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Friday, 20 December 2013

The Book Zone Book of the Year 2013

Even though I have been a bit quieter on the blogging front in 2013, I think I have read more books than ever before and met my Goodreads target of 200 books for the year some time ago. I think I have also read a much greater mix of books in 2013, including adult fiction, Young Adult, books for younger readers and, of course, comics and graphic novels (favourite comics of the year post to come later). The only drawback of reading so many books is that it makes it much harder for me to name my favourites of the year, and choosing my Book Zone Book of the Year has never been harder (so much so that I have had to tweak my rules yet again). I've just spent some time on Goodreads going back through all the books I have read this year, and in no particular order, apart from the final Book of the Year, these are my top reads of 2013:

Lockwood and Co by Jonathan Stroud



Spooky and funny in equal measures this one was a definite contender for my overall Book of the Year. I have long been a fan of Jonathan Stroud's brilliant Bartimaeus series and the longish wait for this book to be published was worth every minute. We were very fortunate to be able to welcome Jonathan in to school earlier this term to speak to the Year 7 pupils and it has been a joy to see so many of them reading and talking about Lockwood & Co ever since. If you ever get the chance to listen to Jonathan talk about his work then don't, whatever you do, turn it down.

Stay Where You Are and then Leave by John Boyne



I am a huge fan of John Boyne's writing for children and so was extremely excited when he came into school earlier this term. I wasn't the only one - there were staff and students pretty much queuing up to get copies of his books signed. In my opinion, Stay Where You Are and then Leave is even better than The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and I am sure that it is destined to become a much talked about classic in the future.

The Rig by Joe Ducie



Joe was one of the winners of the first Guardian Hot Key Book Young Writers prize, and deservedly so. If you are looking for a book that is a great story with non-stop action for an 11+ action loving boy or girl then The Rig should be high on your list. 

Russian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz



The Yassen Gregorovich origin story that fans have been waiting years for was finally delivered by Mr Horowitz in 2013 and it was well worth the wait. Personally, I think Russian Roulette is the best he has written and I loved the way it tied so neatly into Stormbreaker, the first Alex Rider book.

ACID by Emma Pass



Another very strong contender for my Book of the Year, and given that it is a dystopian novel, a genre that I have become rather tired of this year, that is praise indeed. Emma Pass injects a frenetic pace to her story, whilst also delivering a superb female lead character, who I descrived in my review as being "the Lara Croft of dystopian YA: independent, fierce, resourceful and seriously, seriously kick-ass." ACID also has one of my favourite book covers of the year.

Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones



If you have a 9+ child then buy this book for them now! It's not too late to get them an extra present for their Christmas stocking and this one will go down a treat. Murder and mystery in Victorian London with a main character who just happens to be part of a travelling freak show. The sequel, Wild Boy and the Black Terror is one of the books I am most looking forward to reading in 2014. The hardcover edition of this book is gorgeous, and another of my favourite book covers of 2013.

The Book of Doom by Barry Hutchison



My Books of the year list would not be complete without an offering from Barry Hutchison, and The Book of Doom is another fab story from Barry. The second in his Afterworlds 'series', it is a laugh out loud funny and irreverent fantasy story with great characters, as we have come to expect from this author. Tragically, this is probably the final Afterworlds book, although personally I would love to read more and more.

Hello Darkness by Anthony McGowan




Hello Darkness took me completely by surprise in that it was not at all what I expected when I picked it up. It almost defies description: it is noir; it is humorous; it is a crime thriller... ah, what the hell, I give up. Just go and get your hands on a copy and expect it to linger in your thoughts for some time after the final page has been turned.

Goth Girl by Chris Riddell



Goth Girl is certainly one of the most beautifully packaged books I have got my hands on in 2013, but it is more than just a pretty book - substance certainly rivals style with this one. Chris Riddell has written a gloriously spooky and whimsical tale with a great main character in the form of Ada Goth. oh yes, and as it is a Chris Riddell story it is also chock full of his beautiful illustrations.

The Battles of Ben Kingdom by Andrew Beasley



Rather wonderfully, as I totally loved The Claws of Evil, the first book in Andrew Beasley's The Battles of Ben Kingdom series, in 2013 we were also treated to the sequel as well. If anything, The Feast of Ravens is even better than its predecessor and I can't get enough of this wonderful alternative Victorian world that Andrew has created.

Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre



A good few of my young relatives and children of friends have received this book as a gift since it was published back in September. This came oh so close to being named a Book of Year, and I have been agonising over the decision for some time. It is another beautifully presented hardback book. with Sarah McIntyre's stunning illustrations perfectly complementing Philip Reeve's witty and clever storytelling. Another perfect stocking filler this Christmas.

Department 19: Battle Lines by Will Hill



No other book came closer to being named as one of my Books of the Year for 2013 (books plural I hear you ask? Read on for a new twist in the tale). However, and I'm sorry about this Will, but you have been pipped to the post. However, I am still shouting from the rooftops about how much I love this series, and this most recent episode is the best so far. It will take something of a miracle for anything to beat Department 19 as my series of the whole decade. However, as I'm not sure if I will have the energy to be blogging still in 2019/2020, we may as well take that as given and award the honour right now.

The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock



Tom Pollock's first book in his Skyscraper Throne trilogy was the winner of my Book Zone Book of the Year 2012, and as this sequel is even better then how could it not appear on this list? (please note, that my rules prevent the same author winning two years in a row). Teen or adult, if you love urban fantasy then these two books should be top of your wishlist this Christmas, and if you're not lucky enough to receive copies from generous relatives then I can't think of much better to spend your Christmas money on in the New Year.

And now it's time to announce my Book Zone Books of the Year. Yes, you did read that correctly earlier - I have decided to award it to two books this year. The reason for this is that I have read more books for the U14s then in previous years, and the two books I have loved the most, one YA and one for younger kids, are just so completely different that is has made it an impossible choice. This year there is therefore a Book Zone YA Book of the year and a Book Zone Book of the Year for younger readers. And they are:
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The Oathbreaker's Shadow by Amy McCulloch and Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill.



I read very little epic fantasy, and yet The Oathbreaker's Shadow had me gripped from beginning to end. Everything about this book is brilliant, especially the incredible world that Amy McCulloch has built and the quality of her prose is to die for. The sequel, The Shadow's Curse, is another of my most desperate-to-read books due out in 2014. It is very rare that I will read a new-release book more than once these days due to time constraints, but I have read this one twice and it is even better the second time around.

What more can I say about Darcy Burdock that I have not already said. This book is flippin' brilliant! It is perfect for kids and just as perfect for adults. I've bough multiple copies this year, giving them as gifts to kids and adult friends, as it is a happy book - the prefect remedy for when you're feeling down or stressed and need a lift (I've read it three times already). Laura Dockrill has been into school twice this year, and has been fantabulous on both occasions and if you have any doubts that a book about her girl, with a girl in a pink dress on the cover, is not as much for boys as it is for girls then how's this for evidence to dispel them: one of our naughtier boys at school loved it and Laura so much that, having seen her when she came in to speak to all of our Year 7, he came back on a Saturday lunchtime to listen to her again as part of our Wonder of Words festival.




Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Alcatraz Series by Brandon Sanderson


On his thirteenth birthday, Alcatraz - a foster child - gets a bag of sand in the mail which purports to be his 'inheritance' sent from his father and mother. The Librarians, of course, immediately steal the bag of sand from him.

This sparks a chain of events which leads Alcatraz to realize that his family is part of a group of freedom fighters who resist the Evil Librarians - the secret cult who actually rule the world. Alcatraz's grandfather shows up and tows him off to infiltrate the downtown library to steal back the mystical bag of sand. The ensuing story involves talking dinosaurs, sentient romance novels, and a dungeon-like labyrinth hiding beneath the innocent-looking downtown library.


Under 14s Only Month was great fun, but due to work (yes, same old excuse again) I didn't manage to review anywhere near as many books as I had planned. I have therefore decided to extend it a little into December, and at least get close to clearing the pile of books in front of me that require reviews.

Back in 2012 the lovely people from Gollancz emailed me asking if I would be interested in reading The Complete Alcatraz by Brandon Sanderson. A quick scan of the publicity material showed this to be a single volume collection of a quadrilogy of stories that had been published in the US between 2007 and 2010. However, that same scan also mentioned that there were 750+ pages in said collection, and as ever my TBR pile was already close to critical mass and I had to decline the offer. Fast forward to the beginning of 2013 and those fab people at Orion sent me a copy of Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians, with a great new cover design and with plans to release the three sequels as separate volumes, and I was hooked.

Alcatraz is a walking disaster. He has moved from foster parent to foster parent, often leaving havoc in his wake as he has a habit of breaking things purely by accident. Unfortunately for Alcatraz no one ever believes these accidents are accidents and so he gets labelled as a problem child. On his 13th birthday he receives an unusual package - a less than exciting bag of sand, supposedly an inheritance left to him by his biological parents. The next morning his grandfather, who he has no recollection of ever meeting, suddenly appears on the scene, and before he knows it Alcatraz is drawn into an ancient battle of good versus evil librarians. 

It would appear that everything Alcatraz thinks he knows about his world is actually a huge pile of lies and misinformation, fabricated by the forces of the evil Librarians of the book's title. Grandpa Smedry also informs Alcatraz that his innate ability for accidental destruction is not a curse, but is in fact his Smedry talent, and a very rare one at that. All of the Smedrys have similarly bizarre talents, including always being late, getting lost and falling over, to name but a few.

I'm sure you've guessed by now that this is not your normal, run-of-the-mill fantasy story, and this is made very clear from the opening 'author's' foreword. The story is told by Alcatraz himself, and he does so with a heavy dose of sarcasm, a liberal sprinkling of jocularity, a soup├žon of cynicism and an undercurrent of dry wit throughout. He also has a habit of playing storytelling 'tricks' on his readers, keeping them on their toes, and interspersing plot developments with (at the time) seemingly irrelevant rants on whatever subject takes his fancy. I found all of this quite unique, entertaining and I found myself regularly chuckling away. However, at the same time I was fully aware that some people might find the humor and style of narration more than a little irritating, and I have to say that these books are definitely not for everyone. I reckon they are a little like marmite - most adults will either love them or hate them, but these books were written for younger readers, and with this in mind I feel they are likely to be very popular with aged 11-14 kids who love off-the-wall comedy. Not only are they very funny, but they are well paced, full of great action and some cracking magical fight scenes, and the world-building is as accomplished as you would expect from a writer who has made his name writing adult fantasy.