Friday 30 August 2013

*** Competition: WIN one of 15 proof copies of Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

If you like YA or adult science fiction then this may be the competition for you. Thanks to the lovely people at Headline I have fifteen (yes, you read that right 15) copies of the proof of Conquest, a fab new book by John Connolly (yes, he of the Charlie Parker series and the Samuel Johnson vs the Devil trilogy) and Jennifer Ridyard.

Here's the blurb:

CONQUEST is the first instalment in the Chronicles of the Invaders series, an epic new science fiction series for teenagers written with by Sunday Times bestselling author John Connolly and his partner, Jennifer Ridyard.

Described by Connolly as “an adventure novel, with an extended chase scene at its heart”, it is inspired by the novels of John Wyndham, as well as classic science fiction films including John Carpenter’s The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Blade
Runner and Alien and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With a strong female and male protagonist, the series will appeal to both a male and female teenager readership as well as adult fans of crossover fiction and science fiction.

Earth is no longer ours. It is ruled by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilised yet ruthless alien species. But humankind has not given up the fight, and Paul Kerr is one of a new generation of young Resistance leaders waging war on the invaders. Syl Hellais is the first of the Illyri to be born on Earth. Trapped inside the walls of her father’s stronghold, hated by the humans, she longs to escape. But on her sixteenth birthday, Syl’s life is about to change forever. She will become an outcast, an enemy of her people, for daring to save the life of one human: Paul Kerr. Only together do they have a chance of saving each other, and the planet they both call home. For there is a greater darkness behind the Illyri conquest of Earth, and the real invasion has not yet even begun...

To be in with a chance of winning one of these proof copies, simply answer the question below (hint: the answer will be in a short extract from Conquest that you can read as a pdf by clicking here) and in your details in the form below.
The first fifteen names drawn at random after the closing date will each win a copy of the book. The deadline for entries is 7pm BST Thursday 5th September. This competition is open to UK residents only.

Contest open to UK residents only.
Neither the publisher or I will be held responsible for items lost in the mail.
I hold the right to end a contest before its original deadline without any prior notice.
I hold the right to disqualify any entry as I see fit.

I will contact winning entrants for their postal address following the close of the competition. Winners have 48 hours to reply. Failure to do so in this time will result in another winner being randomly selected.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Lockwood and Co. Blog Tour: Guest Post by Jonathan Stroud

I am delighted to be joined today by Jonathan Stroud whose brilliant new book, Lockwood and Co, is officially released today. I have been a fan of Jonathan's writing ever since I first read The Amulet of Samarkand and it was wonderful to finally meet him earlier this year at the Random House Blogger Brunch. I carted all of my Stroud books on the train into London (hardback as well so rather heavy) and Jonathan very patiently signed every single one of them. My review of Lockwood and Co will appear here shortly (it's brilliant - that's all you need to know really so go and buy it now), but in the meantime here is Jonathan telling us a little about the must-have equipment every good ghost hunter should carry with them at all times:

Ghost-hunting: Tools of the Trade by Jonathan Stroud

Hello. Fancy yourself a paranormal investigator? Keen on stepping into haunted rooms at midnight and facing your darkest nightmares? I’m impressed. And frankly a little sceptical. Still, you’ll need to take the right equipment if you want to survive. Here’s the Lockwood & Co. cut-out-and-keep guide to the essential bits of kit every self-respecting ghost-hunter needs.

Iron Chain
Since time immemorial iron’s been the metal of choice to keep wicked spirits at bay. That’s why horseshoes are traditionally hung above windows, and why a good length of iron chain has to be the first thing to go into your duffel bag. Lay it on the floor, and you’ve a protective circle to stand inside when a Phantasm comes calling. Or use it more assertively to hem your enemy in.

Iron Filings

More flexible than the chains, and good for scattering over a wider area to make life uncomfortable for your spectral quarry.


Made of iron again, of course; plastic wouldn’t cut it in a variety of ways. Some swords go one better and have a silver tip. Use it for slicing through ectoplasm and warding off aggressive spirits. Also great just to have at your belt as you swagger about town, thus showing everyone your caste and status.

Silver nets/boxes etc

Silver’s another metal that since ancient times has been effective against unnatural things, including the restless dead. Pricier than iron, but excellent for sealing up the ‘Sources’ through which the ghosts access the living world.

Salt bombs

Salt’s not quite as potent as iron and silver, but still good at driving a ghost away. Carry a handful of salt bombs (essentially plastic bags that break on impact) for chucking whenever necessary.

Magnesium flares

The weapon of last resort. Canisters which, when thrown, explode in a shower of hot salt, iron and magnesium – the bright white light is also harmful to spirits. Not to be used casually in confined areas.


For looking inside crypts, tombs, airing cupboards, etc.


For tracking unexpected drops in temperature – a sure sign of a coming manifestation.


For opening sarcophagi, coffin lids, breaking through fake walls.

Tea and biscuits

The final, crucial component of every psychic agent’s kit bag. The best way of staying calm in any haunted house is to crack open the chocolate digestives and get a brew on. Some agents go as far as to bring along a kettle; others rely on thermos flasks, though this practice is of course somewhat frowned upon by traditionalists. 

Friday 16 August 2013

News: The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda available free for limited time

Yesterday I received an email from Kat at Simon and Schuster saying that the brilliant The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda is available free from Apple's iBook store for a limited period (until the 20th August). I loved this book and it's new take on the vampire story (you can read my review here) and thought I would bring you attention to this great offer. You can get the book from here:

I generally read books on my Kindle so I rarely visit the iBook store, but having just been on there to download The Hunt I can say it is well worth you visiting as there are a number of great children's books available for free on there.

The Hunt:

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.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Review: The Fate in the Box by Michelle Lovric

Fogfinger rules Venice. His Fog Squad and spies are everywhere. The Venetians fear him and obey him. Every year one of their children is lost in a grisly Lambing ceremony. The child must climb the bell tower and let the Fate in the Box decide their destiny. Most end their days in the jaws of the primeval Crocodile that lurks in the lagoon. Or so Fogfinger tells them. But a chance meeting by a green apricot tree between Amneris and Tockle may be the beginning of the end for Fogfinger.

Silk and sewing, a magical glass kaleidoscope, mermaids and misunderstood Sea-Saurs, talking statues and winged cats, blue glass sea-horses, a spoiled rich girl and a secret society are just some of the ingredients in Michelle Lovric's exquisitely imagined and superbly plotted fourth fantasy set in Venice.

Writer Michelle Lovric takes us back to her beloved Venice in The Fate in the Box, her fourth book for children set in this magical city. As with her previous book, Talina in the Tower, this is a standalone novel that can be read without first reading her other books, although fans of her previous stories will take great delight in spotting the occasional familiar character, and in particular those foul-mouthed mermaids that first entertained us so much in The Undrowned Child.

Venice is in trouble again. Or rather, as this is set more than one hundred years before Michelle's other three stories, perhaps that should just be Venice is in trouble. The evil and dictatorial Fogfinger rules over the city with an iron fist, and anyone who speaks out against his rule seems to vanish overnight, with only rumours between locals giving any indication of where they may have gone. When Fogfinger came to Venice he brought with him his wonderful clockwork inventions, and now the elite of Venice have become fat, lazy and pretty useless as they rely on these contraptions to do pretty much everything for them. They do not even wind the machines themselves - the desperate and hungry poor are tasked with carrying out this soul-destroying job every night whilst the rich sleep. Fogfinger's devices are everywhere - the aforementioned crime of being caught saying something against the state is a common occurrence, given that the walls literally have ears, devices known as Anagrammaticular.

Yet again, the heroes of Michelle story are a mixed bunch of children; kids who in other circumstances would probably never have been friends, but who come together to fight against evil. Amneris is from a family renowned for their needlework, and she is tasked with the fine embroidery. Every morning without fail Amneris turns a mysterious kaleidoscope seven times, and then replicates the pattern with coloured threads. These designs are incredibly popular and keep the family well away from the doorstep of poverty. Tomistocle is much further down the poverty ladder, his mother being a water seller. He is from a family of kaleidoscope makers, but his father is long absent and Tockle, as he is known, has no idea where he is. And then there is Biri, a young con artist who lives off the streets, both of her parents having been exiled to Serbia for being members of the Piccoli Pochi, a secret society dedicated to overthrowing Fogfinger. Together these three must fight the evil of Fogfinger's regime whilst evading the secret police and the horrific Lambing - the annual ceremony where a child of Venice is sacrificed to keep at bay the Primaeval Crocodile that the city folk believe lives in the depths of the canal.

Seriously? Do I really need to write a review of this book? I have totally loved every one of the three Venice-set books that Michelle has already written for children. In my review for Talina in the Tower I stated that "Each one of these three books has contained a story that I have luxuriated in reading, the kind of stories I never wanted to finish, but when they did they left me feeling complete" and this statement stands for The Fate in the Box as well. With this, her fourth book, surely it is time that Michelle is lauded by all as one of the current greats, along with the likes of David Almond, John Boyne, and even Neil Gaiman. I certainly enjoyed this a lot more than I did The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Again, at the root of this story is the classic battle of good against evil, and Michelle Lovric writes evil very well indeed. Fogfinger is possibly her most devious and despicable villain to date, and his control of  Venice is absolute. He has cleverly managed to wheedle his way into the affections of the city's elite, and then though his mechanical creations has created a reliance amongst them stronger than any Class A drug. The Lambing Ceremony is a perfect example of just how much the people rely on him - they will even 'allow' children to be sacrificed because Fogfinger says that it is required. This, right from the very beginning of the book, we are left wondering just how the three children who are our heroes could possibly survive against such evil, and our hearts pound as readers as they experience peril after peril.

Michelle's imagination is up there with the very best of writers around at the moment (and yes, I do include the aforementioned Gaiman in that statement), and she is writing stories that nobody else is producing for children at the moment: wildly imagined fantasy stories, with a firm grounding in the historical Venice, but with the city reimagined so well that readers will struggle to spot the fine line between what is real history and what is the product of the author's sublime imagination. 

These stories are so unlike the majority of books that I read and yet I really, really love them. As a history buff I naturally can't help but love that aspect of the story. Venice is also one of my favourite cities out of those I have visited and so I love this element as well. I also adore Michelle's characters - I cheer on the heroes and I love to hate the villain(s). I also love the way that Michelle plots her stories so expertly - there are twists and turns and red herrings aplenty, and I love trying to guess how the plot will unravel.

I could wax lyrical about The Fate in the Box, and its predecessors, for some time, but I appreciate that I am beginning to ramble (again) and if you're not going to pick up one of Michelle's books based on what I have written so far then you probably never will (and it will be your great loss, I tell you). Somewhere I have a must used book mark that bears a quote by the great Mark Twain. I think it goes something like: "My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. Fortunately everybody drinks water". Yes, I drink a lot of water, but every now and again I like to partake of a fine wine, and Michelle Lovric's books are among the finest of fine wines available.

My thanks go to the ever lovely people at Orion for sending me a copy of this book to read.

Sunday 11 August 2013

Review: Zom-B Angels by Darren Shan

After spending the last few months wandering around London--a city filled with the dead--B Smith has given up hope for any sign of normal human existence. But then B finds strange signs all over the city--a "Z" plus red arrows. Following them, B finds The Angels-- a group gathered in the hopes of combating the evil dead and the forces that introduced them. But all is not as it seems and it's up to B to find out: what battle are they truly waging?

*** Warning: This review will contain spoilers for earlier books in the series. I you have not yet these other books then please navigate away now.

The closing line of Zom-B City left us with something of a cliffhanger, with readers' jaws hitting the ground possibly as hard as B's did. As with previous books in this series, Zom-B Angels picks up the story immediately following the close of its predecessor, with B discovering that she has been subtly manipulated into walking into County Hall. However, it is not some kind of trap, and for the first time since she first woke in the underground complex B finds herself among friends. More importantly she finds herself under the care of a Dr Oystein who has many of the answers that B (and us readers) have been craving since the opening chapter of Zom-B. Answers such as how the zombie plague started, the identity of the freaky clown thing Mr Dowling, why B is a freethinking revitalised zombie rather than one of the stumbling reviveds and more.

Darren Shan has done it again and produced another superb instalment in this series, although given that he wrote all twelve books in the Zom-B series back-to-back then this should be expected I suppose. Darren promised his readers that the first three books were very much setting up B's character and the zombie changed world, but this fourth book would start delivering much sought after answers, and he hasn't let his readers down. This book is much lighter on the action and gore than previous episodes, and as such moves at a slightly slower pace, but what it delivers in plot development make it just as un-put-downable. You may as well dig a deep hole and bury pretty much every guess you have made about what?, how? and why? as you will probably be wrong on most counts (I was), and the shocks, although not bloody in this book, are just as effective. This volume is certainly setting things up nicely for the rest of the series now.

When the first book in this series was released Darren Shan stated that he wasn't setting out to just write a zombie horror story. He was very clear in his intentions to cover some pretty hefty themes, and we saw that in the first book with B's racist father, and how she had been brought up to have similar bigoted views. Now, with this fourth book, Shan has continued to create topics for discussion, with themes that touch on religion, corruption, genetic engineering and more. Again Shan has delivered on his promise: this is definitely far more than just a zombie story full of blood splatter and brain munching.

I have been a fan of Darren Shan's ever since I first picked up and read Cirque du Freak back in 2000, but this latest series is possibly my favourite out of anything I have read by him. I used to think that Shan was a great storyteller, but lacked a little something as a writer. No longer - this series shows that he has continued to develop and mature as a writer over the past decade or so, and now he is both a great storyteller and a damn fine writer to boot.

My thanks go to the ever generous people at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy of Zom-B Angels to read. The fifth book in the series is due out in the UK at the end of September, and given its title, Zom-B Baby, and its gloriously disgusting book cover I'm expecting a return to some Shan-tastic blood, guts and violence.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Review: CRYPT: Blood Eagle Tortures by Andrew Hammond

On the remote coast of Suffolk an amateur diver uncovers an unusual artefact while exploring the lost town of Dunwich, now submerged a mile from shore. Within hours his boat is robbed and the burglar is found mutilated on the beach, in a way reminiscent of a Viking ritual killing. Can the CRYPT agents decipher the clues and figure out what might have been disturbed on the seabed before more lives are lost?

In this, their fourth adventure, the CRYPT team find themselves assigned to a particularly bloody case out on the Suffolk coast, when a badly mutilated body is found on a beach. I won't go in to too many details regarding the state of this body - just pop 'blood eagle' into Wikipedia and you'll get a good idea. You will also quickly realise that this story involves vikings (or dead ones at least).

Whilst Jud and Bex go ghost hunting in Suffolk, Luc and Grace are sent to Denmark to investigate a ghostly sighting, as a favour for CRYPT boss Jason Goode. Little do they know that their case may be linked to that being investigated by their friends back in Sussex, and that they may just be putting themselves in greater danger than they would have faced back in the UK.

This is the fourth book by Andrew Hammond in what I have found to be his hugely enjoyable and frequently gruesome CRYPT series, and I think it is possibly my favourite in the series so far. The main and secondary characters are now fully established and so Andrew can really let rip with the action and ghost hunting. Long time readers of The Book Zone will already know that I am not particularly squeamish, and I love a bit of gore in my YA horror, and I certainly wasn't disappointed here. Those readers who have a weaker stomach than I for such stuff should beware (but teens will love it!).

The various relationships continue to develop in this book, and my one gripe is that at times I just wanted to give Jud a slap and tell him to man up and let Bex know how he feels about her (and vice versa actually). I found these parts of the story a little irritating, as they seem to appear far too commonly in books for teens, and just once in a while it would be great to see a pair get together without a ridiculous amount of awkwardness or petty jealousies. As such, it was nice to see Luc and Grace given more page space on their own, and to see their partnership developing even more.

In previous books Andrew Hammond has shown that he isn't afraid to shock, and I've always had the feeling that no character (other than Jud) is safe in his writerly hands, and these suspicions have been proved correct in this book. Of that, I will say no more, as no one likes a spoiler! However, this book really does go a long way in moving the overall story arc along, with a number of revelations coming to the surface regarding Jud, Jason, Bonati and the work that is going on behind the scenes at CRYPT.

As ever, this is an action packed and occasionally violent and bloody ghost hunting story from Andrew Hammond, and I can't wait to see how he continues to develop the story in the next book (as yet untitled), especially given the rather shocking way he brings Blood Eagle Tortures to a close. I do wonder whether I should be giving this particular book in the series such a good review though, given that in this story Andrew Hammond has written a particularly slimy and odious character and given him the same surname as mine?

My thanks go to the lovely people at Headline for sending me a copy to read.

Friday 9 August 2013

Review: Ash Mistry and the World of Darkness by Sarwat Chadda

Ash Mistry is in a world of pain. A parallel world in fact, where another version of him seems to be living his life, and the evil Lord Savage – now all-powerful and adored by the nation – is about to carry out a terrible plan.

Worse still, Ash’s superpowers, invested in him by the Death Goddess Kali, seem no longer to be working.

Without Kali, can Ash defeat Savage and save the world?

*** Warning: contains spoilers for book 2 (Ash Mistry and the City of Death)

After that jaw dropping cliffhanger at the end of Ash Mistry and the City of Death, Ash and Parvati now find themselves trapped in an alternate timeline caused when Lord Savage used his newly gained magical powers to travel back in time and change the past. This parallel universe is not hugely different from his own, but the differences are significant as far as Ash is concerned. In this world, Savage is seen as a generous and benevolent figure who has used his fortunes to help solve some of the world's problems. However, Ash is convinced that this Savage is just as evil and egotistical as the one he thought he had defeated. 

More bizarre for Ash though is the fact that there is another version of himself in this alternate timeline. Ashoka is like Ash before the events of The Savage Fortress, i.e. geeky, awkward, unfit, overweight and with very few skills that could be of any use in the battle that is sure to come. However, it is down to Ashoka, Ash and Parvati to discover Savage's diabolical plans and, if at all possible, defeat him once and for all. Oh and did I mention that Ash's awesome, superhero, Kali-bestowed powers have disappeared?

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Sarwat's writing, and I have loved every book he has written so far, from the brilliant pair of book featuring the young Templar, Billi SanGreal, to the first two books in the Ash Mistry trilogy. This third book, The World of Darkness, is no exception to this rule, and yet again Sarwat has delivered a fast-paced action-fest that will delight fans of his Indian mythology themed series.

I have to admit that the way Sarwat ended the second book left me with a few niggling doubts as to how much I would enjoy this finale to the trilogy. The sudden creation of an alternate timeline made me nervous as I have read a number of books where plot elements such as this were not at all handled well. Oh me of little faith! This is the mind of Sarwat Chadda we are talking about here, and those doubts were completely unfounded. Sarwat manages this jump and the action that unfolds in this alternate timeline with consummate ease, and it very quickly becomes a way of showing how much Ash has developed since he first encountered Savage. 

Every now and again throughout the story the author inserts a small chapter or a handful of paragraphs where Ash is in dreamsleep, 'remembering' some of his past lives, and using these to try to come to a solution to his current worries. These also show how the eons long love affair between Parvati and his past selves developed, and at times seemed so doomed and tragic. This complements the continuing development of their relationship in the current timeline, as the two grow closer and closer, and possibly even start to admit their feelings for each other.

This series is aimed at the 9+ age group, with both Sarwat Chadda and publisher HarperCollins understanding that kids do love (and can easily handle) darkness, violence, blood and horror in their stories. This book in particular does contain some pretty scary moments, and Savage's plans for the human race are especially gruesome. There will be a small handful of kids who might be frightened by some of the scenes in the book, but then again most of these will already know that they aren't comfortable with horror stories and will probably not pick the books up in the first place. However, those who take delight in a moderate dose of blood splatter and fantasy violence with love this end to the trilogy.

If you have not yet tried Sarwat's Ash Mistry books then you are seriously missing out on a great trilogy that is easily as good as any of the mythology based stories that Rick Riordan has written (in my opinion, Sarwat's books are even better). If my opinion isn't good enough for you then only recently Riordan himself tweeted that he had just read Ask Mistry and the Savage Fortress and thought it was great.

My thanks go to HarperCollins for sending me a copy of the book to read.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Extract from The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock

The Book Zone Book of the Year 2012 was Tom Pollock's truly amazing The City's Son. Now the sequel, The Glass Republic, has been published by Jo Fletcher Books and having just finished it I can say with all confidence that it is easily as good if not better than its predecessor. I felt more than a little honoured when Tom approached me asking if I would be interested in hosting an excerpt from the book.

My review will follow soon, but to give you a quick idea about the book, this time the story follows Pen as she tries to come to terms with what happened to her in The City's Son, and as a result does an Alice and travels to London-Under-Glass. This excerpt takes place some time after she has arrived in this alternate and bizarre London. You can read it below or download a pdf from here. Enjoy!

Saturday 3 August 2013

Review: Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Ross Montgomery

Alex Jennings is a boy with a problem.

His mum's sent him away to boarding school because his father, the most famously failed explorer in the history of the Cusp, has escaped from hospital again, yelling 'squiggles'.

Make that two problems.

Now the evil Davidus Kyte and all his henchmen are after Alex, convinced he alone knows the meaning of the word 'squiggles'.

OK, make that three -

Alex Jennings is a boy with a lot of problems. But with the help of a talking dog and a girl with unfeasibly sharp teeth, he just might have what it takes to cross the Forbidden Lands, escape the evil Davidus Kyte, and find out what lies beyond the Cusp . . .


I'm trying my hardest to come up with some way of describing this story without giving away anything. It is so brilliantly bonkers that I think it is best read with little prior knowledge or preconceptions. However, to keep things simple, it is a story about a boy with a famous father (now literally barking mad) who has had to suffer the subsequent humiliations of a private boarding school. However, Alex's world is a little different from our own. Cloisters Boarding School for Boys is located in an area called The Outskirts. Adjacent to this is the heavily fortified and militarised Cusp, which itself surrounds The Forbidden Land.

This rather dramatically named area is one of great mystery as only one person has ever been able to enter it for any kind of lengthy exploration. That person just happens to be Alex's father, and his mental health has seemingly deteriorated ever since he returned. Everyone else who enters The Forbidden Land gets the immediate and totally uncontrollable urge to run home, no matter how far it is or what/who is in the way. This book tells the story of Alex's attempts to find his again-missing father, and ultimately discover the secret that lies at the centre of The Forbidden Land.


This is one of the most bonkers books that I have read in ages. It is perfect for kids who have grown up loving the sheer craziness of Andy Stanton's Mr Gum, but are now ready for something a little more challenging. It does not have the insane vocabulary of a Mr Gum book, but the story is definitely just as mad. As I was reading it and thinking about writing my review I was considering likening it to the unpredictability and madness of the comedy of Monty Python, and in particular their Holy Grail film. However, although I think that is still a fair comparison, I would suggest the comedy in Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door is not always quite as off-the-wall as that, and now I can't help but think that its surrealism, humour and feeling of 'I have no idea what on earth is going to happen next' remind me very much of one of my all time favourite films - O Lucky Man. I appreciate that this will mean little to any children reading this review, and probably a good number of adults too.

This is a truly fun adventure story, set in a crazy fictional world, with a subtle humour running throughout that will have readers giggling quietly, and with plenty of sudden laugh-out-laugh moments. Just like a Roald Dahl or David Walliams book it has the prerequisite pantomime-esque villain - greedy, egotistical, borderline insane - but due to the bonkers nature of his actions his parts in the story never feel clich├ęd. As with books by those aforementioned two authors, the adults in the story are pretty useless and it is the actions of Alex and his new friend Martha that are generally needed to save the day. And just like these other  authors, Ross Montgomery subtly weaves many other themes into his wacky tale, such as family, loss, bullying, friendship and loyalty.

I think kids of 8 or 9+ will love the crazy nature of this story. As well as being a funny and thoroughly enjoyable read, it will also feed the 'What if..?' nature of their imaginations that they use when they are doing their own writing: What if Alex's Headmaster was actually nice? What if that dog could talk? What if..... I'll leave it there as I don't want to reveal too much.

My thanks go to the kind people at Faber for sending me a copy of Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door to read (great title, by the way - it's almost as bonkers as the story itself).