Monday 30 June 2014

Review: The Sword of Kuromori by Jason Rohan

Kenny Blackwood arrives in Tokyo to spend the summer with his father and is stunned to discover a destiny he had never dreamed of when he finds himself in the middle of a hidden war that is about to explode. Racing against an impossible deadline, Kenny must find the fabled Sword of Heaven and use it to prevent the disaster. But a host of terrifying monsters is out to destroy him, and success will come at a price. With clever, fearless, sarcastic Kiyomi at his side, Kenny must negotiate the worlds of modern and mythic Japan to find the lost sword, before it's too late.

The story opens with Kenny Blackwood on a flight across the Pacific, on his way to spend the summer with his father in Japan. It is a prospect that he is less than happy about, as his relationship with his father is strained to say the least, but Kenny's grandfather has arranged the trip and paid for the flight so he has little choice in the matter. As the plane is nearing Japan a flight attendant delivers an envelope to Kenny, containing a letter written by his grandfather and a small wooden whistle. As if this wasn't odd enough, there is also a separate piece of paper that instructs Kenny to make a copy of the letter, eat the piece of paper, and top only blow the whistle in an emergency. Of course, Kenny being a young teen, he can't help but give a whistle a quick blow, but it makes no noise at all. However, for Kenny it is the moment when the strangeness starts and his life will never be the same again.

Kenny soon discovers that he has magical gifts, inherited from his grandfather who received them in thanks for a noble deed he did following the Second World War. One of these gifts is the ability to see the many monsters and spirits that still exist in modern day Japan. He also finds out, from kick-ass, motorbike-riding Kiyomi and her father, that he is destined to continue the good deed of his grandfather and save the West Coast of the USA from a supernatural act of vengeance that will cause millions to suffer and die. To do this all he will have to do is survive attacks from numerous creatures from Japanese mythology, beat Hachiman, the God of War and destroy a monstrous, earthquake-causing dragon. 

Rick Riordan has done Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology, and is currently writing the first book in a series that will feature the gods of Norse mythology. Francesca Simon has also covered Norse mythology in The Sleeping Army and The Lost Gods. Sarwat Chadda brought the gods and creatures of Indian mythology to us in his brilliant Ash Mistry series. And now writer Jason Rohan enters the fray with The Sword of Kuromori, the first in a series set in Japan, with a heavy focus on the various monsters, spirits and Gods of Japanese mythology.

Other than in Manga, Japan is a country that has so far featured little in books for young people. Of course, there is Chris Bradford's brilliant Young Samurai series and Nick Lake's Blood Ninja trilogy, but neither of these are set in modern day Japan, nor do they focus on Japanese mythology. Most stories for children and teens published in the UK that use a culture's mythology as their foundation focus on western mythologies. Sarwat Chadda started to address this imbalance with Ash Mistry and it is great to see Jason Rohan following on with this.

I am guessing that young Manga/anime aficionados may recognise some of the creatures and Gods in this book, but the mythology of Japan, like India, is a subject I know very little about. However, this did not affect my enjoyment of The Sword of Kuromori at all. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. I was entranced by the various creatures and spirits that Kenny encounters in the course of his quest, and spent a fair amount of time looking them up online to see if they were actual creatures from Japanese mythology or constructs of the author's imagination. And every single one of them exists as a part of Japanese culture. Oni (demons), Kappa (truly bizarre creature), Kitsune (fox spirits), Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog), the filth-licking Akaname... every single one of them will be as well known in Japan as the likes of Medusa and Pegasus are to British kids. Jason Rohan certainly knows his Japanese culture (hardly surprising as he lived there for five years) and he really makes these ancient creatures come alive for his readers.

If you're looking for a new book that will grab a 9+ reader and not let them go until the the final page this summer then The Sword of Kuromori should be high up on your list. It is a very fast-paced adventure story, with plenty of humour, especially in the interaction and dialogue between the confused and out-of-his-depth Kenny, and his new Japanese friend (and potential love interest), Kiyomi  who is proficient with a host of weapons normally found in then possession of ninjas, and with an extensive knowledge of the monsters that are hidden from all but the handful of people with the gift. I believe this is the first book in a trilogy and I'm definitely signing on for the ride. I do not have a release date for it, but I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens to Kenny next in the sequel, The Shield of Kuromori. In the meantime, it's well worth your time making a visit to The Sword of Kuromori Facebook page over at where Jason Rohan gives readers more details about some of the weird and wonderful creatures from Japanese mythology.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

My Magnificent Seven: Fiction Books for Tech Lovers

Hmm, so much for being an occasional feature, it looks like My Magnificent Seven is almost as rare as the Cuban Greater Funnel-Eared Bat. However, I've been thinking about this particular #mymag7 for some time as I know so many kids who love gaming and the internet who will rarely pull themselves away from their console of choice to read a book. And yet there are so many great books out there that have huge appeal for gamers and lovers of tech and the internet. So in no particular order:

Glaze by Kim Curran

I read this a while back and it completely blew my mind and if you love social media and the internet then it is a book that you simply must read. Kim Curran's scarily plausible futuristic story revolves around the populations obsessive use of the Glaze, the ultimate in social media connectivity. When teens reach a certain age they can be chipped so that to hook up to the network all they have to do is focus on accessing it. No electronic gadgets required at all. In fact, there's no longer any need for watches, TVs, mobile phones... everything is done inside the user's head. However, as with ever huge step forward in technology, the Glaze is open to abuse by those in power. Glaze is a superb dystopian novel (and I'm fed up with dystopian novels so that is really saying something)that also covers, amongst others, themes of peer pressure, feeling like one of the crowd, corruption and abuse of power.

The Metawars series by Jeff Norton

I've so far written reviews for the first two books in Jeff Norton's brilliant series, and I hope to get a review of the final book up on here very soon. This ranks up there as one of my favourite series of the past few years; the books are full of fast-paced action and high tech adventure in both the real and a virtual world. Set in a future where the planet has suffered from wars and depletion of natural resources, the quadrilogy raises many moral questions as the plot unfolds and would make great class readers for English lessons because of the discussions they would provoke.

The Bzrk series by Michael Grant

The first book in this series was a another that really blew my mind. When I wrote my review I said that "it is almost un-reviewable, in that to give even the slightest amount of information away would definitely spoil your reading experience" and I still feel the same now. It's high tech but in a very different way to the other books on this list.

Rat Runners by Oisin McGann

The tech used in this fab action thriller by Oisin McGann is much closer to the kind of gadgets that are around today than that found in the previous books I have mentioned, and this makes the story feel all the more real. Set in a city where surveillance is everywhere, be it CCTV, hidden microphones, or machines that can scan you for pretty much anything, it feels a little too close to modern Britain (supposedly there is a surveillance camera for every 11 people living in Britain). A team of young people who try to live their lives hidden away from the eyes of the Big Brother style Watchworld find themselves being hunted as the plot twists and turns. Gadgets and hacking aplenty make this book perfect for tech lovers.

Urban Outlaws by Peter Jay Black

In my review I described this as Leverage for 9+ kids, and I loved it. Again, like in Rat Runners, the tech used by the gang of young 'criminals' is not futuristic in nature, and therefore, with a little suspension of disbelief, it is easy to imagine the group out on the streets of London robbing the rich bad to give to the poor. There's something for everyone in this book and it's one of those books that can be described as unputdownable (at least, it was for me).

Insignia trilogy by S.J. Kincaid

Some might say I got a little carried away when writing my review of Insignia by S.J. Kincaid. I did, after all, describe it as "Harry Potter for gamers, with a six-pack of Top Gun thrown in for good measure, and reading it was like playing an incredibly addictive video game". Almost two years on I still stand by that comment: the parallels with harry Potter are impossible to ignore, given the 'school' setting, but if ever there was a book that would appeal to gamers it is this one. Since writing that review I have been told that Ender's Game covers similar ground, but I have to admit that I have not yet read that book, nor have I seen the film.

The HIVE series by Mark Walden

This ranks as one of my all time favourite series for Middle Grade readers, and whilst tech isn't the main feature of the books, it still plays an important part throughout the series, especially given Otto's special abilities. I've bought these books for godsons and various young male relatives and every one of them has come back asking me to get them the next in the series. I'm currently waiting impatiently for the ninth book in the series to be published, although it looks like I'm going to have be patient as I believe Mark has recently been concentrating his efforts on finishing the sequel to Earthfall, his brilliant alien invasion story.


Naturally, I'm sure to have missed a glaringly obvious book out of my list, and I really wanted to include Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, as it is one of my all-time favourite books, but I've kept it off the main list as it is an adult book. Please let me know if I've missed off any of your favourites.

Friday 6 June 2014

WOW 2014 - Wonder of Words Young People's Literary Festival

On Saturday 5 July Charters School, where I teach, will be holding its second young people's literary festival. Read on to find out more about the event, the authors who will be appearing and how you can get tickets. Alternatively, you can download the festival programme by clicking here. The programme also contains a handy ticket order form for you to use.

Last year we held Wonder of Words, our first young people's literary festival. It was a great success and so we decided we would repeat it this year, again in conjunction with the school's annual summer fair, with all the great stalls, games, live music and food that people have come to expect from a Charters School summer event,  but with a slight difference. That difference is WOW!

For our second Wonder of Words Young People's Literary Festival we have again managed to provide a brilliant line-up of author events, featuring some of the hottest authors currently writing for children and young adults. We are very excited to be hosting Jane Elson, Jim Smith and Jeff Norton and we believe we have a programme which has a little something for everyone.


Jane Elson 12-1.00pm

After performing as an actress and comedy improviser for many years, Jane fell into writing stories and plays. A Room Full Of Chocolate is her debut novel for readers of 8 +  and she is currently working on her second novel, Jump, for readers of 9+.

When she is not writing Jane spends her time running creative writing and comedy improvisation workshops for children with special educational needs. She is also a guest practitioner at Soho Theatre’s Writer’s Lab.

writing A Room Full Of Chocolate Jane ate a lot of chocolate in the name of research and spent most of her time trying to peer round her one eyed, raggedy eared cat Larry, whom she adopted from the Celia Hammond Trust  and who insists on standing in front of the computer screen.

Jim Smith 1.30-2.30pm

The I Am (Not) A Loser series is fast becoming a humour classic. Barry Loser has never minded his name…not until horrible Darren Darrenofski joins the school. Now he’s completely ruining Barry’s life and Barry is determined to prove that he’s absolutely not a loser! These brilliant books from top talent Jim Smith are packed full of silly humour, quirky plots and doodles.

Barry Loser writes: 'Jim Smith is the keelest kids' book comma putter and page numberer in the whole wide world amen. He graduated with first class honours (the best you can get) and went on to create the branding for a sweet little chain of coffee shops. He also designs cards and gifts under the name Waldo Pancake.' 

I Am Still Not a Loser was awarded the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2013 for ages 7-14.

Jeff Norton 3.00-4.00pm

Jeff Norton is an author and producer. He creates compelling characters, amazing stories, and immersive worlds for all ages, in all media. He is the author of the high-tech thriller MetaWars series from Orchard Books and the upcoming humour series Memoirs Of A Neurotic Zombie from Faber Children’s. Through his production company, AWESOME, Jeff is also currently producing a pre-school television show, developing his first feature film as writer-director, and co-writing books with other talented authors.


There is no charge for entry to the Summer Fair, but we are making a small charge for each of the author events. Tickets for each author event are only £4 for adults and £2 for under 18s. All children under the age of 11 must be accompanied by a ticket buying adult.

Tickets can be purchased by post by sending a cheque for the correct amount made payable to Charters School. Please ensure you state clearly the event(s) you wish to purchase tickets for. Your tickets will be posted to you free of charge or, should you prefer, your tickets will be held at the school for collection on the day of the festival.

All cheques should be sent to:

WOW Festival, Charters School, Charters Road, Sunningdale, Berkshire. SL5 9QY

Books and Signings

We will be selling books after each event and there will be an opportunity to meet each author and get your books signed. Unfortunately we will not have credit card facilities on the day and we will only be accepting cash or cheques for book purchases. You are welcome to bring books you already own for signing.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to email or call the school on 01344 624826

The Summer Fair
As mentioned above, the summer fair part of the day is completely free to enter, and there will be plenty going on for all of the family to keep you occupied between the author events, including:


Indian food stall

Tea and cakes

Silent auction

Amazon voucher raffle

Chocolate tombola

Bouncy castle

Sumo suits

Games, games and more games

Second hand book stall

All kinds of other stalls 

Live music

Thursday 5 June 2014

Review: Department 19: Zero Hour by Will Hill

Department 19 still stands against the darkness. But for how much longer? Book four in the explosive series from bestselling author, Will Hill.

As Dracula continues his rise, the men and women of Department 19 wait for good news. But hope is in short supply – the country is beginning to fall apart as the public comes to terms with the horror in their midst; a cure for vampirism remains years, even decades away; and their supposed ally Valentin Rusmanov has not been heard from in weeks.

Jamie Carpenter and his friends are working hard to keep the forces of evil at bay, but it is beginning to feel like a lost cause…Until familiar faces from the past bring news that could turn the tide. News that takes Matt Browning to America on a desperate search for a miracle, and sends Jamie and Larissa Kinley into the darkest corners of eastern Europe, where something old and impossibly powerful waits for them.

Something that could stop Dracula for good.

But the clock is ticking.

Night is falling. And Zero Hour is almost here…

When I read the first Department 19 book, I stated that it was the best action horror that I had ever read. And then Will Hill raised the goddamn bar with his second book, The Rising. Then, like the great Sergey Bubka, he teased us by raising that bar even more for Battle Lines, and as spectators we were left wondering whether Will Hill had it in him to continue doing so. All we could do was watch and wait. And now Zero Hour is upon us, and yes, that bar has gone up again and Hill has sailed over it.

Personally, I never doubted him for a moment (honest). Having spoken to Will about Zero Hour I know how much of himself he has put into this book, and that parts of it very nearly broke him. So much so that back on 15th January, Will wrote a post on his blog to apologise that Zero Hour would not be released at the end of March, but that fans would have to wait for another two months before they could get their hands on a copy. I'll admit, that a very small, selfish part of me was a little bit disappointed that I would have to wait, but the rest of me soon quietened that whining voice. After all, if the book was delayed so that Will could release a final version that he was happy with, then surely that could only be a good thing for the rest of us! 

Before I continue, a word of warning. This is the fourth book in the series and as such this review will contain spoilers for previous books, so if you haven't read them then please do not read on. Secondly, I'm not sure how much I will be saying in this review anyway - with every new book that comes along in this series it feels more and more wrong to mention plot points in a review. Seriously - if you want to know what happens then just read the book.

As a quick reminder, the end of Battle Lines left us with 46 days till Zero Hour. Things had not gone well for Jamie and his team (understatement). Jamie's friends had also gone through hell, whether physically or emotionally, both in the UK and, for Larissa, over in the US. And then there is the matter of Julian Carpenter - alive and well, and back on British soil, but as a high security prisoner whose identity is known only to one or two people.

Zero Hour picks up the story with seven days till Zero Hour, and things are beginning to look very desperate indeed for the members of Department 19. The breakthrough they have been hoping and praying for just hasn't materialised. Kate and the Intelligence Division have data that predicts nothing but disaster of apocalyptic proportions for the world's non-vampire population. Larissa is wracked with guilt as she strongly suspects that Julian Carpenter is alive, but she can't find a way of telling Jamie. Jamie himself is still reeling from the events of Battle Lines, and also struggling with the growing realisation that his girlfriend is one of the most powerful vampires in the world, so where does that leave him, a mere mortal human? Matt Browning has been working night and day, desperately trying to find a cure for vampirism, but so far his efforts have all been in vain. And then there is Valentin Rusmanov, now allied with Department 19, but long absent, off on his own search for an answer to their prayers. 

So, all things considered, things aren't looking good for the human race.

And then things get worse. 

On finishing Zero Hour I sent Will Hill a message, congratulating him on what I thought to be his best book yet, and I told him it was his Empire Strikes Back. There are two reasons for this: the first is that the first two three quarters of the book are a gradual build up to the climactic final quarter (more about that in a minute). The second was the feeling you get, as you turn the pages, that things just can't get any worse. And yet then they do. And again, you think, oh well, at least things can't get any worse. And then they do, again. And this continues again and again as the plot progresses, and all of the time you know that every crappy little thing that is thrown at the D19 team is only a precursor to everything hitting the fan when Dracula finally reaches full strength. There were times when I felt slightly sick with nerves reading this as I have become so invested in these characters over the past few years. Especially given what happened to Shaun Turner in The Rising: we already know that Will Hill has the balls to kill off key characters.

So how could things possibly get worse for the D19 team? Well, I've thought long and hard about what I should or shouldn't reveal, and I decided that I would expand on one key plot point only. Simply put, word gets out. We sort of guessed this would happen following the events of Battle Lines, but now we are talking worldwide media coverage, social media and YouTube, and all the grief that that brings with it: protests (by both vampires and humans); condemnation of the work of D19 by the press; accusations of ethnic cleansing. Not exactly what the team needs to keep them focused as they prepare to do battle with their greatest foe and the biggest ever threat to mankind. However, as far as things getting worse for the team, this is only one of them, and in some ways fairly minor considering some of the other big reveals that come in this book.

Just now I said I would mention more about the climactic final quarter of the book. However, before we reach that point I want to touch on three moments in the first three quarters that pretty much took my breath away. The first was a major fist-pump moment which happens just as the clock has ticked over to two days until Zero Hour. I'm not saying any more other than it sort of relates to my favourite character in the series and it's nice to see justice done. I reckon Will Hill took great delight in writing this particular scene. The other two key moments happened within twenty pages of each other and I actually uttered a word that I can't and won't repeat here when I read it and I felt as if I had been punched in the gut. And if that wasn't enough, twenty pages later I was left with more than a few tears in my eyes as Hill tore out my heart and crushed it. Will Hill has balls of steel and does not hold back in this book!

And then there is the climactic final portion. Seriously, if you have any energy left when you get to the chapter titled "The Calm Before" I suggest you put the book down, go outside and get a breath of fresh air. Perhaps treat yourself to a bar of chocolate and a can of red Coke (or whatever your beverage of choice happens to be) because hell, you are going to need it! The final part of this book is fast, furious, bloody, violent, and definitely takes no prisoners. It's a no-holds-barred climax that comes with one rule only: kill or be killed, and should come with a theme park style warning:

You also need to make sure that you have plenty of time to finish the book, as once you start reading this chapter you will find it impossible to put the book down until you have reached the final chapter, more than 100 pages later.

With the fifth and final book titled Darkest Night I have a feeling that things are probably going to get even worse before this series comes to an end.

Department 19: Zero Hour is published as a hardback in the UK on 5th June. However, you can already buy the first three quarters of the book as e-books, with the fourth quarter scheduled to be released on the same day as the physical edition. Head on over to Will Hill's blog to find out more details. Whilst you're at it I also strongly recommend that you download a free copy of the (long) short story, The Second Birth of Frankenstein. If you're a fan of the D19 character like I am then you will probably have a number of questions about his past, how he came to choose the name of a creator that he grew to hate, and how he ended up with D19. It's bloody brilliant and you can find out all you need to know about how to get your free copy by clicking here