (or girl) who has not yet read Ivan's books then you really must get your hands on them by whatever (legal) means necessary. Ivan's work is possibly overshadowed by the likes of Andy Stanton's Mr Gum books, whose popularity were helped just a little by a celebrity endorsement from Kate Winslet, but in my opinion the Casper Candlewacks books are just as good, if not better then the Mr Gum series. Back when I read the first Casper book I suggested that comparing his writing with that of Roald Dahl would be premature, and now we are at the fourth book and I think it is fair to say that the books compare very favourably. Yes, I now think David Walliams is the true successor to Dahl's crown, but if Walliams is the new king of funny children's books then Ivan Brett is certainly the prince.

I have enjoyed all of the books in this series so much that it is difficult to name a favourite, but this latest one, Casper Candlewacks in the Time Travelling Toaster, is certainly a contender. In this book Casper, his friend Lamp Flannigan and the vile Anemonie Blight find themselves flung one hundred years into the future by Lamp's latest invention, a time machine made from a toaster and some old clocks and watches. What they find there is the stuff of nightmares (for Casper at least), and this time maybe even the boy genius won't be able to save the day and the future of the village of Corne-on-the-Kobb.

Sadly this is the final outing for Casper Candlewacks. I do not know whether Ivan Brett has anything else lined up at the moment, but I for one will be keeping my eyes peeled for any news on this front. My thanks go to the ever wonderful Rosi at HarperCollins for sending me a copy to review, despite the best efforts of Royal Mail to scupper this plan. Casper Candlewacks in the Time Travelling Toaster was published at the beginning of January.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Coming Up In 2013 #2: Oliver Fibbs: Attack of the Alien Brain by Steve Hartley

Steve Hartley's Danny Baker Record Breaker books are hugely popular with the 7+ age group, with their irresistible combination of comic style illustrations and laugh-out-loud stories. News of a new series from Steve is therefore something to celebrate, and the first book in his new Oliver Fibbs series is released this month (in fact, you should already be able to buy a copy). We couldn't get Steve to take part in the 'Coming Up in 2013' feature, so we had to make do with Oliver Fibbs instead:

Hi! I’m Oliver Tibbs, Defender of Planet Earth. Only I can save the human race from the evil alien brains that are taking over the world’s top scientists. Only I have the power, the daring, the bravery. . .

“Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!”

OK, OK, maybe that’s not exactly true. Maybe all I actually do is read comics, eat extreme pizzas, and wait around while my brilliant family do super and special things. My life’s so boring, I have to ‘get creative’ at Show and Tell. That’s why some kids call me “Oliver Fibbs”.

But as I keep telling everyone: they’re not fibs, they’re stories!

It’s a nightmare!

How can I save the world when I’ve been grounded?

How can my best friend Peaches and I win a trip to the zoo when we’re both absolutely clueless?

And just how many Big Fat Fibs can I actually tell?

Book 2, Oliver Fibbs and the Giant Boy-Munching Bugs will be published on 6th June 2013. So fasten your seatbelts, hold on tight, and get ready for the Biggest Fattest Fibs you’ve ever heard!

Monday 7 January 2013

Coming Up In 2013 #1: ACID by Emma Pass

Over the last few Januarys I have run a feature on The Book Zone titled 'Coming Up in ...' where I asked authors with new stand-alone or first-in-series books due out in that year to write a short big-up about their new book. This seemed like quite a popular feature at the time and so I have decided to run it again this year, though maybe on a slightly smaller scale than last year as at times I struggled to keep up with the posts.

I am chuffed to be kicking off this year's feature with Emma Pass, telling us about her debut YA novel ACID. I first heard about ACID through the lovely people at Random House, and fell in love with the book cover the moment I saw it. I have a feeling that it will be one of my favourite book covers of 2013, and I am sure that the story will be just as great. I'll now hand you over to Emma:

When I was 14, a friend and I challenged each other to write a story about someone trying to break out of jail in a future world controlled by a sinister authority. I only wrote a few chapters before getting stuck and giving up, but the idea never left me. A few years ago, I decided to try writing the prison story idea as a YA novel, and ACID was born.

ACID stands for the Agency for Crime Investigation and Defence. It's 2113, and they rule the UK, now known as the Independent Republic of Britain, with an iron fist. Their LifePartnering scheme forces teenagers into marriage, and everything, down to where you live and what job you have, is decided for you. With everything and everybody watched at all times, the smallest step out of line can lead to your arrest. When the main character, Jenna Strong, was fifteen, ACID locked her up in a brutal, all-male super-prison for a terrible crime she struggles to remember. Two years later, she's broken out by a mysterious rebel group, and ends up on a mission to find out the truth about what happened to her.

The world of ACID was inspired by books like George Orwell's 1984, and reading a story the news a few years ago that the Shetland Islands apparently have more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco police department! I've tried to write a story that's dark, thrilling and full of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing until the end, with a kick-ass heroine who'll appeal to anyone who's having withdrawal symptoms from The Hunger Games!

Saturday 5 January 2013

Review: Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (adult book)

Please click on the link below and head on over to my adult book blog - The Book Zone (For Boys) Big Brother - to read my review of Jack Glass by Adam Roberts.

Friday 4 January 2013

New Year Reading Resolutions

When I wrote my Happy New Year post yesterday I had intended to include my 2013 reading and book-related resolutions. I'm not generally someone who makes New Year resolutions, as I prefer to believe that if I want to do something or make changes in my life then I can do this at any time of the year, and shouldn't put things off to the beginning of a new year. However, this year I have decided that there are some things I want to get done as far as reading and this blog is concerned, and if I don't make them public then I possibly won't stick to them. And so, in no particular order:

  1. This year I want to re-read my original 1970s/1980s copies of Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators books (well, the ones that I read as a kid, first published in the 1970s, which is books 1-30). These were my favourite books as a 9+ year old and I recently re-read The Secret of Terror Castle, and my love for the series has not diminished with age, and it is far too long since I read them. I may even try to track down #31-43 which I have never read.
  2. I want to read more adult books this year. As I have mentioned before, last year I came to a point where blogging started to feel like a chore. I got myself out of this funk by using the school summer holidays to catch up on a lot of the adult books that I had bought but had sat lonely and unread on my shelves. This year I want to avoid the 'chore' feeling again, and so I will make sure that at least one book in four that I read will be adult, and probably won't be reviewed. There are some pretty amazing adult books due out this year that I am very excited about. One of them, The Hunters by Chris Kuzneski, arrived in the post this morning, but I am also really looking forward to reading the new books from Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill that are scheduled for release later in 2013.
  3. I want to read more adult science fiction this year. I loved Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, and have recently been reading classics like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep and Minority Report for the first time. And I want more!
  4. I will try to review more of the books that I read. Last year there were far too many that got read but, due to work pressures, never got reviewed on my blog. Everyone one of them received a starred review on Goodreads, but I have higher expectations of myself, and my report for last year read "Can do better"!
  5. Last year I bought a large number of graphic novels - some of them new, some of them were great finds in charity shops or car boot sales - but far too many of them have still not been read. Although I intend to continue buying them, I won't be buying anywhere near as many, and instead will be focusing on reading the ones that are already in my collection.
  6. And finally, saving the most important one until last, I want to get a shift on with my own writing. this is not something I have mentioned on here before, and only a very small number of people know that I have been doing some writing of my own. I successfully took part in NaNoWriMo back in 2011, but have not added a great deal to the 50,000+ words I wrote back then. I also have a pile of notebooks containing various ideas and the beginnings of plot outlines, and 2013 is the year I will stop making 'work pressures' excuses and do something about it. Yes, the ideas are for children's and YA books - how could I write for anyone else? My only worry is that this blog might suffer.
And there you have it - come back in twelve months time to see how successful I have been.

Thursday 3 January 2013

A (slightly belated) Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all! OK, so I'm a few days late and I've already featured a guest post on my blog in 2013, but I still wanted to wish you all a wonderful 2013. Last year seemed very much like a year of endings, with a number of my favourite book series coming to a close. M.G Harris's Joshua Files, Anthony Horowitz's Power of Five, Barry Hutchison's Invisible Fiends, Darren Shan's Saga of Larten Crepsley - every one of them bringing their retrospective series to a brilliant end with a superb final instalment.

2012 brought us some amazing books, proving that children's and YA literature is as strong as ever (if you missed it you can read my list of personal favourites of 2012 here), and 2013 already looks to be just as good. I am sure I am not the only book blogger who has a list (mental or otherwise) of books that are hotly anticipated in the coming year. Top of my list has to be Department 19: Battle Lines by Will Hill. The first two D19 books are amongst my favourite of all time, and I'm sure that the third book will be added to this list once it is released in March. Department 19: The Rising was narrowly beaten to my Book of 2012 spot by Tom Pollock's brilliant The City's Son, and the sequel to this, The Glass Republic, due in August, is another of my must-reads for 2013.

So what else do we have to look forward to? Well Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan was published today, and there are three more instalments promised in 2013 which will keep Shan fans counting off the days on their calendars as the year progresses. March will also see the latest release of another of my favourite authors as Derek Landy's Tanith Lowe novella, The Maleficent Seven is published. I personally can't get enough of Skulduggery Pleasant, and Tanith is one of my favourite characters, so I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to reading this book. As well as these, other series that I really enjoy that have next instalments scheduled for 2013 include Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo (28th February); (TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow (The Pirate Kings - 7th February); Young Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lane (Knife Edge - 29th August); Dancing Jax by Robin Jarvis (Fighting Pax - date TBC); Ash Mistry by Sarwat Chadda (City of Death - 28th February); a second Afterworlds book by Barry Hutchison (The Book of Doom - 28th February)..... the list goes on and on and on.

As well as these ongoing series, there are a host of new first-in-series and standalone books due out in 2013 that already look like must-reads. Of these, I think I am most looking forward to August, which will bring the release of Lockwood and Co by the brilliant Jonathan Stroud. As in previous years I will be running my 'Coming Up In' feature over the next four to six weeks, so please watch this space for some of 2013's authors telling us about their new standalone or first in series books.

Tom Swan and the Head of St George Blog Tour - My Top 10 Adventure Novels by Christian Cameron

Chris Cameron, author of the adventure-tastic Tom Swan ebooks has joined us today to tell us his Top 10 Adventure Novels. I think I would find it near impossible to create a list of only ten books, and it seems that Chris had a similar problem, and had to do what I would have done.... cheat a little. The first three TOM SWAN AND THE HEAD OF ST GEORGE ebooks are available now, so why not check them out once you have read Chris's Top 10.

Over to Chris:

I found this a very difficult exercise, so let me explain some parameters. I chose only one novel from each of my favorite authors.  So I didn’t put in every book Dorothy Dunnett wrote, or even all those that Alexander Dumas put his name to.  Second, I put some effort into choosing some contemporary authors, because I’m old enough to remember a whole world of authors who are now not widely read.  Third, I defined adventure as ‘Anything that I found to be adventure’ rather than, say, limiting myself to ‘Thrillers’ or other genres as currently defined.  Finally, ten isn’t enough.  So here’s 15.  Maybe 16?

Here we go.  Not entirely in order—the Three Musketeers is number one, but after that, the next fourteen or fifteen are all basically a tie.

1) The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas.  Probably the best adventure story with swords ever written.  Dumas was himself a great swordsman, and, I expect, a good friend.  His writing is witty—at times, almost comic.  The four friends are both epic and very real—their servants even more so.  But the very best thing is that there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  There is merely the assumption that people of spirit will undertake adventure—for its own sake, and from worldly ambition.  Neither side is morally ‘better.’

2) The Iliad, by Homer  The Iliad is not only a great story with great characters and a complex, moving plot—it is also a window to the distant past, and a revelation of how people were the same—and very different—three thousand years ago.  Achilles—the model of Ancient Greek manhood—is a far more complex hero than is often seen.

3) King Hereafter, By Dorothy Dunnett  All of Dunnett’s books are great romances and great adventure stories.  This is the tale of Thorfinn--an historical realization of the ‘real’ Macbeth’ of Shakespeare.  A bloody-handed Viking and a great leader and an intellectual for his times.  Another very complex character with complex enemies.  This book taught me a great deal about how to write—that the ‘bad guys’ think they are heroes, too.

4) The Ionian Mission, by Patrick O’Brian  Patrick O’Brian has been described as “Jane Austin for boys.’  Superb, authentic, intricate naval scenes—battles, storms, and beautiful days of sailing—interspersed with intricately plotted SOCIAL adventure—men with men, men with women, the failures to communicate, the issues caused by manners…  A world where gong to a party while in disgrace can require more courage than facing the cannon’s mouth.

5) The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.  Please do not make me pick one.  Tolkien—need I say more?  The grandest vision, with the most intricate detail.

6) The Honorable Schoolboy, by John Le Carre  Le Carre writes character like no one else, but his plots—his infinitely intricate plots with dead ends and failures and a complete lack of ‘novelized reality’ and a sort of morally neutral stance…  He certainly has spying down pat!  

7) Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry  The most epic western, a cattle drive from Texas to Montana as the ‘old west’ slips away on two rugged veterans of its worst days.  Again, a novel about motivations and relationships—the most unforgettable scene, where the two heroes enter a tavern as old men, where the photo of the two of them as heroes sits behind the bar—and no one knows them.  Mmmmm.  And what follows.  Read it yourself!

8) Kim, by Rudyard Kipling  In some ways, the seminal adventure story of our time—spying, and some colonial claptrap, but also some amazing detail and some real knowledge of the character of the young.  And so beautifully written.

9) The Mote in God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle  For me, this is the best Sci-Fi adventure ever written.  First alien contact, with actual aliens who aren’t soft and furry or giant monsters.  At the same time, a real tool to examine ourselves—like a good sci-fi story should be.  I read this about 60 times as a teenager, and I’m pretty sure I joined the US Navy because of it!

10) The White Company, by Arthur Conan Doyle  This book was the second or third adventure story of my youth.  It had knights, and archers, and a lot of other things that stuck in my head.  Vastly over-romanticized, but yet with a wealth of historical detail, and solid characters—who may be too good to be true, but yet manage to be petty and grand and funny and deadly serious.  Also the best last stand…

11) Sharpe’s Rifles, By Bernard Cornwell  Cornwell’s descriptive powers need no boost from me, but this, the first of the Sharpe books, I must have read 20 times at age seventeen or so.  It helped confirm my love of reenacting the horse and musket era, and it made me want to read more—lots more—about the actual period.  Cornwell is an excellent historical writer—his HISTORY is part of the story.  And the story rips along at James Bond pace.  I don’t require that, but for Sharpe—it works.

12) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by the Pearl Poet  An awesome tale of Chivalrous adventure, with strong characters, exciting and somewhat alien motivations—it is a sort of wellspring for me, when I’m writing about the Middle Ages, to go back and re-read this.  The differing motivations and the willingness to use violence—elegant, expert violence—is better than any modern fantasy I’ve read.

13) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein  OK, this is the other great Sci-Fi novel, and it could go higher on the list.  In some ways, it is the perfect adventure novel.  It’s not long, it rips along, starts small and goes big, and is packed full of big ideas.

14) Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield.  The single best Historical Fiction novel.  Pressfield’s immersion in Ancient Greece is superb, and takes the reader there in a page.  The adventure—the story of the three hundred—is one of the best of all time

15) The King Must Die, by Mary Renault And Renault is the ‘other’ great writer of fiction about Ancient Greece;  I read all her books when I was 15.  And again, about ten years ago, and they had lost nothing.  She captures an almost artistic feel for the Classical world—utterly different from Pressfield, and yet both is telling a ‘truth.’

16) The Hydrogen Sonata, by Ian M. Banks  Ian Banks is my favorite modern author—I shelve whatever I’m doing every time one of his books comes out.  I love the Culture—I love the pace—I love the way his adventures offer insights into our world—I love the way the super-intelligent ships talk to each other like teenaged boys.  And his plots and his grasp of politics.  And everything else.

But wait!  Where’s Rosemary Sutcliffe?  Dorothy Sayers? A.A. Milne?  Arthur Ransome?  Terry Pratchett?  Jim Butcher?  C.J. Cherryh? Michael Ondaatje?  Sir Thomas Mallory and William Shakespeare and Jane Austen and… and Steinbeck!  And Chretien de Troyes!  And—wait! What about Frederick Forsyth and Colleen McCullough?  Good god, I don’t have a single Hemingway story here.  Or the Last of the Mohicans! And where is George McDonald Fraser?
Hopeless.  Let me read all these again and try and winnow the list down to—say—twenty-five.


Thanks to Chris for taking the time to write this list for us. There are far too many on that list that I haven't read, and that's the second time in almost as many days that someone has named Lonesome Dove as one of their favourite books (author Will Hill said it was one of his favourite reads of 2012).

Don’t miss the last stop on our Tom Swan blog tour and an exclusive competition - tomorrow at For Winter Nights
You can catch the previous blog tour stop here.