Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Book Trailer: Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

I finished reading Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff last week , and I can tell you that it is one hell of a thriller and the kind of book that just wouldn't have seen the light a few years ago. A teen boy who infiltrates his way into the lives of others in order to carry out an assassination? I still remember when there was an outcry if a teen character killed someone without facing suitable punishment for his/her crime.

Boy Nobody is out at the end of May, and my review will appear here nearer to that date, but in the meantime here is the trailer for you to enjoy:

Monday, 29 April 2013

Review: ACID by Emma Pass

2113. In Jenna Strong's world, ACID - the most brutal, controlling police force in history - rule supreme. No throwaway comment or muttered dissent goes unnoticed - or unpunished. And it was ACID agents who locked Jenna away for life, for a bloody crime she struggles to remember.

The only female inmate in a violent high-security prison, Jenna has learned to survive by any means necessary. And when a mysterious rebel group breaks her out, she must use her strength, speed and skill to stay one step ahead of ACID - and to uncover the truth about what really happened on that dark night two years ago.

When I first saw mention of ACID on Twitter back in 2012 I stifled a small yawn, and thought great, just what the world needs, another dystopian YA story. And then I saw Lauren Buckland, one of the top editors at Random House (and someone I rate very highly based on the books she has edited) raving about it, and I started to think that perhaps I might give it a try. Then, when the cover image was unveiled the shallow part of me thought wow - love the cover, I will definitely read that book. And now? Whenever I read another YA dystopian story I will measure it against ACID. Yes, I loved it that much (yes, even more than The Hunger Games).

ACID is set one hundred years in the future, in a Britain that has become a 1984-style authoritarian police state known as the Independent Republic of Britain (IRB), said police being ACID (Agency for Crime Investigation and Defence). The people at the top, no longer elected officials, have cut the IRB off from the rest of the world, and its residents no longer have access to the internet or any form of international news. Personal freedoms are as close to zero as you can get: no marriage/choice of partner - instead there is life-partnering where your LifePartner is chosen for you by the state, or also dictate whether you can have children or not. And like any such regime that has occurred in 'real life' (I'm thinking USSR, North Korea, China), there is a very small minority of people with a huge majority of the wealth, whilst the masses live in poverty and near starvation. London has become a divided city, literally, with areas designated Upper (for the elite), then Middle, and then finally Outer, which is a pretty grim place to live and work, and where you can be arrested for not having the news-feed (i.e. propaganda) screens on for the majority of the time you are at home.

In the middle of all this authoritarian nastiness we meet Jenna, a seventeen year-old girl serving a life sentence in a prison full of men. Jenna was convicted of murdering her parents two years previously, and in that time she has had to become the veritable definition of badass in order to survive. Resigned to a lifetime of incarceration, Jenna is as surprised as anyone when she is broken out of jail by a group of mysterious rebels. This escape becomes the start of a dangerous journey as Jenna begins to question everything she knows, or thinks she knows, about herself, her background and the IRB itself.

I loved everything about this book. Jenna is a superb character, and it is so refreshing to have a female lead who is strong on the outside and the inside, and doesn't spend half the book mooning over the male lead, or stuck in the middle of a teen love triangle. Jenna is the Lara Croft of dystopian YA: independent, fierce, resourceful and seriously, seriously kick-ass. I also loved the all-too-believable future Britain that Emma Pass has crafted. Yes, there are one or two elements that stretch plausibility almost to its limits, but long-time readers of this blog will know that I read to escape, and suspension of disbelief is second nature to me. In fact, I would suggest anyone who struggles with this should stick to reading biographies.

If you like your stories fast and furious then ACID should move right to the top of your must-read list. Emma Pass has managed to fit more action scenes into her story than you will find in many a big budget action film, and yet the pace does not leave you gasping for air as she has this completely under control, giving us just enough plateaus to get our breath back before the action kicks in again.

ACID reads perfectly as a standalone novel, and for once I was really happy about this as I felt that this story needed to be brought to a satisfying conclusion, without any form of cliffhanger leaving us waiting for a sequel. The final chapter has the barest of hints that we may be treated to another Jenna Strong in the future, and I would certainly read it, but I would be just as happy reading anything in this kind of vein if Emma Pass is writing it, and it looks as we will have the opportunity to do just that, with the publication of The Fearless in 2014.

ACID was published on 25th April and thanks go to the ever wonderful people at Random House for sending me a copy. Go out and get your hands on one now - this is one of those books that I will be forcing into people's hands for some time to come.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Dealing With Writer's Block by Ned Vizzini (House of Secrets Blog Tour)

Yes, I know I said I was pulling back from blog tours, but as I have already read and really enjoyed House of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini I just couldn't turn down the opportunity to host a guest post from Ned. House of Secrets is a really fast paced and thoroughly enjoyable fantasy adventure story full of mythical creatures, nasty pirates, and a family of kids trying desperately to find their way home. I was given a list of possible topics for the  blog tour, and I decided to go for something a little bit different (at least for The Book Zone) - a guest post about writing. My thanks go to Ned for taking the time to write this for us:

Dealing With Writer's Block by Ned Vizzini

I don't believe in writer's block anymore.

I believe in it for other people. It's possible, of course, to get to a point with your writing where you know that everything is terrible and you don't want to go on.

But I no longer believe in it for myself.

Why? Because I have deadlines. Deadlines that have nothing to do with my emotions or artistic satisfaction. Deadlines that know no reason or cajoling. And the deadlines don't understand writer's block.

But I have had it in the past and I know its vicissitudes. So I'll try to help you get over it, because it really is a terrible thing, with three tips:

  1. Find out why you don't understand your characters.

    If you're blocked in a piece of writing, it's probably because you don't have a full understanding of the people you are writing about. This can be a tough thing to learn and to admit. You might be 60 or 120 pages into a book, thinking, “There's something off here—but no one will notice.” Unfortunately I can assure that people will.

    If you're struck with this kind of writer's block, where it suddenly seems that you don't know the characters, you have to go back and fix them. This is never, ever fun work. But that's why it's work. You must go back and really understand your characters from the ground up—understand what music they like, what cars they drive, what their favorite food is—and once you have a good understanding, you will get un-blocked and be able to continue.                                                                                                                                                 
  2. Read.

    There is a simpler kind of writer's block that comes from not reading. You might start to neglect reading as a writer. A phrase I often tell myself is, It's time to stop being a consumer of culture and start being a creator of culture. But if you aren't consuming some culture, namely books, you will never be able to produce.

    What are you reading? Is it any good? Is it worth your time? If not, abandon it. Pick something better. Only by reading inspiring work will you be able to keep writing.                                                                                                        
  3. Make deadlines for yourself.

    Birthdays are the best deadlines. How long has it been since your last one? What have you accomplished? If you're trying to write a book, you should probably be able to write it in a year. So have a quiet moment with yourself and promise: I will be finished with this by my next birthday. And if you don't reach your goal, you don't get cake.

    Only by imposing deadlines will you be able to fully beat writer's block. And after you beat it enough, you'll be a professional and it will no longer be an option.

Good luck!


Ned Vizzini is the bestselling author of the acclaimed young-adult books The Other Normals, It's Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah.... In television, he has written for ABC's Last Resort and MTV's Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Book Trailer: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

A while ago my friend Carol at Waterstones, Windsor gave me the heads up on a book that she had just finished reading. She thought it was brilliant and said I had to get my hands on a copy somehow as she thought I would love it. That book's title is The 5th Wave, so I did a quick google and I discovered that its writer was none other than Rick Yancey. I have been a big fan of Rick's work, ever since I read the first book in his Alfred Kropp series, and then of course his marvellous Monstrumologist books. 

There is a lot of hype building as we near the May release of The 5th Wave. I usually choose to ignore hype, but if Carol think sit is amazing then I trust her opinion completely. I'm about to start reading it - I'll let you know how I get on.

The 1st Wave:

Monday, 15 April 2013

Review: Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones

London, 1841

A boy covered in hair, raised as a monster, condemned to life in a travelling freak show.

A boy with extraordinary powers of observation and detection.

A boy accused of murder; on the run; hungry for the truth.


Ladies and Gentlemen, take your seats. The show is about to begin.

Confession time: occasionally I get very excited about books by debut authors, when all I have done is read the blurb/press release and/or seen the cover design. Sometimes a book just screams "READ ME, YOU'LL LOVE ME!" This is not always a good thing, as there have been a number of time where I have ended up being disappointed when such a book turns out to be not/less than I expected. Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones was certainly not one of those books - it had me completely hooked from beginning to end and I loved every moment of it. And yes, it became yet another 2013 release that received 5 stars from me on Goodreads.

Before I even opened to the first page of the book I was mentally ticking the boxes as I read its press release. A Victorian setting - check! A main character who is in a freak show, and has a Sherlock Holmes style talent for observation - check! A sinister underside to scientific advancement - check! Packed with atmosphere and graphic gore - double check! And even better - written for younger readers (i.e. no teen angst and huge loads of fun - I'm getting so bored of YA and middle grade adventure novels are really my thing right now). As I turned to that first page I was pretty confident that I was going to love it and I just want to shake the author's hand and thank him for not letting me down. This is one book that I will be pushing hard in the school library, although Walker and whoever design the cover have done such a great job I'm not sure I will have to work too hard to get the kids reading it.

As I have already mentioned, Wild Boy (the only name he has ever had) is part of a travelling freak show, where he is owned by a rather nasty master. Before he was 'sold' he had lived in an workhouse/orphanage where he was kept locked in a room, and bullied mercilessly by the other children. Moving to the freak show brought a different set of problems, but the daily humiliation continued and the only way Wild Boy stays sane is by observing the many people who visit the circus. Over time he has developed this truly amazing talent for observation and deduction, and now 'boasts' skills to match the great Sherlock Holmes. 

Unfortunately for Wild Boy though, a murder happens at the circus, and for Wild Boy it becomes a classic case of being in the wrong place and the wrong time. He is spotted at the scene of the crime, and as he is so different from the norm, he is immediately accused of the crime. All of a sudden he finds himself on the run from the law, accompanied (very reluctantly) by Clarissa, an acrobat who is far from being Wild Boy's biggest fan, but who finds herself sought as his accomplice in the crime. So begins a fun, and occasionally frightening, action mystery story as the unlikely pair attempt to track down the real murderer and thus clear their names. Along the way they encounter sinister scientists, deadly (and steampunk-ish) technology, and the mysterious organisation, known only as the Gentlemen. Seriously - what is there not to like about this book?

Whilst the mystery and the action aspects of this story are spot on, for me the stand out elements were the characters and the descriptions of their Victorian world. As the story progresses Wild Boy and Clarissa develop in ways neither of them could ever have imagined, and they gradually come to accept each other for who they are. As a reader I became attached to both of these characters very quickly, and went through a range of emotions, from anger at the way the two were treated, to total elation as they began to solve the mystery using their special talents. Come the final page of the proof copy I received I was left wanting more (in a good way, of course), and I was overjoyed with the final chapter that hinted that there may be more on the cards. I have since discovered that Rob is currently working on a sequel, Wild Boy and the Black Terror, and although it is only in the writing stage and so way, way off publication I still cannot wait to immerse myself in the world of Wild Boy and Clarissa again.

Wild Boy was published in a beautiful hardcover edition on 4th April and my thanks go the the lovely people at Walker Books for sending me a copy. If you have a 9+ child who loves a good mystery story then this is a must-read, and is certainly up there as one of my favourite books of the year so far. You can find out more about Rob Lloyd Jones and his Wild Boy over at

Thursday, 11 April 2013

My Life That Books Built: Guest Post by Melvin Burgess (The Hit Blog Tour)

Although I am cutting back on taking part in blog tours, if an author is happy to write a post that fits with the My Life That Books Built feature that I occasionally run then I am more than happy to host them. Especially if it is a writer as amazing as Melvin Burgess. Melvin's new book The Hit was published last week and although I have not yet had the chance to read it due to other reading commitments, it is very near the top of my TBR pile and I'm really looking forward to it. Over to Melvin:

The book I first fell in love with was The Wind in the Willows. It’s a comfort read, all about home. In some ways it’s in two parts – the parts about Toad, an adventure away from home in which he has to get back and regain his home; and adventure about the Mole finding a new home; and finally those mysterious parts, with Pan, and where the Mole goes back to his old home. But it’s all about home in one form or another. I adored it. My parents got someone to paint me a picture of the Great God Pan which I hung above my bed, so you can guess which parts I liked best.

Perhaps it was Pan who first brought me to myths and legends. My dad worked at OUP for a while, and brought home volumes of books on Czech legends, or Legends of Heath and Moor – if I remember correctly. But the one that really blew me away was Tales of the Norse Gods and Heroes, by Barbara Leonne Picard. I loved those Norse gods, with their tricky ways, their oddly comic tales and warped sense of destiny. I still do. They are the true deities of Northern Europe – not like the soppy Greeks with their curly haircuts and haughty distain for all things human.

I love wild life and I love a laugh. When I was a child you could get both from Gerald Durrell, founder of Jersey Zoo, pioneering conservationist, rescuer of the Hawaiian Goose from extinction and, more importantly at the time for me, Man Who Went Round the World collecting animals for zoos. I envied him almost as much as I envy David Attenborough now.  You could do worse than start with the The Bafut Beagles, although his most famous work is his account of his childhood in Corfu, My Family and Other Animals.

I was always a big fan of fantasy, but my favourite well away was Mervyn Peake’s Gormanghast. Back in the day, fantasy wasn’t the dragons and wizards stuff you get now. We had people like Angela Carter writing it. Try Gormanghast. You’ll never read anything like it in terms of content, character, or language. You’ll see fantasy in a whole new light after this.

Kurt Vonnegut Jnr, Slaughter House Five. Although Goodbye Mr Rosewater is almost as good. No one ever did to sci fi what this man did. Funny, wise and inventive, and utterly in love with the human race, in a sad but amused kind of way. He’s much missed.

George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant. Someone told me recently that this event, which is portrayed as an essay, never happened. Good. It’s a wonderful example of how to talk about politics with such clarity that a child can understand. After Orwell, I knew that if I read something difficult to understand it’s not my fault – it’s the writer’s.

Finally – what am I reading now. Japanese fiction – I love it! Try Natsuo Kirino, Out, or Real World. Have a look at Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara. It’s so refreshing …

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Review: Timmy Failure - Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

Meet Timmy Failure, founder of the "best" detective agency in town – Total Failure, Inc. With the help of his polar bear, Total, the clueless, comically self-confident Timmy already has plans for world domination. Plans that will make his mother rich and unpaid bills a thing of the past. And plans that will defeat Corrina Corrina, "The One Whose Name Shall Not Be Uttered". But she's not going away. Riotously funny, Timmy Failure is sure to have readers in stitches.

The massive success of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has led to pretty much every book for this age group that is written in the first person or in journal/diary format with accompanying illustrations being compared Jeff Kinney's books. Some compare very favourably (the brilliant Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill; The World of Norm by Jonathan Meres; the Tom Gates books by Liz Pichon), and now we can add Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made to that list.

Timmy Failure is about a small boy called (you guessed it) Timmy Failure, and yes, Failure is his unfortunate last name. Timmy is the founder, president and CEO of Total Failure, Inc., arguably (in Timmy's opinion) "the best detective agency in the town, probably the country. Perhaps the world." Timmy's partner in the agency is his pet polar bear Total (hence the agency's unfortunate name), but more about Total later.

Describing this book is not an easy task. Let's face it, Wimpy Kid is the diary of a not entirely likeable, whining, rude boy. But Timmy Failure is not quite so straightforward. And this is mainly down to Timmy's character. Timmy comes across as a deluded, bumbling fool who has a somewhat tenuous grip on reality, which means that his versions of events often differ to what actually happens in the story. As the story is written in the first person, we are therefore often left wondering just what on earth is going on in Timmy's mind. There is no outright suggestion that Timmy has Special Educational Needs, but for much of the story that is the assumption I made - he is uncooperative in lessons, he isolates himself from his peers during break time, and he has a very interesting way at looking at the world. And then there is Total, the polar bear. All I will say on this point is you will find yourself wondering throughout the story whether Total is real, or whether he is a figment of Timmy's imagination; sort of like an imaginary friend or comfort blanket.

Timmy Failure is a very funny book indeed, and there are moments that will have kids laughing out loud, and other moments, on a completely different level, that will have the same effect on adults. This book has so much more cross-generational appeal that any of the Wimpy Kid books, and will make excellent bedtime reading material.

I loved Timmy Failure, and I wonder whether a big part of that is the memories of how much I devoured Calvin and Hobbes when I was younger. There are a great deal of similarities, not least the Total/Hobbes element. I really hope there are more Timmy books to come from Stephan Pastis as I'm hooked. My thanks go to the lovely people at Walker Books for sending me a copy.

If you're not persuaded to give it a try from this review, head on over to to enter the world of Timmy Failure, and especially the video page at

Friday, 5 April 2013

Review: Tanith Low in The Maleficent Seven by Derek Landy

Tanith Low, now possessed by a remnant, recruits a gang of villains – many of whom will be familiar from previous Skulduggery adventures – in order to track down and steal the four God-Killer level weapons that could hurt Darquesse when she eventually emerges. Also on the trail of the weapons is a secret group of Sanctuary sorcerers, and doing his best to keep up and keep Tanith alive is one Mister Ghastly Bespoke.

When the villains around her are lying and scheming and plotting, Tanith needs to stay two steps ahead of her teammates and her enemies. After all, she's got her own double-crosses to plan – and she’s a villain herself…

Much as I totally loved the more recent Skulduggery Pleasant books, they were sadly lacking one very important element: Tanith Low! She has always been my favourite Skulduggery character and with each new volume I hoped for her return, only to be disappointed  However, Derek Landy has now made amends for this by writing a whole novella devoted entirely to bad Tanith and I am happy to report that it is more kick-ass than a box set of Buffy.

Remnant-possessed Tanith is determined that Darquesse will be successful in bringing an end to the world. However, she knows that the forces of good (aka Skulduggery, Val and friends) will do everything in their power to prevent this, and this could mean using any of the four God-Killer weapons. With the aid of her lover, the sadistic hitman Billy Ray Sanguine, she recruits a team of villains, each with their own special attributes. How does she get such reprobates on board? Simple - she promises to give them the things that they each desire over anything else. This gang becomes her Maleficent Seven - obviously a play on the classic western film, though given their nastiness the group have more in common with the Dirty Dozen.

Unfortunately for Tanith (but fortunately for the rest of the world), the forces of good are on to her plan, and they assemble their own team to try to recover the God-Killer weapons before she can destroy them. Readers should not expect this Seven to contain Skulduggery and Valkyrie though: although the book is a must-read and acts as a fill-in between Kingdom of the Wicked and the (at time of writing this review) untitled Book 8, this is not part of their story and they do not make any kind of appearance.

This book shows us a Tanith we haven't seen before. Fans of the series will know that she is a master of combat, but in this book we also see her to be a master tactician and planner, although with the remnant in control she is not a force for good. In fact, she is conniving and devious, and not to be trusted at all, even by the despicable members of her gang, if they know what's good for them. 

As well as the main story, Derek landy also includes some back history for one of his characters (no prizes for guessing which one), scattered throughout the book as mini-chapters. We see a young girl, deserted by her parents as they leave her in the hands of the man who is to be her mentor and trainer. As the book progresses we watch the girl go through a brutal training regime, make her first kill, and then eventually see her released back into the world as a fully trained assassin. These interludes do distract slightly from the plot, but they make up for this by giving us a long waited for insight into the back history of this great character.

Despite the absence of his two main characters, this book has everything else that readers have come to expect from a Derek Landy book: it's full of action, humour and, of course, scintillating dialogue. I have always felt that Landy does dialogue better than Tarantino and this book is overflowing with banter that is better than you will find in many of the classic buddy movies. 

The Maleficent Seven was published in hardback at the end of last month and it's a great addition to the Skulduggery Pleasant series. However, I do have one small gripe - it simply isn't long enough and come the final page I just wanted more. At just over 280 pages it is significantly shorter than the last few Skulduggery Pleasant books and I felt it could easily have worked with another hundred pages or so.

My thanks go to the lovely people at HarperCollins for sending me a copy of the book.