Tuesday 15 April 2014

Review: Frankie's Magic Football series by Frank Lampard

Those metaphorical high horses were being well and truly ridden recently following the announcement that Canongate will be publishing a series of classic fairy tales for children, reinterpreted by comedian Russell Brand. One article in particular, went as far as to pretty much demand that celebrities stop writing books for children. Said article was co-written by Tom Lamont, writer and commissioning editor for the Observer, and author Robert Muchamore. Mr Muchamore, to his credit, approached the subject in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, adding some much needed humour to the vitriol spouted by Lamont. However, as with many articles such as this, it is the comments section that makes the most interesting reading. Russell Brand is hardly the most popular man in the world so an article like this is always going to attract some rather subjective comments, but what stands out the most is the general poor knowledge of commenters on the the current children's book market.

I toyed with writing a reply to Mr Lamont on this blog, but it was nearing the end of term and things were mad hectic. Then I read a blog post by one the best young bloggers around, who had heard about the article and wanted  to add her opinion. Georgia, the blogger in question, spookily echoed my own thoughts with her piece, but coming from her it sounds all that more relevant and so I urge you to head on over Georgia's blog at to read it.

And so we come, once again, to Frank Lampard's Frankie's Magic Football series. The rumours still persist that Mr Lampard has made considerable use of a ghost writer for these books, but whether he has nor not does not really matter in my opinion. I will reiterate what I said when I reviewed the first Frankie's Magic Football book, Frankie vs the Pirate Pillagers:
"I for one have absolutely no problem with Frank Lampard writing a series of books if even just one child picks one up, reads it and then asks his/her parents for more. I would imagine that many parents would agree with me. And that was my opinion before reading it. Now that I've read the first in the series I would suggest that Little, Brown extend the deal to even more books. Frankie vs The Pirate Pillagers is a fun read from beginning to end, and many kids will love it."
I have since read four more in this series, and my opinion remains the same. If Frank Lampard's name (or that of any other celebrity) can manage to get a child reading where parents and teachers are having little success then that can only be a good thing. Sure, these books are not going to end up shortlisted for any of the numerous children's book awards, but neither will the likes of Beast Quest, Cows in Action or the Skylanders books, and these have all helped many kids enjoy reading for the first time.

After beating the Pirate Pillagers, it seems that life will never be the same again for Frankie, Louise, Charlie and dog Max. They quickly discover that the magic football could open a portal at pretty much any time, and even if they aren't all together at the time all four of them will find themselves transported to another period in time. Over the course of the next four books they have to play against the Rowdy Romans, the Cowboy Crew, the Mummy's Menace and the Knight's Nasties. Even though the historical elements are not entirely accurate, there is enough there to get football mad readers asking questions about these periods in time. We should never forget that young minds are inquisitive, all they need is the right material to stimulate that natural curiosity.

Frank Lampard has had is fair share of stick from critics ever since the announcement about this series of books was made. However, this hasn't deterred him from continuing to encourage kids to read for pleasure. Last month he 'kicked off' this year's Premier League Reading Stars Programme, run by the National Literacy Trust. You can read more about the launch here and here.

Frankie and his friends have so far appeared in five books, and it looks as if there are at least two more to come. May will see the timely release of Frankie and the World Cup Carnival, to be followed in August by Frankie and The Dragon Curse.

Monday 14 April 2014

Review: The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

Do you remember the first time you climbed into the wardrobe with Lucy and emerged in Narnia? Flew on the back of Falkor the Luck Dragon with Bastian? Followed Alice down the rabbit hole? Welcome to your new favourite adventure.

Late one night Alice Creighton hears her father having an argument with a fairy - a snarling, bald beast with warts and needle-like teeth. It is threatening her father, insisting he accept a mysterious offer, or else.

When Alice's father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent away to live with distant relative Mr Geryon, owner of a huge, dark library that is off limits to Alice. After meeting a talking cat who is willing to sneak her in, Alice opens a book and suddenly finds herself inside it - and the only way out is by conquering the dangerous creatures within. Alice has stumbled into a world where all of magic is controlled by Readers through books - she must open more books, face increasingly powerful foes, be the lead character in the quest to find a happy ending.

How many times have you read a book and wished that you could be literally sucked into the story to get the girl/boy, kill the baddies and save the world? I cannot believe that there is a single lover of fiction out there who has not at some point in time wished this could happen. if you're now sitting there nodding your head with a far-away look in your eye and a wishful smile on your face then you need to read The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler as it is a dream come true for book lovers, child and adult alike.

I'm not going to go into too many details about the story as the above publisher's blurb tells you all you need to know. When I read The Forbidden Library I was very much reminded of the first time I read Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. (By the way, if you or your children have not read this book and only seen the film then I urge you to get your hands on a copy at some point. However, don't do this until you've read The Forbidden Library as, once you get past the part that is covered in the (IMO brilliant) 1980s movie, things become more complex and the book morphs from being upper Middle Grade into lower YA, and The Forbidden Library is very much Middle Grade territory). However, that was many years ago and so it is difficult to compare the two books in detail. All I will say is that I remember the warm, magical glow I felt as Bastian started realising that he had become part of the story, and I experienced that exact same feeling as I read The Forbidden Library.

Doubleday have drawn some daring comparisons with the blurb (see above) that they have used for this book. To reference the Narnia stories, The Neverending Story and Alice in Wonderland in their opening paragraph is a bold move that could have reviewers up in arms, and yet this reviewer feels that The Forbidden Library compares incredibly favourably with these classics of the genre. With so many books published for chidlren these days it is impossible to idnetify which ones will stand the test of time and become recognised as 'classics', but The Forbidden Library is certainly deserving of becoming a classic in the future, in my humble opinion. These days I always give a book I have finished a starred rating on Goodreads, but I rarely mention those ratings on here. However, I rated this book five stars and, as happens with a very small number of books, I would like to have given it a sixth to distinguish it from some of the other books I have rated five stars. 

The other day I wrote a lengthy post about my favourite female protagonists in books for young readers, as part of the Boys Read Girls campaign, and after it went live I mentioned to a fellow Tweeter that no doubt I would remember another one the next day. Well I did exactly that - Alice in The Forbidden Library is up there with all the female characters that I mentioned in that post (and I may just head over to that post after finishing this review to add her). She is courageous, intelligent, resourceful and inquisitive and the kind of character that will have both boys and girls rooting for her as she fights for her life, and agonising with her as she has to grapple with a number of moral dilemmas that are thrown at her during the course of her adventures.

The world that Django Wexler has built for his character to adventure through is even cooler than his name. It is a world where magic revolves around books - not as repositories for spells, but as magical items in their own right. In this world books are portals to the worlds mentioned within, and those with the magical ability to read about and then enter these worlds are known as Readers. However, as Alice very quickly finds out, entry into some of these books can be at a huge cost. Some of these books contain creatures that must be conquered in order for the Reader to be able to return to the real world. However, Wexler adds a further twist to his magic, in that once conquered these creatures fall under the control of the Reader in question, and can be summoned to assist in further adventures. This is where the author has great fun with his main character and her conquests - I won't spoil the fun for you by going into details, but the Swarm are both a terrifying creation and an incredibly exciting one.

I can't finish off this review without a mention of the amazing pen and ink illustrations of David Wyatt, of which there are sadly not enough in this book, for this reader at least (yes, I am greedy). Lovers of modern children's books will recognise the name immediately - David is a prolific illustrator of children's book covers, and occasionally their interiors. Just head on over to his website to see his work and you will understand what I mean. You can also head on over to Django's website to see the full set of illustrations, two of which I will put at the end of this review. This book is the complete package as everything about it is stunning: the writing; the illustrations; and the outer packaging too, which is a stunning hardcover, without dustjacket, with the title, author's name and surrounding decorative border all highlighted with gold hot-foil blocking. Well done indeed, Doubleday!

Someone else who deserves a mention before I finish this review is the totally brilliant Lauren Buckland, Senior Editor at Random House Children's Publishing. Lauren told me I would love this book, long before I got my hands on a copy, and she was 100% correct. Again! Every time Lauren tells me this about a book then I know that I am going to love it - Lauren has edited some of my favourite books that I have read since I started blogging and she (along with many editors out there) deserves far more recognition that she gets. Thanks Lauren! (P.S. When's the sequel due? I honestly can't wait!)

Illustration by David Wyatt

Illustration by David Wyatt

Friday 11 April 2014

Boys Read Girls (Let Books Be Books)

Last month an article written by Katy Guest, the Independent on Sunday Literary Editor, hit the usual social media sites and had a plethora of authors, publishers, librarians and book bloggers making their own comments on the issue that Ms Guest raised. In her article, she highlighted an online campaign called Let Books Be Books which has been set up to encourage publishers to stop marketing books specifically to boys or girls by having overtly boy-oriented or girl-oriented covers and/or titles (but before you read on click here and go and sign their petition).

On reading this article I rather selfishly felt the bottom drop out of my blogging world, and a small amount of self-doubt started scratching away at the back of my mind. I began to wonder whether a book blog called The Book Zone (For Boys) might actually be causing more harm than good. I wondered whether I was myself guilty of propagating the very stereotyping that was being so heavily criticised in the article. And yet, at school, I am often pushing books with male protagonists into the hands of girls, and have made a habit of recommending great books with female protagonists to boys. Boys at my school were reading The Hunger Games back in 2009, long before all the hype kicked off. Since reading Geek Girl, and loving it, I've managed to persuade a good number of boys to give it a go as well. My initial reaction was therefore to rattle off a blog post, but instead I took a deep breath and have put a lot of thought into the matter. I've also spoken with a couple of my 'friends' in the industry who have assured me that my concerns are unfounded, pointing out as evidence just a handful of the great books I have reviewed that have a female protagonist.

My 'mission', when I started The Book Zone, was to "raise awareness of the vast wealth of 'boy-friendly' books that have been published since Harry Potter burst onto the scene" and I state on my About Me page that "many of the books I review will also have great appeal to girls as well - I am certainly not saying they are only for boys". However, every few days or so I get a comment added to one of my book reviews, or I receive an email, from girls who are unhappy that I have labelled a book as a boys' book.  However, I can't expect a young reader to have the time or inclination to visit this page to read this, and so I reply politely to every one of them, in an attempt to address their unhappiness. So, my first action on finishing this post is to make that more clear somewhere on my blog's main area.

This morning I read about the next step in the Let Books Be Books campaign. Labelled Boys Read Girls, it encourages male readers to talk about the female characters they admired when they were young, or of current books that have great female characters. The Guardian have also posted a piece in support of this, which you can see here, and so I thought this would be a good time for me to share my thoughts and tell you about some of my favourite female characters (please note, that apart from a couple of exceptions I have mainly focused on Middle Grade rather than YA books as I feel that if boys get used to reading books with female protagonists at this age then they are more likely to carry this in to their teens and eventually adulthood):


Thinking back on my childhood, there are two books with awesome female characters that really stand out in my mind. The first is (or should that be are?) the Narnia books. From Polly in The Magician's Nephew, through Susan and Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, to Jill in the Silver Chair. Every single one of these female characters holds their own in relation to their male co-characters. The second book that sticks in my mind is, of course, the wonderful Alice in Wonderland. Brave, resourceful, intelligent... the epithets go on and on for this iconic female protagonist.

Another childhood favourite was The BFG by Roald Dahl, and I thought that Sophie was a great female main character. Without Sophie's brains (and bravery) the people-eating giants would have rampaged through Britain. I was seventeen when Matilda was first published, and didn't read it until I was an adult, but I think I would have loved it as a child - Matilda is heroism personified (as is Miss Honey), standing up to the fearsome bully that is Miss Trunchbull, relying on brains to overcome brawn.


I've spent the last hour or so scanning back though the reviews I have written over the past soon-to-be five years, and the list of those with female protagonists is pretty extensive. Also, wonderfully, many of these have covers that could be considered gender neutral, although there are a small number of reviews where I have questioned the publisher's choice of cover. So in no particular order:

Teodora in The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric

Michelle Lovric is not only one of my all time favourite writers of Middle Grade fantasy, she also writes fantastic female protagonists. Teo in The Undrowned Child, and its sequel The Mourning Emporium, is up there with Alice in my mind, but Talina (Talina in the Tower) and Amneris and Biri (The Fate in the Box) are almost as great.

Mosca Mye in Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge

Mosca is a handful, but in the best of ways. She is headstrong and independent, and always gives as good as she gets.

Deryn Sharp in Leviathon by Scott Westerfeld

Deryn lives in a society where women do not get to join up, fly in airships and see the world, so she has to disguise herself as a boy in order to fulfill her dream. She is another smart, brave and resourceful female character. 

Holly Short in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

For me, Holly Short was always the real star of these books, and I always saw her as the main character ahead of Artemis himself. Perhaps this is because of the way Artemis' criminal character was established in the first book?

Maddy in the TimeRiders series by Alex Scarrow

The three main characters in this series are definitely not equal in my mind. Yes, in the earlier books in the series it is Liam who gets to go back in time and do the adventure stuff, but it is Maddy's intelligence and leadership qualities that keep the team together.

India in Ironheart by Allan Boroughs

India is a  gutsy, courageous young lady who is ready to risk life and limb in order to find her father.

Valkyrie Cain/Stephanie Edgley in the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy

I'm not sure I need to repeat again just how much I love Valkyrie Cain as a character. And these books have not one, but two great female characters as we mustn't forget the kick-ass brilliant Tanith Low.

Larissa in the Department 19 series by Will Hill

Will Hill has often explained that Larissa started off as a minor character, but when writing her it was almost as if she took on a life of her own, and now she has become a fan favourite. She is definitely my favourite character in the series, and I am reliably informed that in the next book, Zero Hour, she is really going to kick ass.

B Smith in the Zom-B series by Darren Shan

Full marks to Darren Shan for making his protagonist in this awesome series a teenage girl. And even more marks for the way he challenged his readers' perceptions in the first book in the series by not revealing this until the end of the book.

Penelope Tredwell in the Penny Dreadful series by Christopher Edge

My review of the third book in this series, The Black Crow Conspiracy, says it all: "Anyone who claims that boys do not enjoy stories with a female main character should be shown this book as an example that debunks that myth. In Penelope, Christopher Edge has created a female lead who is both a superb role model for girls, and also a kick-ass heroine who does not need to reply on a male character to save the day for her, despite living in an era when young women were expected to be demure and 'proper', with only a life of being a wife and mother to look forward to."

Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill

The cover of the first book the series was blue, and Laura has told me how happy she was with this decision by the publishers. Long time readers of this blog will know exactly how much I love Darcy as a character, and just how brilliant Laura's writing is for both boys and girls. Darcy is a character for everyone, male or female, young or old, and I have seen Year 7 boys hanging on Laura's every word, and then rushing out to read the book.

Sesame Seade by Clémentine Beauvais

I read and reviewed the three books in The Sesame Seade Mysteries just last week. Sesame is another character like Darcy Burdock, and I will be buying copies of these books for a number of the 9-11 boys that I know. 

Thursday 10 April 2014

My Magnificent Seven: 80s YA Movies

Back at the end of January I posted the first piece in what I wanted to become an occasional feature. Unfortunately, because of work and a certain secret project time has been tighter than ever, and I had to prioritise reviews over other stuff. However, the secret project is now complete and it's the school holidays, so I've finally got around to typing up my scrappy handwritten notes, and I thought I would choose a topic that isn't strictly book related, although if the current popularity of YA reads had been around in the 80s then many of these films may have started off as brilliant YA books. They are in no particular order, apart from the first two which in my mind are the best YA films ever.

The Breakfast Club

Saturday morning detention! How cruel a punishment is that? When I was a teen my school ran a Saturday morning detention, but although I was no angel it was a punishment I never had to experience. However, if I had even the slightest hint at the time that it would be anything like that on The Breakfast Club I would have been breaking rules left, right and centre (everything I have heard about it suggests that it was NOTHING like TBC, and was in fact the most boring punishment in the world ever).

The Breakfast Club is the ultimate misfit-teen-bonding story. Before this particular Saturday each one lived in their own little world, with their own circle of friends (or not), and with their own personal problems. Like most teens they are far too quick to judge others for their appearance or the way they act when in their various 'tribes', but over the course of the film they begin to realise that they are not alone in having problems. I'm not a fan at all of many of the other brat pack style teen movies of the time (Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful) as I prefer more comedy than these offered, but for me this film is perfect in every way - even the ending, leaving the viewer wondering whether the changes they have gone through are long term, or whether they will revert back to the previous ways as soon as they are back in school on Monday.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Yes, another film written and directed by John Hughes and I can never decide which one I prefer more. Both of them are perfect teen movies, but where The Breakfast Club was all about a group of disparate teens bonding, this one is about three close friends who just want to have the best day off school ever. I can't believe that anyone has ever watched this and NOT wanted to be Ferris Bueller, hacking into the school computer to change his attendance record, fooling his parents whilst getting one over on the desperate Ed Rooney, and having that ultimate bunk off school. Seriously - Ferris performing Danke Schoen and Twist and Shout must be one of the biggest feel good scenes in teen movie history. And then there's THAT quote:

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."


Yes, I firmly believe that this is a YA film, albeit wrapped neatly in a wonderful children's film package. Jim Henson was a master of creating work that could be enjoyed on many different levels (there's a reason that The Muppets are enjoyed as much by adults as by children, and it isn't just nostalgia), and Labyrinth is just as good an example of this. On the face of it, it is a story of a girl trying to rescue her little brother from the clutches of an evil Goblin King, in a world populated by many weird and wonderful creatures. But strip away that layer and there is a theme that is seen in many modern YA books - that of coming of age and sexual awakening (yes, it does make Bowie's Jareth character seem more than a little disturbing when you look at it this way).

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

(Note to pedants: I appreciate that Bill & Ted's wasn't released in the UK until April 1990, but as it was released in the USA a whole twelve months earlier I'm still classifying it as 80s YA.

Hmm, as I start to write about this film a huge grin is already forming on my face, and I'm wondering whether I should be putting it at the top of this post. I seriously loved this film when I first saw it, and I love it just as much today. It is also, to my enduring shame, an example of me judging a book film by its cover. I ignored its cinema release as I was pretty sure by its title and poster that I wouldn't like it. When I started at university a friend tied to persuade me that it was, like, totally excellent, but I resisted watching it on VHS for some time. However, I eventually gave it and it cost me numerous drinks (I had even bet him that I would not like it). The magic for me was its originality, the clever time-travel plotting, its sheer audacity (Abe Lincoln, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc... in a time-travelling phone booth?!), and, of course, the performances of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. Every now and again you hear rumours of a third film, but I keep my fingers crossed that this never happens. Both Bill & Ted films were a thing of their time, and really should be left alone (and while I'm at it, so should The Goonies - please don't make a sequel!)

Stand By Me

OK, so the four boys who set out on their journey of discovery are all twelve in the film, which is younger than the majority of protagonists in YA books. However, the themes that the book explores and the language used by the characters are most definitely YA territory. Yes, it is based on a brilliant short story by Stephen King, but if it wasn't it would make a brilliant YA novel. Its truly timeless quality make it a great film for teens today, rather than just a great piece of nostalgia for those of us who saw it the first time around.

The Lost Boys

Made before popular teen culture became oversaturated with vampires, this is still one of my favourite vampire films of all time. It is just such a cool film - great cast,  sexy vampires who are vicious bloodsuckers (who don't sparkle), fab 80s soundtrack, great splatter-ful special effects and brilliant humour (this film would just not have been the same if it had been a straight vampire horror movie). And of course, Corey Feldman at his best.

Back to the Future

Is this a YA story? I think so, because of Marty McFly's age and because of the romance aspects of the story. I still remember seeing it at the cinema back in 1985, and I went straight out and bought the novelization (I bought a lot of movie novelizations back in the mid 1980s - and it's still a great way to get boys reading). Every single member of the cast puts in a flawless performance, and Dr Emmett Brown, as played by Christopher Lloyd, is still one of my all time favourite movie characters. In fact, there are so many great things about it that you pretty much forget some of the implausible issues related to the time travelling. Also, if I ever win the lottery, I am so going to buy a Deloran.

Monday 7 April 2014

Review: Scam on the Cam by Clémentine Beauvais (A Sesame Seade Mystery)

Sesame Seade is suspicious. There's something fishy going on by the river: a case for a number one supersleuth!

Sesame's parents insist that there are no pirates in Cambridge, but she's determined to prove them wrong ...

Move aside Darcy Burdock, I just may have got a new favourite female main character, and her name is Sesame Seade. Actually, to be precise, her name is Sophie Margaret Catriona Seade, but who am I to argue with such a headstrong and forthright young lady. Sesame's third mystery adventure, Scam on the Cam, was published last Thursday and this is as much a review of the series so far as it is on this particular book.

Over the last month or so I had been hearing a lot about how great the Sesame Seade Mysteries are, and Jim from YA Yeah Yeah in particular has been singing their praises very enthusiastically. And so I checked out a couple of handful of reviews online, and when I read writer Elen Caldecott describe the first book as "genuinely laugh-out-loud funny" I realised I just had to get my hand on a copy. Thanks to the wonderful people at Hodder and was very soon in possession of all three Sesame Seade books, and they were so good that I couldn't help but chain-read them, each one in a single sitting.

We are first introduced to Sesame in Sleuth on Skates, where she inform us that for the whole of her life she has wanted to be a sleuth, but it is only now "after eleven years, five months and seventeen days of waiting, a mysterious mission found me". We are also introduced to Sesame's parents, Professor and Reverend Seade (who seem to be in a state of constant despair at their daughter's precocious and strong-willed nature - her personality certainly does not appear to be inherited); her best friends Gemma and Toby; her vicious cat Peter Mortimer; and her teacher Mr Barnes (more commonly referred to as Mr Halitosis, for reasons that I probably don't need to go in to here). 

Sesame's first mystery involves a missing student journalist and a scandal that could rock the very foundations of the City of Cambridge and its world renowned university. The second book in the series (I've read somewhere that it might just be a trilogy but I'm keeping everything crossed for more and this is a series that could, and should, go on and on), titled Gargoyles Gone AWOL, sees Sesame hunting for a mystery person who appears to be stealing gargoyles from the roofs of some of the Colleges.

This third book in the series, Scam on the Cam, is probably my favourite of the series so far (rather obstinately, I'm going to continue to refer to these as a series rather than a trilogy). The book opens with Sesame and her friends involved in an enforced rowing activity on the Cam, where they discover a mysterious, locked treasure chest. Naturally, to a child with Sesame's imagination, this can only mean PIRATES! However, just as she is about to start investigating, another mystery comes her way - it appears that a number of the Cambridge rowing team are coming down with a mystery stomach bug, and, with The Boat Race only a short time away, foul play is suspected. Sesame is put on the case as, in the tradition of all great child detectives, who is ever going to suspect an 11 year old of being an investigator?

The Sesame Seade books have enormous appeal to both boys and girls, as they are delightfully subversive in a very similar way to many of Roald Dahl's stories. It's kids vs adults and you probably don't need me to tell you who comes out on top. Sesame does not suffer fools gladly, especially those in adult form, and even more so when they are her stuffy and image-conscious parents. Thus, she takes almost every opportunity to break their rules, but of course in this case it is all perfectly justified as how else would she be able to solves the mysteries that come her way? So we see Sesame sneaking out of her bedroom at night to 'borrow' a boat so that she can paddle down the River Cam to a nearby village or climb a drainpipe to a college roof so she can stakeout the gargoyles. Yes, these are just two of the activities that Sesame gets up to  - she is certainly not one to avoid action, adventure and peril (although running is one of the few disciplines at which she does not excel).

Clémentine Beauvais' books are the perfect example of why I love Middle Grade so much, to the point where I am reading more for this age group than for young adults these days. There's no angst (apart from that suffered by Sesame's parents), no love triangles, no unhappiness or despondency, no teen problems - just pure, unadulterated fun. Like the aforementioned Darcy Burdock, Sesame has a unique and refreshing outlook on life, and as the books are narrated in the first person we as readers can take great delight in her observations and commentary. If Ms Beauvais based even just a small part of Sesame's character on herself as a young girl, then I can't help but feel sorry for her parents and any teacher that crossed her path.

As with many comedy books written for this age group, the words in the Sesame Seade Mysteries come accompanied by illustrations, and refreshingly, brilliant though they are, it is nice to see illustrations by someone other than David Tazzyman or Tony Ross. The Sesame Seade books are illustrated by Sarah Horne, and I would not be surprised if we start to see Sarah's illustrations being used for a multitude of children's books in the future, as they complement Ms Beauvais' story perfectly. In my opinion, Sarah has really captured the essence of what makes Sesame Sesame, and young readers (and their parents) will find their reading experience all the more enjoyable for them.

The three Sesame Seade books are without a doubt some of my favourite reads of 2014 and if you have a 9-11 year old who loves the likes of David Walliams, Laura Dockrill and Roald Dahl then I urge you to get your hands on copies of these books as I am pretty sure your child will love you even more for doing so.

Guest Post by Michael Grant (Light Blog Tour)

I am honoured today to welcome Michael Grant to The Book Zone as part of the Light Blog Tour. Michael's here today to tell us what it is like for him on a real world book tour. I was very fortunate to be able to listen to Michael last autumn when we welcomed him in to school to talk to our Year 9s. If you ever get the chance to listen to him then I suggest you grab it!

Thanks to the Book Zone for Boys for letting me blog tour on this blog.  I’ll try not to say anything embarrassing.

So, I am visiting the UK in October on what we like to call “Book Tour.”  I think this will be my sixth or seventh UK book tour, though my first for MESSENGER OF FEAR.  I’ve also done one such tour, for GONE and BZRK, in Australia and New Zealand, one for GONE to Netherlands, a quick dash to Ireland, and of course many such excursions around the States.

My non-US tours are different from my travels around the States.  In the States I know the lay of the land, so to speak, so I fly un-accompanied and generally eschew the offered limousines in favor of renting a car.  In the UK I travel with a publicist, most often by train.  We don’t really do trains in the US, we do cars.  I’m a Californian by birth and we do cars to an even greater extent than other Americans.  California is the birthplace of car culture.

As a part of genus Americanus, species Californius Irascibilus, I am uneasy on trains.  Trains run on schedules and that means I am out of control of my movements.  It means I cannot decide to pull over and go shopping.  It means I cannot park and sleep unobserved.  It means I cannot drive through a fast food restaurant and eat a burger with one hand while driving with the other while adjusting the radio while puffing on a cigar while cursing other drivers and offering useful hand-signals meant to convey my lack of satisfaction with their driving skills.

Being a Californian requires a great deal of eye-hand coordination.  

It seems unsafe somehow to just sit in a train.  God only knows who’s driving the thing and whether he or she is paying attention.  And it’s strange not being on my own.  The publicists are invariably charming, tolerant, bright, tolerant women young enough to be my daughter, who have the unenviable job of guiding a cranky old fart through busy stations and into schools and bookstores where I manage to irritate teachers and administrators by saying things I shouldn’t.  

Did I mention that the publicists are tolerant young women?  One of my favorites sometimes reads religious works.  I like to think she was an atheist before being paired with me and that I drove her to seek the solace of religion.  

Anyway, we careen around the country in trains, stopping here and there so that I can address auditoriums full of kids who’ve escaped math class to hear me ramble on about how much better their lives will be if they’ll only buy my book.  (Which in case you missed it is called, MESSENGER OF FEAR.)  I suppose they should also read my books, but the fact is I’m there to sell books, so, really, what they do with the book is entirely up to them.

I have a love-hate relationship with Book Tour, but always end up having a lot of fun in the UK.  Once I broke away and drove a rented car across Scotland.  As you know, Scots, like Brits, drive on the wrong side of the road, so it wasn’t perhaps my best driving effort.  (Sorry about the side mirrors, you folks parked in Edinburgh, but the road was pretty narrow and I was on the wrong side of it, after all.)  But generally it’s the train, which I have to say, is almost always on time, usually clean and not always packed to the rafters.  

I know Brits often complain about the trains, but it lacks the conviction of a Californian complaining about traffic.  And with no opportunity for useful hand gestures and the possibility of gunfire in response, it all seems just a bit tame.  

In any event, British folk, I will be there soon.  Or may already be there by the time you read this.  You may want to fold in those side mirrors in case I break free and get my hands on a steering wheel.

It’s still drive on the left, right?

Thursday 3 April 2014

The Skyscraper Throne Re-read: The City’s Son, Week 9

Tom Pollock's The City's Son, the first in his Skyscraper Throne trilogy, was my Book of the Year for 2012. The sequel, The Glass Republic, was even better. It should therefore come as no surprise to you that I am really, really looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy, Our Lady of the Streets, which is due to be published on 7th August.

In order to celebrate the launch of Our Lady of the Streets, Jo Fletcher Books are hosting a reread of the first two books in the series, and I have been an avid follower of the comments made by other reread participants over the past weeks. However, these have also made me very nervous because:

 a) I'm not particularly good when it comes to analytical writing (I did Maths & Science for A Level, a degree in Civil Engineering and have spent the last nineteen years teaching Design and Technology - the last time I truly analysed a text was my O-Level English Lit back in 1987)

b) I really want to do this book justice, and my words seem less than amateurish in comparison to Tom's

So, deep breath, here goes... and please be warned, the very nature of this project means that there will be spoilers aplenty:

Chapter 33

This chapter is the calm before the storm that will be the final battle between Fil's forces of good, and Reach's forces of 'evil', and as readers we can only fear for the worst given the somewhat ragtag nature of Fil's army. It's a little reminiscent of the Ewoks going up the highly trained and well equipped stormtrooper forces of the Empire. You have the Blankleits (aka Whities) acting like excited children, whilst their arch rivals Sodiumites (Amberglows) take themselves off, away from the gathering army, to practise their "war-waltzes". And whilst the foxes and feral dogs engage in a spot of overenthusiastic play fighting, the Pavement Priests wander through the disparate groups, bestowing their blessings. Hell, this lot make the Ewoks look like a crack team of commandos.

Meanwhile, Beth and Fil are taking a breather from this chaos. Fil outlines his rather sketchy plan of attack (whilst supping on his first ever cup of tea), only for Beth to pick holes in it, and pretty big holes they are too. This is Pollock showing us that even at this critical hour Fil, is still far more of an excited teen than he is a leader of an army. How can he possibly lead an army of amateurs to success? 

And then it's the long-awaited sexy time for Beth and Fil, although like the kiss it is interrupted far too prematurely by the announcement of the arrival of Fleet and the Cats. Again, we see Fil desperately searching the skyline for sign of his mother - he really does not want to shoulder this huge responsibility - but "as they stared together into the darkness of Battersea Park, only the darkness looked back."

Chapter 34

The arrival of the Cats is a major development for Filius and his army, but Pollock keeps us hanging by switching POV and taking us back to Paul Bradley and his desperate search for his daughter. His tracking of Beth's path, using her graffiti art as his only guide, has finally brought him to the abandoned tunnel where she spent so much of her time. It's a very poignant moment, as he sees the face of his beloved Marianne on the walls, amongst her artwork, "over and over again, smudged and pale as a ghost". It's also the moment at which he finds some inner strength, and becomes more determined than ever to find his daughter to apologise for everything, but all we can do as readers is fear for him as we know that his daughter has been changed for good by the Synod's toxic pool.

Chapter 35

The arrival of Fleet and the Cats does not initially seem to have the effect on Filius that Gutterglass desires. Fil is confused, as the Cats have never been known to appear without their Mistress, and this scares him more than anything else. However, Beth digs deep and uses her own experience of losing a mother to snap him out of his confusion and, through his skillful handling of an altercation between rival Lampfolk, for the first time we see Filius the leader. And it's not a moment too soon, as the Scaffwolves are on their way and the battle is about to start.

Chapter 36

This is the big battle scene of the whole story, and the part of the book that had a number of readers questioning why the real world people of London were not asking what the hell was taking place on the bridge and the Embankment. When I first sent my review of The City's Son to Tom Pollock, I mentioned this (it didn't bother me, by the way), and I know from discussing it with Tom that it was something he agonised over whilst writing the book. I'm not going to dwell on the battle scene here, except to say that it is brutal, as there are two other incidents in this chapter that I need to highlight.

The first is Beth coming face-to-face with her best friend Pen, for the first time since they parted under a dark cloud near the beginning of the book. Pen, of course, is now little more than a host for the parasitic barbed wire creature: "Pen's right nostril had been ripped away and her mouth slit was wider: a jagged grin towards her ear". Fil is about to become the creature's next victim, his cries of agony calling for Beth to kill the creature's host. But. This. Is. Pen! For me this is one of my (many) favourite passages in the book - Beth being put in the position where she has to choose between her best friend and her new love. 

And this leads directly on to the second truly memorable moment in the battle. Electra, the Sodiumite who has found herself losing out to Beth as the object of Fil's affections, first helps her rival, and then makes the ultimate sacrifice for Filius, throwing herself into the Thames to tear him from the clutches of the Wire Mistress. Water, as we all know, does not mix well with electricity, but Lec is a spirited and cocky 'girl' and can't depart without one more dig at her rival Blankleits, whispered into Fil's ear as her light goes out for the last time.