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Monday, 31 October 2016

Competition: WIN The Demon Road Trilogy by Derek Landy




This competition has now closed and the winner has been notified. Thank you to all who entered.

Happy Hallowe'en!

I wrote yesterday about how much I enjoyed Derek Landy's, dark and bloody Demon Road trilogy.

Now you have the chance to win the trilogy, simply by filling in your details in the form below. Thanks to the generosity of HerperCollins I have a set of the three books to give away.
  
The first name drawn at random after the closing date will win a set of books. The deadline for entries is 7pm GMT Friday 4th November. This competition is open to UK residents only.






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

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



Sunday, 30 October 2016

Review: The Demon Road Trilogy by Derek Landy


For anyone who ever thought their parents were monsters Amber Lamont is a normal sixteen-year-old. Smart but insecure, she spends most of her time online, where she can avoid her beautiful, aloof parents and their weird friends.

But when a shocking encounter reveals a horrifying secret, Amber is forced to go on the run. Killer cars, vampires, undead serial killers and red-skinned, horned demons Amber hurtles from one threat to the next, revealing the terror woven into the very fabric of her life. As her parents close in behind her, Amber’s only chance rests with her fellow travellers, who are not at all what they appear to be

Witty, action-packed and heart-stoppingly thrilling, Demon Road will take you on an epic road-trip across the supernatural landscape of America.







Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that I was a huge fan of Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant books. When I was offered a proof of Demon Road, the first book in his new trilogy, I obviously shouted yes please, and dropped everything to read it when it came through my letterbox. And then calamity struck - I just couldn't get into it, and put it down after a few chapters and picked up something else to read, always meaning to give it another go. 

That 'other go' never materialised though, until at the tail end of August I was approached by the fab people at HarperCollins, letting me know that American Monsters, the third book in the trilogy was soon to be released and enquiring as to whether I would be interested in a set of the three books to binge read. I decided to accept the challenge and when they arrived I restarted Demon Road from the beginning... and this time I loved it! So much so that I leaped straight into the sequel, Desolation, with barely a pause for breath, and then moved on to American Monsters.

I genuinely do not know what was wrong with me when I first attempted Demon Road, as it has everything I loved about the Skulduggery Pleasant books: awesome characters; great action scenes; Landy's trademark of fabulous,witty dialogue; really nasty villains. And on top of that Demon Road, and its sequels, are true splatterfests - between them they have some of the bloodiest and goriest scenes ever to be printed under the YA banner. I don't know how Landy gets away with it; perhaps it is because there is the thread of wry humour that is woven through almost everything he writes?

If you're looking for a dark and bloody Hallowe'en read then you should really give this trilogy a go. Unlike the Skulduggery series of nine books (plus two other stories and now even more in the pipeline), you're not signing yourself up for the long haul - this is just a trilogy and the third book has a great ending, that brings the trilogy to a hugely satisfying end, but also does leave Derek the opportunity to return to the world and its characters in the future if he so chooses.

And if you have not yet discovered these books then come back tomorrow for a chance to win the complete trilogy.



Sunday, 18 September 2016

Review: Cogheart by Peter Bunzl


Lily's life is in mortal peril. Her father is missing and now silver-eyed men stalk her through the shadows. What could they want from her?

With her friends - Robert, the clockmaker's son, and Malkin, her mechanical fox - Lily is plunged into a murky and menacing world. Too soon Lily realizes that those she holds dear may be the very ones to break her heart...

Murder, mayhem and mystery meet in this gripping Victorian adventure.


Three was the magic number for Bob Dorough, Blind Melon and De La Soul, and it's also the magic number for some of my reviews on The Book Zone. Here are three reasons why I loved Cogheart by Peter Bunzl:

1. It's steampunk

I have often questioned the lack of space-set science fiction published for kids, but here's another question for you: why are there not more steampunk books written for children? In my opinion, the genre is perfect for a middle grade audience, with the opportunities it gives for exciting, imaginative adventure stories full of derring do, set in either an almost real or wildly alternative Victorian era. Perhaps Peter Bunzl's debut, Cogheart, will be the book that changes this as it is easily one of the best I have read in the genre, for kids or adults and at times I was reminded of Joan Aiken's wonderful Wolves Chronicles books, but with the added fantastical steampunk elements.

2. The pace

This story takes a little while to get going but this gradual build up is worth it as sets the scene for a plot that is fast-paced and full of unrelenting action and adventure for the heroine and her friends. Steampunk books for younger readers, sometimes more that science fiction, require this kind of set-up at the beginning as the world is so similar to our own Victorian era, and the steampunk elements need to be introduced in a way that isn't jarring or confusing. Peter Bunzl manages this with ease.

3. The characters

Be it Lily and her new friend Robert, or Malkin the mechanical fox, or even Roach and Mould, the particularly nasty and thuggish villains of the piece, Cogheart is chock full of cracking characters. Lily is brave but sometimes this comes with a degree of recklessness, whilst Robert's bravery is not quite so outwardly obvious as he is more cautious in his nature, but the courage is there when it needs to be. Malkin is irritable and proud, but also fiercely loyal and great to have around when everything's hitting the fan. And Roach and Mould have just the right level of pantomime about them to have young readers on the edge of their seats, and also wanting to boo their every appearance in the story.

~~~

Cogheart is a very well plotted action adventure story that is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. I believe there is a sequel out next year, and I for one cannot wait to read it. Cogheart has a satisfying conclusion but does leave the reader with enough questions to have them wanting more. My thanks go to the fab people at Usborne for sending me a copy to read.



Sunday, 11 September 2016

Review: The Da Vinci Code (abridged edition) by Dan Brown


History professor Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call while on business in France: the curator of the Louvre in Paris has been brutally murdered inside the museum. Alongside the body, police have found a series of baffling codes and need Langdon's help to decipher them.

When Langdon and a French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, begin to sort through the bizarre riddles, they find a trail that leads to the works of the famous artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci. As the clues unfold, Langdon and Neveu must decipher the code and quickly assemble the pieces of the puzzle before a stunning historical truth is lost forever . . .







I know it can be a controversial thing to say in some literary circles, but I am not ashamed to admit I am a fan of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon books, especially Angles and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. I have loved stories about quests for lost historical and archaeological items ever since I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark at the cinema as a child, and if they have a dose of conspiracy thrown in then you've snagged my attention right away. 

Of course, I'm not blind to the fact that Brown is not a particularly great writer, but I do believe that at his best he is a damn fine storyteller. I was therefore intrigued and also a little confused when I read some time ago that there were plans to release an abridged version of The Da Vinci Code, specifically aimed at young adults: intrigued as to how an abridged version might compare with the original and confused as to why this was being done. Having now read a copy of the abridged version, I am sorry to say that I am still no less confused, although as it is a few years since I last read The Da Vinci Code I was still able to enjoy it without too much comparison with the original.

So, what have they edited out to make the book suitable for the young adult market? Basically, the expletives, some of the bloodier violence, the detailed description of the flashback scene where Sophie Neveu witnesses her grandfather in flagrante during a ritual, and some of Robert's lengthier explanations regarding ancient sex rites and similar. From this one might therefore deduce that swearing, violence and sex are taboo subjects for teen literature in the 21st Century, which makes me wonder if the editors of this abridged version have actually read any modern YA books themselves?!

Other than that, the characters and the story are still the same, which again raises the question as to why an abridged version is needed? OK, I completely understand the need to take out some of the sexual references and violence, but outside of this it's a little patronising to presume that an adult book needs simplifying for the teen market. My experience over the years has shown that boys who are confident readers will often make the leap from junior fiction or middle grade straight to adult fiction, with only the occasional foray into young adult books. I have lost count of the number of Year 8s that I have seen reading adult books by Andy McNab, Chris Ryan, Stephen King and yes, Dan Brown himself.

With this in mind, I also felt that I needed to judge whether this edition might be suitable for middle grade readers as I was reading it. Would it be suitable for them? The answer is yes, as I believe it has been 'sanitised' enough for confident readers of age 11+, but any adult who works with kids of this age knows that they much prefer books that feature characters of their own age, or a little older. It increases their enjoyment of a story if they can relate to the characters, or aspire to be like them. That is much harder with adult characters, and I am hard pushed to think of any other modern book for teen readers that has no teen characters at all.

Whether it is the original version, or this new abridged version, The Da Vinci Code is still a thoroughly entertaining and exciting mystery quest thriller and I can't help but recommend it. Librarians, teachers and parents may feel more comfortable putting this into the hands of teens readers, in the knowledge that it has had certain passages, etc. edited out. My copy is going to go into the school library, and I will be watching keenly as to its popularity with my young readers. My thanks go to the fab people at Penguin for sending me a copy to review.


Monday, 27 June 2016

Review: Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden



Denizen Hardwick doesn't believe in magic - until he's ambushed by a monster created from shadows and sees it destroyed by a word made of sunlight.

That kind of thing can really change your perspective.

Now Denizen is about to discover that there's a world beyond the one he knows. A world of living darkness where an unseen enemy awaits.

Fortunately for humanity, between us and the shadows stand the Knights of the Borrowed Dark.

Unfortunately for Denizen, he's one of them . . .







Reading the above blurb you might think that you have seen all of this before. And in some ways you'd be right. Knights of the Borrowed Dark is chock full of the tropes that we have come to know so well in middle grade fiction since Harry Potter burst onto the scene:
  • orphaned protagonist? Check
  • said orphan has a pretty miserable life? Check
  • sudden appearance of a previously unknown relative? Check
  • relative is part of a secret society that protects the world from dark magic? Check
The list goes on and on, but the incredible thing is that debut writer Dave Rudden weaves them into his story with such mastery that you could be forgiven for thinking that he was breaking completely new ground. This is a seriously good debut novel, from the first line of its ├╝ber-creepy prologue, right the way through to its kick-ass ending.

Aside from his obvious ability to write a damn enjoyable story, the quality of Dave Rudden's descriptive writing is the best I have read from a debut writer for years. Knights of the Borrowed Dark is a masterclass in writing for a middle grade audience, or any audience for that matter. Open up the book at pretty much any page and a quick scan will reward you with one of the many vivid descriptions that add detail to his world-building, and further richness and atmosphere to the exciting narrative. And these descriptions are invariably brief and impactful, and never at the cost of pace. I'd love to include a few of these in my review, but my copy is an uncorrected proof so I'm not permitted to do so.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark is written for the 9+ audience, but there is a darkness to the story that may be a little too much for some. The violence within is of the fantasy kind, but may put off some parents. The nature of the villains and the way that monsters come out of the dark, may affect children of a delicate disposition or who are prone to nightmares. The villains of the piece, known as The Clockwork Three, could have come straight out of the world of the Cenobites of the Hellraiser movies, especially the lightbulb-eating woman in white. However, the story also shows that through courage and friendship, light can and will overcome the darkness.

I've not written may reviews this year, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I have been experiencing something of a reading slump as far as children's books are concerned so I have not read as many this year as I might have in the past. However, of the ones that I have read, this is most definitely one of the best and already a strong contender for my book of the year. It has everything that I personally want in a fantasy action adventure story, and it is the kind of book that, had it been published when I was a child, I would have read over and over and over again. My thanks go to the wonderful people at Penguin Random House for sending me a copy.





Thursday, 23 June 2016

Review: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell


When their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her annoying big brother Seb cannot imagine what adventure lies in store. Returning to Sylvie’s house, they find it has been ransacked by unknown intruders – before a mysterious feather scratches an ominous message onto the kitchen wall. A very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. Ivy and Seb make their escape – only to find themselves in a completely uncommon world, where ordinary objects have amazing powers. The forces of evil are closing in fast, and Ivy and Seb must get to the bottom of a family secret . . . before it’s too late.






I mentioned in the review that I posted yesterday that recently I have been experiencing a reading slump. I have so many children's books in my TBR pile that look wonderful, but every time I have come to select one to read I have just felt meh! and picked up an adult or non-fiction book instead. The last time this happened (a good few years ago) it took the brilliant Small Change For Stuart by Lissa Evans to pull me out of my malaise, and this time it was this wonderful debut novel by Jennifer Bell, followed in quick succession by Gabrielle Kent's second Alfie Bloom book.

Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that  I am a sucker for any children's or Young Adult story that reimagines London in some way or other. Sarah Silverwood's The Nowhere Chronicles, China Mieville's Un Lun Dun and Tom Becker's Darkside series are all books in this vein that I have loved, but I loved The Crooked Sixpence even more. It's as if Jennifer Bell has been able to scoop up all the most magical ingredients of these other books, blend them together and then bake them into a cake that is even better.

I have also mentioned several times in the past that Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is one of my all-time favourite books, and The Crooked Sixpence is most definitely Gaiman-esque. In a similar way to what Gaiman did in Neverwhere, Bell takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary, and in the process has created a truly imaginative (and more than a little bonkers) alternative London society, hidden away from us mere mortals but also living in tandem with our own. And I can't believe that the Lundinor of The Crooked Sixpence is not in some small way inspired by Neverwhere's Floating Market.

The Crooked Sixpence is the first book in The Uncommoners series, with this particular term referring people who keep the secrets of uncommon objects for all off us commoners. Uncommon objects are everyday objects (toilet brushes, lemons squeezers, paperclips... the list is endless) that hold magical properties as a result of containing parts of the souls of the human dead. Thus we have lemon squeezers that give out light, colanders that filter air and paperclips that work as habdcuffs. Jennifer Bell's imagination is up there with the very best of current children's writers, and she must have had enormous fun coming up with all the different alternative properties of these everyday household items.

Ivy and Seb, the brother and sister protagonists have a very typical relationship, whereby sometimes they get on and sometimes they bicker and disagree, but ultimately will do anything to protect each other from harm. Ivy is most definitely the star of this first book, with Seb being much more of a secondary character; she is brave and resourceful, and has joined Abi Elphinstone's Moll as one of my favourite female characters of recent years.

The Crooked Sixpence has something for everyone: action, adventure, magic, a villainous secret society, a crazy alternative world full of weird and wonderful items, and an ages old mystery that is just begging to be solved by Ivy, Seb and their new uncommoner friends. This is a book that I preordered months ago, as there is been a lot of buzz and excitement about it among middle grade bloggers and book sellers in the run up to its release. It is certainly one of my favourite books of 2016 so far, and should have appeal to readers of all ages. Definitely a must-buy to keep your 9+ kids occupied this summer! 



Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief by Gabrielle Kent


When Alfie Bloom inherited a castle and a centuries-old magic, his dull and lonely life was changed forever. But Alfie's new life has come with dangers he never could have expected. When Ashford the butler is kidnapped in the middle of the night, the castle comes under threat from a terrifying enemy. Trapped inside with only his twin cousins and best friend Amy, it's up to Alfie to defend his inheritance and prevent a terrible fate from befalling the whole of England!


*** Reader beware - this review is likely to contain spoilers for the first Alfie Bllom book.

Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle was one of my favourite books of 2015, and its sequel, Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief has been right up there on my list of most anticipated books of 2016. I described Gabrielle's first Alfie Bloom book as having 'perfect pace and and flow' and the author as a 'damn fine storyteller'. No pressure then, as far as the sequel is concerned!

Said sequel got preordered for my Kindle months ago, but due to the craziness of work I completely missed its release, and it was only as I was about to start reading another book that I just purchased that I saw it sitting there quietly, desperate to be read. All thoughts of reading that other book disappeared, as I dived back into the magical world of exciting adventure that Gabrielle Kent has created. 

Despite now being settled at Hexbridge Castle, Alfie and his friends have still not managed to explore the whole of this mysterious building, which still holds many secrets from them. As does Ashford, the enigmatic butler that came with the Castle when the Bloom's moved it. Readers of the first book will know that there is an air of mystery surrounding this character, and we were left wanting to know much more about him. In this second book, our wants in this particular area are met fully - Ashford's past and present actions are central to the plot of The Talisman Thief, and we see his character developed much more fully.

Last time it was dragons that Alfie found himself up against, and this time it is elves. And these are certainly not elves of the cute and friendly variety - they are far more akin to Tolkien's arrogant and warrior-like elves that we see in The Hobbit. They have been wronged and they want retribution, and their targets are set firmly on Ashford, Alfie and anyone else who gets in their way.

When I wrote my review of Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle I took some pride in that fact that I had spotted one particular plot twist that had not yet been resolved. Gabrielle Kent sent me a message (of which I will say no more, for fear of creating spoilers), but I have felt more than a little smug since. Well they say that pride comes before a fall, and I feel that I have fallen big time. The plot of The Talisman Thief has some MASSIVE twists that hit me right between the eyes and had my jaw dropping to the ground. 

Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief is a superb sequel, and I am sure it will be making an appearance in my favourite books of 2016. I have been in something of a reading slump recently as far as children's books are concerned, and have found myself reading far more adult and non-fiction books that I would have in recent years. However, like a phoenix from the ashes, I have been lifted out of this by two books: this wonderful magical adventure story, and Jennifer Bell's wonderful debut, The Crooked Sixpence. Hopefully I can now stay in this mood and catch up on my ultra-wobbly middle grade TBR pile.


Saturday, 4 June 2016

Guest Post: Beaky Malone Blog Tour


Barry Hutchison has to be one of my favourite middle grade authors - I've loved everything that I have read of his, starting of course with the fabulous Invisible Fiends series. His new book, Beaky Malone World's Greatest Liar, was published a couple of days ago and is no exception to this - it is laugh out loud funny from beginning to end. I am really chuffed that Barry wanted to stop off at The Book Zone on his Beaky Malone blog tour, to tell us how he got into writing funny stories:

FUNNY STUFF, GOOD. PUNCHING ME IN THE HEAD, BAD 

I wasn’t a funny kid. I was the quiet one in class, reasonably studious without being brilliant, and usually found quietly reading a comic in the corner when all my work was done for the day. There was nothing notable about me whatsoever, other than my height. I was abnormally tall for my age, and by the time I’d hit 8 years old, I towered several inches above the rest of my class.

This didn’t go unnoticed by the kids in the years above, and soon I was the target for bullies three or four years older than I was. One kid in particular – I can’t remember his name, so let’s call him Bashy McBashface – spent weeks tormenting me, before finally catching me alone one day as I walked home from school.

I can remember his sneering spotty face, his bunched fists, his home-cut crop of ginger hair and his very obvious intent to pummel my head and torso into the pavement. He had another kid with him – his cousin, if I remember rightly, who had two silvery snot-trails as a permanent fixture on his top lip – who alternated between egging Bashy on, and keeping an eye out for trouble.

I was terrified. Too terrified to even raise my fists. Bashy McBashface was HUGE, and had a reputation for being the best fighter in school. I, on the other hand, was a tall, skinny kid who had a reputation for reading The Beano, and for once coming first in the school sports skipping race. It was less Rumble in the Jungle and more Certain Death in That Bit Behind the Shops.

Bashy’s fist drew back. My mouth opened. Words tumbled out all on their own.

Bashy stopped. He cocked his head to the side like a dog. He frowned.

Then, to my amazement, he threw back his head and laughed.

My mouth started moving again, and this time I listened to the words. They were jokes. No, not jokes, observational comedy about our school, the teachers, the other pupils. I even started to crack wise about the current situation, telling Bashy to pass on to my parents that I’d gone to a better place, and leaving instructions as to who to will my ZX Spectrum and Star Wars figures to.

I had no idea where it was coming from, but I was glad it was coming from somewhere. I made Bashy laugh so much that he completely forgot about pounding my face into a two-dimensional oval (much to his cousin’s disappointment). It turned out I had a latent superpower: I could make people laugh.

The next few years passed in a blur of jokes, impressions, pratfalls and other routines. I became “the funny guy” because, as it turns out, the funny guy is far less likely to get his head kicked in than all those other, non-funny guys.

It was only right, then, that when I’d embark on a professional writing career two decades later, the obvious choice of genre would be… um… horror. My Invisible Fiends series (which was first reviewed right here on this very blog) was a violent and occasionally downright disturbing scare-fest designed to have kids and adults alike too scared to turn the light off at bedtime.

It wasn’t until I started reading the reviews, though (and we all read the reviews, even if we pretend we don’t) that I discovered it was funny, too. Most of the reviews commented on the humour, even though I hadn’t really been aware I’d put any in there.

From there, it made sense to try writing funny books, and I’ve never looked back. I now get to spend my days making myself laugh (always an attractive quality) as I write everything from books to TV animation – and even The Beano.

I’d love to say the reason I write funny stuff is because I want to keep the national smiling, but if I was forced through a Beaky Malone-style Truth Telling Machine, I’d have to own up to the fact that the real reason I write comedy is because I’m worried that, if I don’t, everyone’s going to catch me on my own behind the shops one day, and give me a long-overdue kicking.

So, er, read Beaky Malone: World’s Greatest Liar! It’s hilarious, has brilliant illustrations by the amazing Katie Abey and might – just might – stop you punching me in the head.



Huge thanks to Barry for writing that for us. Beaky Malone, World's Greatest Liar was released in the UK on 2nd June.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Guest Post: Iron Fist Blog Tour


It is always a cause for some personal celebration when Andy Briggs releases a new book. I loved his Tarzan series and I can't wait to read Iron Fist, the first book in his new The Inventory series, especially given its brilliant summary:


The Rules: if you find a secret inventory of utterly deadly battle tech. 
1) Do not try it.
 2) Do not tell anyone. 
3) Do NOT let thieves in behind you. 

What’s more secret than top-secret? The Inventory. Home to the deadliest inventions the world isn’t ready for. Invisible camouflage. HoverBoots. Indestructible metals. Plus a giant creature of chaos: war robot Iron Fist. No one has ever broken past the state-of-the-art AI security system. (Seriously, most bad guys have no idea this stuff is even there.)
Problem 1: the security robot wasn’t ready for a gang of kids wandering in. 
Problem 2: they’ve ONLY brought the ruthless Shadow Helix gang in behind them. Seriously dumb, but it’s a bit late for ‘sorry’. 

Say hello to trouble: the Iron Fist is in the wrong hands!

Today I am overjoyed to be welcoming Andy to The Book Zone, as he gives us an introduction to his main character, Dev:



ENTER THE INVENTORY WITH DEV PARKER

Call him Dev, not Devon, which is his full name. He hates that. The only time he hears his full name is when he is in trouble – which is often. That’s not because he’s a trouble causer, he’s just easily bored. All those lessons in school, he already knows that stuff. Or he thinks he does, but has probably forgotten.  How can he learn anything interesting in school when he lives in an underground complex that houses the most advanced and incredible inventions ever made?

He lives with his uncle, Charles Parker, who is the Inventory’s curator. Their relationship is not exactly fun. Uncle Parker is cool mannered and not very talkative especially when Dev keeps asking about his parents. He doesn’t remember them and his uncle never has the time to talk about them. In fact, Dev doesn't know if they’re dead, missing or simply not interested in him. Not that he dwells on it too much. He’s gone beyond worrying about them – why bother when he can strap on a pair of HoverBoots and fly around the Inventory… even if he’s not allowed to touch any of the exhibits.

Breaking those rules drives his Uncle completely bonkers. To enforce his point, Charles Parker has the help of Eema – an artificial intelligent giant metal sphere with an emoji face and a chirpy personality. She is a battle robot, so is armed to the teeth! Despite that, Dev is more than happy to pit his wits against her as he sneaks into forbidden areas of the Inventory.

Dev’s dreams are to leave all of this behind him. There is a big wide world out there, and living underground – even surrounded by amazing stuff – can be boring, especially if you’re not allowed to touch any of it. It’s not as if he has friends. His Uncle’s strict secrecy orders means Dev has never had the opportunity to befriend anybody. Which, as he grows older, becomes more irritating. He’s constantly trying to avoid being picked on by the school thug, Mason, and is tongue-tied when he has the chance to talk to Lot, a girl with an infectious smile that he desperately hopes he’s not developing a crush on.

One final thing to tell you about Dev is that he has a, well some call it an ability, others call it a phenomenon and to others it’s a disability or neurological condition, called synaesthesia. He sees numbers and letters as colours and sounds because his brain scrambles how he senses such things. It’s a strange, and real, affliction. Some sufferers could easily tell you that yellow plus green equals six; the problem for you and I is that it really does. Dev’s condition is a lot more advanced, and something he has turned to his advantage in a very peculiar way…

So, go down to the Inventory yourself and meet Dev in his first adventure: IRON FIST. The further he delves into the world’s greatest secret the more answers he will discover about himself, his parents, his condition and… he might just make a few friends along the way...


@abriggswriter


Sunday, 8 May 2016

Guest Post: Devil's Blood Blog Tour


Four years ago I wrote a review of Black Arts by debut YA writers Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil. Black Arts was billed as the first of The Books of Pandemonium, but then book 2 never materialised. Truth be told, I had given up hope of ever seeing it, but then, out of the blue a couple of months ago I spotted the authors tweeting about their new book. Devil's Blood was published a few days ago, and it was well worth the wait and I am delighted to welcome Prentice and Weil to The Book Zone today as part of the Black Arts and Devil's Blood blog tour, to tell us about the Devils of London.

Prentice & Weil on The Devils of London

Our devils were born out of desperation and despair.  In two years we’d written three drafts of our book Black Arts.  Although it had its good bits, the story was still ungainly, overlong and not flying at all.  Following the savage and wise advice of our new editor Simon Mason we trashed the whole lot, keeping only a few chapters and characters.  It was a mightily bleak spot.


We walked and walked, talking through our fresh start.  We had discovered that one of the problems about writing a book with both magic and time travel is that it gets a little complicated.  Magic works in books when it seems natural and easy.  The minute that you have to launch into convoluted explanations about method and mechanics, you tend to lose the reader’s interest.  We went round and round in circles trying to simplify our system.  But nothing worked – that is until we went for a fateful walk down the Regent’s Park Canal.


I can remember the exact spot where everything changed.  It was on the odd, graffiti-covered stretch between Broadway Market and Victoria Park.  Jon and I were discussing Dr Dee – and how he had believed he was summoning devils and angels when he did magic.  

‘What if we used that?’  A simple suggestion.  We both looked at each other – and suddenly, just like that, we were flying again.   The greatest joy of writing as a team is when an idea starts soaring and lifts you both up with it.  The miles disappeared with our talking.

‘What if all magic was done with devils?  You summon them and then they do what you want.  That’s how magic works!’
‘What if some devils got lost?’
‘What if some devils got forgotten?  What if London was full of them?’
‘What if the devils left behind in hell want revenge?’

In that walk, the whole thing (more or less) fell into place.  It’s hard not to believe that a devil of inspiration wasn’t buried somewhere beneath our feet, granting us a sweet moment of clarity.  The walking definitely played a part, but so too does the city where you walk – and that is the essence of our idea.

You must know some places that make you feel a certain way.  Some of these are obvious: a ruined castle, a forest path, the secret corner in your gran’s greenhouse.  But others are more hidden and subtle – but no less powerful.  Cities are full of these places.  Especially London, where the ancient city hides in plain sight. 

There are buried devils everywhere. Alan Moore, Ian Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd have all written compellingly about the city’s psychogeography.  But that really is a complicated word for a very simple thing.  The paths that we take through life affect us.  Your environment shapes you and your experience.  All we’ve done is spice that common truth with a little pinch of Hellfire.

The funny thing was that when we went hunting for lost devils we hardly had to look.  Dig a little beneath the streets and their history and you can find them yourself.  Black Dog really was a ghost that haunted Newgate Prison.  The spirit that we call Lud has had many names over the years, and the London Stone, where Lud lives, can be visited today.  It sits, at pavement level, embedded in the wall of a bank in the City.  Smithfield has been drenched in blood for millennia: Druids held rituals there, Romans held executions, medieval Londoners made it their slaughterhouse (and in a few days time we’ll have a book launch there too.  Let’s hope it’s not too bloody!)  Wherever we looked we found details that made it seem like we were discovering a truth rather than making things up.


Of course we took liberties, and I don’t expect you to believe that there is a giant leech sitting beneath Smithfield market.  All the same, next time that you are out and about in the city where you live, close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine all the lives that have passed along the street where you are walking now.  Their treasure and their trash is buried beneath you, layer after layer after layer.  When you open your eyes again, try not to feel dizzy, because you are looking straight down into the abyss.


Author’s Note:  We have been exploring the devils of London in our tumblr: http://londondevils.tumblr.com/.   Go there to find some more devils that we have dug up while tramping around the city.  The pictures in the article are sketched using Alkahest-infused goggles.



Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Review: Boy X by Dan Smith


Kidnapped and drugged, Ash wakes up on a remote tropical island. His mum - a genetic scientist - has been imprisoned and infected with a deadly virus. Where is he, and what's he doing there? He sets out to cross the jungle to find out and rescue his mother. Soon he realises he's quicker and sharper than before. But there's something else ...why are the animals watching him, and how can he use the jungle to his advantage?


Dan Smith writes great thrillers. I loved his Big Game, with its frantic pace and reluctant hero Oskari saving the US President from the bad guys in the wilds of Finland, and when his new book, Boy X, arrived through my door a while back it jumped straight to the top of my ultra-wobbly TBR pile.

The main protagonist of Boy X is another young teen boy who suddenly finds himself way out of his depth in a fight for survival against highly trained villains who are armed to the teeth. However, poor Ash McCarthy does not have the local knowledge advantages that Oskari had in Big Game: at the beginning of the book he wakes in a strange laboratory with no knowledge of why or how he got there. Add a race against time due to the release of a super-deadly new virus and Ash experience the emergence of strange new abilities, and we have all the ingredients for a superb sci-fi thriller, with Dan Smith as the masterchef bringing them all together. If you have a hunger for fast-paced action stories then this is a meal that will both satisfy your appetite and leave you wanting more.

Dan Smith is also a master at keeping his readers gripped by drip-feeding essential information about the plot and the characters' back-stories. There are no big info dumps or sudden reveals that feel forced or make the reader feel cheated. Despite the sci-fi element and the crazy situation in which they find themselves, Ash and his equally out-of-her-depth new friend Isabel, are real enough for young readers to relate to and they complement each other perfectly.

Dan Smith brings his story to an explosive and satisfying conclusion, but the final chapter leaves the reader with a promise that Ash's story is far from over. This is fabulous as I am certainly hungry for more, and I know many other with feel the same way. My thanks go to the lovely people at Chicken House for sending me a copy of the book.


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Review: Perijee & Me by Ross Montgomery


When 11-year-old Caitlin discovers a shrimp-like alien creature on the shores of her island home, she takes responsibility for teaching it about the world. Mostly, this just involved stopping little Perijee from eating everything! Caitlin becomes increasingly close to her alien friend, treating him like a brother.

There's only one problem - Perijee won't stop growing.

Then the authorities try to hunt him down and through his fear, Perijee disappears and starts causing trouble. Caitlin must leave home and travel across the country to try and convince Perijee to stop destroying everything before it's too late.






Perijee & Me is Ross Montgomery's third book for young readers and yet again he has struck gold. His first two books, Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door and The Tornado Chasers, are among me favourite children's books of recent years, and this third offering has now made it on to that list as well. All three books have something very special about them that I find hard to describe. I have the same feelings when I try to describe John Boyne's The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brockett and Noah Barleywater Runs Away. They are contemporary fairy tales, with fantastic character studies, humour, dark fringes, and magical fantasy elements (without the actual magic) and the kind of stories that I think the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen might be creating if they were alive and writing in the 21st Century.

Perijee & Me is an enchanting story that will especially appeal to any reader, child or adult, who has ever felt lonely or who has felt that they have fallen short of the expectations of others. It is about Caitlin, a girl with no friends and 'absent' parents who stumbles across something special, in much the same way as Elliott does in E.T. In fact, there are elements of Perijee & Me that pay homage to Spielberg's masterpiece, as well as one of my all time favourite stories, Ted Hughes' The Iron Man

After a particularly violent storm, Caitlin discovers a strange creature lying close-to-death on the beach, surrounded by thousands of festering prawns that have been washed ashore. Her attempts to protect her new friend Perijee from what we would know as exploitation are sadly unsuccessful, and there's this moment where, like in E.T. the authorities arrive on the scene, but that's where the similarities end. Perijee is no meek and fragile creature, and the armed men who storm Caitlin's house very quickly discover that they are woefully unprepared. Can Caitlin defy all the odds and save Perijee from the world, and possibly more importantly, save the world from Perijee?

I hope that Perijee & Me brings Ross Montgomery the wider recognition that he so deserves. Despite his debut being shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book of the Year Award back in 2013, he still falls under the radar of many people who buy books for children, whilst in my opinion he should be up there with likes of John Boyne and Frank Cottrell Boyce. I expect there will be a lot of readers who, on finishing Perijee & Me, will venture out to get their hands on his previous two books.

My thanks go to the lovely people at Faber for sending me a copy of Perijee & Me to read.





Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Guest Post by Shane Hegarty (Author of the Darkmouth series)

I loved Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty and you can read my review from last April here. Well time flies, and last week saw the publication of Chaos Descends, the THIRD book in the series. I am really excited to welcome Shane to The Book Zone today, to tell us what inspired him to write Darkmouth and his thoughts of how he intends to continue developing the series in the future:


About four years ago now, I was sitting on a train – on the floor of the train actually, head being knocked by knees, back being kicked by feet – and an idea hit me. What if there was a last town on earth which Legends of myth still invaded. And in that town was a family who had too keep the Legends out. And there was one kid who would have to take over, save the town and save the world.


But he wasn’t very good at it.

That idea hit me so strongly I had to start writing straight away. Then someone’s knees hit me and that was the end of that for the train journey at least.

But I went back to that story, developed the story of Finn the reluctant Legend Hunter, and his more adventurous friend Emmie. I fleshed out the town of Darkmouth, and the parallel world of the Legends.

I had no idea of anyone other than me would ever read it, though. All through it, I was trying to create a story not just that I wanted to write, but I would want to read.

I wanted a story with a not particularly competent hero, that mixed fantasy with the everyday reality, that wandered between two worlds and wouldn’t be afraid to head off on a tangent.

I wanted a story with imagination, strange creatures, scares but – very importantly – jokes. And as an adult reader, there are very, very few books combining these things. But novels for younger readers, well that’s where the fun is.

Writing it became a game of “what if?” What if a 12-year-old really had to fight Legends and then go to school straight after? What if monsters had been invading n otherwise normal small town for generations? What if you were one of these Legends – what would be like to be, say, a Minotaur or one of the heads on a Hydra?

The hope is that younger readers end up having as much fun reading it as I do writing it. But there’s the hope they’ll maybe recognise something of themselves in Finn, or Emmie or – if they want – any of the Legends. And they might recognise the grown-ups, and the town (which is a character in its own right). That the “what if” part of the idea means a mix the fantastic with the recognisable.

There have been three books since that train journey, and I’m currently writing the fourth. The aim is to develop Finn and Emmie and the other characters, and to deepen the story, but without losing those things I loved about Darkmouth in the first place. I want to keep the fun, adventure, fantasy, realness, the scary parts and the funny bits. I want it to be fun to write, and to read.

And, most importantly, I now make sure to do it all from a nice quiet office where no-one knees me in the head.

~~~

Huge thanks to Shane for taking the time to write this for us. If you're kids love fun action adventure fantasy stories then the Darkmouth books are definitely must-reads.


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Competition: WIN a pair of signed Abi Elphinstone books



Abi Elphinstone's The Dreamsnatcher was my 2015 Middle Grade Book of the Year. Last week saw the release of the sequel, The Shadow Keeper, and it is so good that it is already vying for a top spot in my 2016 list.

Now you have the chance to win signed copies of both books, simply by filling in your details in the form below. Thanks to the generosity of Simon and Schuster I have five pairs of Abi's books to give away.
  
The first five names drawn at random after the closing date will each win a pair of books. The deadline for entries is 7pm GMT Monday 7th March. This competition is open to UK residents only.






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

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



Monday, 29 February 2016

Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton


Dustwalk is Amani's home. The desert sand is in her bones. But she wants to escape. More than a want. A need.

Then a foreigner with no name turns up to save her life, and with him the chance to run. But to where? The desert plains are full of danger. Sand and blood are swirling, and the Sultan's enemies are on the rise.



Three was the magic number for Bob Dorough, Blind Melon and De La Soul, and it's also the magic number for these new style Book Zone reviews, as part of my seemingly endless quest for brevity when reviewing. So, here are three reasons why I loved Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton:

1. The story

Many will know that these days I do not read a great deal of YA, and when I receive emails from publishers I very rarely request copies of YA books. However, many months ago I was tempted by this, and at that point I'm not sure I even knew the title or blurb, just that those lovely people at Faber were getting very excited about it. When the proof arrived (complete with personalised book cover!) it remained unread on my TBR pile whilst I continued to delight in all the middle grade books that were coming my way. However, I eventually succumbed to its pleas and decided to read Rebel of the Sands, the debut novel from Alwyn Hamilton. And I was hooked from beginning to end. I loved everything about this magical fantasy story, set in a wonderfully imagined desert location. I very rarely say this as I am not a fan of movie adaptations of books I have loved, but I really, really hope that someone great as acquired the film rights to this as I really think that it could be a huge summer family film hit, as per Pirates of the Caribbean. As someone who grew up loving the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films, I was rather disappointed at the barely average Prince of Persia film, but Rebel of the Sands has something that film did not have - a cracking plot without any silliness.

2. The world building

I don't often dip my toes into the waters of adult science fiction and fantasy as I just don't have the patience to wade through page after page of detailed world building. In just the first few chapters Alwyn Hamilton managed to impart everything I needed to know about the society in which main character Amani Al'Hiza lives and the world's mythology, but never at the cost of slowing down the pace. More details of the part wild west, part Arabian Nights world are drip fed as the story progresses, and we are never left in a position of questioning the specific whys and wherefores of the culture and its people for very long. This is a credit to both Alwyn Hamilton's story-telling abilities as well as the quality of the editing.

3. The main character

It's hard not to draw parallels with some modern day middle eastern and African societies, where women are oppressed and do not, in our western eyes, have the same rights or opportunities as men. Women in Amani's society are treated as little more then property, owned by their husbands, or in Amani's case, her uncle, to eventually be sold off into a loveless marriage. To speak out against this treatment or act in  a way that is not deemed acceptable to the town's or country's patriarchs can very quickly lead to severe punishment and even death. Amani will do anything to get away from her family and the town of Deadshot, even if it means putting herself at the greatest of risks. She is courageous, independent and fiercely loyal to anyone she feels deserves her loyalty. There are few who can equal her skills with a sixshooter, which might come in useful as she has the dangerous habit of opening her mouth and delivering a snappy wisecrack when it would be far better for Amani, and those allied with her if she occasionally took the time to think before she speaks. However, we can forgive her this weakness as it makes the story that much more thrilling for us as readers.

~~~

Rebel of the Sands was published in the UK on 4th February and is currently one of my favourite books of the year so far. In fact, I have not enjoyed a YA magical fantasy book this much since Amy McCulloch's The Oathbreaker's Shadow, which became my Book of the Year back in 2013.





Sunday, 28 February 2016

Review: Spy Quest: Polybius - The Urban Legend by Andy Briggs


In the dark amusement arcades of the 1980s, a new game is discreetly appearing - Polybius. It's addictive fun... but the machine mysteriously disappears as swiftly as it arrived. So too does the one kid who claimed the highest ever score... never to be heard from again... Over thirty years later, computer games have moved on - but the players are as keen as ever. SAM RAYNER is one such boy. His dreams of being a professional gamer, a virtual athlete on a million dollar contract -- dreams that are scoffed at by his twin sister, REBECCA. She secretly enjoys playing games, but would never openly admit that to her "geeky" brother -- that is until Sam wins an online competition, giving the entire family a free holiday at a luxury hotel. But it's not just a chance for his family to take a pampered break, it's a special games tournament and a chance for Sam to chase his dream. Or that's what he thinks - until he discovers a game has been mysteriously downloaded to his mobile phone. A game called Polybius - a name from the darkest reaches of urban legends.



Three was the magic number for Bob Dorough, Blind Melon and De La Soul, and it's also the magic number for these new style Book Zone reviews, as part of my seemingly endless quest for brevity when reviewing. So, here are three reasons to read Polybius - The Urban Legend by Andy Briggs:


1. The concept

I am always keen to promote anything new that may encourage a child to pick up a book and read it. Whilst working very well as a standalone book, Polybius - The Urban Legend is linked to a spy training game created by Polybius Games that started life being offered though hotels around the world (including Center Parcs and Walt Disney World, Florida). The game was next provided to schools across Scotland, and is endorsed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority as a learning platform and a White Paper has since been written on the benefits of the game by one of the worlds leading experts in game based technology. The book itself, is a spin-off from this game, but readers can also download an app to their smartphones which allows them to experience and augmented reality feature. You can find out more about the game at www.spy-quest.com.

2. The action

Anyone who has read one of Andy Briggs's previous books will know how good he is at writing fast-paced action stories. The plot of Polybius - The Urban Legend is fast and furious, and and from the moment main character Sam Rayner is drawn into the mystery it doesn't let up until the very last chapter.

3. The theme

The story's link to gaming is not just though the Spy Quest game. Sam Rayner is a gamer and dreams of making money out of his passion by turning professional. Sam wins an online competition which just may make this dream become reality, although there is a lot more to this prize than he initially realises. In a similar vein to stories like The Last Starfighter and Ernest Cline's Armada, the game is being used to find young people with certain skills and gifts so that they can be trained, in this case, as spies. Linking stories to gaming could be a great way of dragging gamer kids away from their consoles and in to the pages of a book. Older gamers may already be aware of the real life Polybius story - an urban legend that, again like Ernest Cline, Andy Briggs uses to establish his plot.

~~~

Polybius - The Urban Legend was originally only available online, but I believe that it has now been released throughout book stores in the Uk as well. My thanks go to the author for sending me a copy of the book.