Saturday, October 31, 2009

Some Halloween Gingerbread Men Zombies

Apologies for the wrong way order, but start from the bottom up and check out the creation of our gingerbread zombie army.

Intestine trouble...

A few more with some erm..wound trouble..

Anyone for some green mucky things?

Longshot of our zombie army.

Army of glazed gingerbread men - soon to be zombiefied!

Gingerbread men getting their glaze on

Baked gingerbread men
Raw gingerbread men

Mark making the gingerbread mix.

Friday, October 30, 2009

**Scooperama** Alyson Noel Interview


We are very chuffed to bring you this unexpected treat! The Marketing Department over at Macmillan Children's Book sent this little interview along for your reading pleasure.

What did you do before you were a writer?

I worked as a New York City based flight attendant, travelling the world and working on my debut novel, Faking 19, during long weather delays and boring layovers—basically whenever and wherever I could find a free moment to spare!

Where do you do all your writing?


I have a home office where I pretty much hunker down in the morning and stay put all day—just like a “real” office job, only I go to work in my pyjamas!

Which of your characters do you most admire and why?

I really admire Ever for her strength. She was forced into this horrible situation—losing her family, burdened with psychic powers she doesn’t want—and has no choice but to navigate her way through a new life she really doesn’t understand, with no one to confide in. And though she makes some mistakes along the way, she always picks herself up and keeps going, determined to make amends, set things straight, and do the right thing. It’s a pretty tough gig that she’s got!

What’s next after you’ve completed the Immortals series?

I’m working on a new series now, set to debut in Fall 2010, that’ll feature Riley, (Ever’s ghostly sister), as she navigates her way through the afterlife. So far it’s been an absolute a blast to write and I’m really excited about it!

Loads of fans are making casting trailers for your books – if you could cast any actor-actress in the roles of your main characters, who would you choose?

Oh, I hate to admit it, but I am just terrible at this! I think because I can see the characters so clearly in my head, it’s hard for me to cast them with real live people. But I love seeing the reader’s choices, they’ve come up with some really good ones. A few have mentioned Ben Barnes for Damen, and I have to admit that he’s suitably dreamy!

What were your favourite books as a child?

I loved anything by Dr. Seuss, Charlotte’s Web by EB White was the first book that brought me to tears, and Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret changed my life and inspired me to be a writer too!

Is living in the OC as glamorous as what we see on the TV in the UK?

Every time I see one of those shows I can’t help but wonder what I’m doing wrong. My OC, while undeniably beautiful, with one of the most gorgeous coastlines around, consists of pretty much the usual, real life stuff—grocery shopping, bill paying—nothing anyone would ever want to film!

If you could have dinner with any 3 people, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Leonardo da Vinci because he was an absolute master of so many things, David Sedaris because he can make me laugh and cry in the space of a single paragraph, and Bono because, well, because I love him!

What TV show are you currently addicted to?

Dexter—it so brilliant I’m in awe! But I’m also loving Mad Men and True Blood too.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Encyclopaedia of Ghosts and Sprits—for research purposes!

Demon Princess - Reign or Shine by Michelle Rowen

Here's the blurb:

As if trying to fit in at a new school isn't stressful enough, sixteen-year-old Nikki Donovan just found out that her long-lost father is, in fact, the demon king of the Shadowlands—the world that separates and protects us from the Underworld. When she is brought there by the mysterious—and surprisingly cute—messenger Michael, she learns that her father is dying, and he wants her to assume the throne. To complicate matters, a war is brewing between the Shadowlands and the Underworld, her half-demon qualities are manifesting, and her growing feelings for Michael are completely forbidden. Ruling a kingdom, navigating a secret crush, and still making it home by curfew—what's a teenage demon princess to do?

This teen novel his well written, has a great plot and was thoroughly enjoyable to read.


Nikki's mom is on marriage number 4 and has dragged her daughter from sunny California to rather frosty Ontario, Canada. For once she's managed to become friends with the most popular girl in school and when her secret crush, Chris, asks her to the Winter Dance, Nikki's world seems to be absolutely perfect. Well, at least until a cute looking stranger tells her she's a Demon Princess, the heir to the Shadowlands and her father, the man who left her mother before she was even born, is dying. Talk about a shock to the system!


At first Nikki is not prepared to belive, but finally she follows Michael and meets her father. It is a bitersweet encounter, knowing there's not much time. Nikki also meets her aunt, who's looking after her father and who's prepared to take on the burden of becoming Queen of the Shadowlands once Nikki abdicates and returns to her normal life. But Nikki's getting fed up with everybody telling what she "has" to do and decides to maker her own decisions. But they may not turn out quite as she'd anticipated...


Knife-wielding Demon assassins, a Shadow Prince Nikki's supposed to stay away from, new Darkling powers coming online, a boyfriend who may be a total jerk and a best friend who may be a Demon Hunter; let's just say Nikki has her hands full.


I really enjoyed reading "Demon Princess". Michelle Rowen throws a few twists into a familiar story line and Nikki is a believable and engaging character. I found myself cheering her on when yet another adult told her just what she "HAD" to do to make their lives easier.


"Demon Princess" is a well written teen novel and the fist in a new series. It is out now. Click here to go to Michelle's website.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Swedish: The Best and Worst Screen Adaptations of Horror Novels

We are so pleased to host Carly Bennett as part of our October Monster Mash Up. We borrowed her from the ever popular Luisa over at Chicklish. Find out more about Carly at the bottom of the post.



There are good and bad film adaptations of every genre of literature but horror seems to be the most popular for literary remakes. In this post I want to explore the five best and worst transitions from book to screen, while talking about my favourite genre, horror.

The good...

5. The Exorcist (1973)
4. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
3. Carrie (1976)
2. Misery (1990)
1. Dracula (1931 onwards)


Honourable mention (for Mia Farrow’s legendary haircut alone): Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

So why are the good so good?


I think one of the main reasons I love these five films so much is that they play up to our psychological fears. They’re the kind of films you’re left thinking about for days after, they don’t rely on cheap shocks or gore to scare the audience. If you look at the five books their villains are terrifying because of the mind games they play with their victims, because they’re so mentally unhinged it’s horrifying to watch them unravel.

Another thing these films have in common is that they’re all brilliantly acted by actors who really care about the genre. I don’t think anybody will ever forget fourteen year old Linda Blair’s oustanding performance as possessed child, Regan McNeil, in The Exorcist. It was after watching The Exorcist for the first time that I really became fascinated by adaptations. I’d have no idea that the film was based on a book and once I read William Peter Blatty’s classic, I was hooked. Soon after that I began to devour Stephen King’s works and there was no going back.

Linda Blair wasn’t the only actor who sealed her success in an adaptation. What about Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi, who both ruled the silver screen through their timeless portrayals of Dracula? Sure, vampire’s may be the latest trend in horror and I know of many, many people who are sick to death of the Twilight phenomenon but, honestly, when the original story is so utterly captivating, who can blame the hundreds of directors who wanted to cash in on a bit of vampire magic? Dracula may be one of the most famous examples of a book to film adaptation that works. Sure, there are a few dud films but when vampire films are good, they’re outstanding.

All of the books I’ve mentioned above are driven by strong, memorable characters who work exceptionally well on the big screen. Is there a horror villain more memorable (and strangely charming) than Hannibal Lector? I don’t think so. His first interview with Clarice Starling is a scene I will never forget and, for me, Silence of the Lambs is, perhaps, one of the only instances where the film’s strength actually transcends the book.

But what list of outstanding services to spook and gore is complete with a reference to horror overlord, Stephen King? There have been countless remakes of King’s tales of terror, ranging from the terrible (Firestarter) to the terrific (Pet Semetary) but just a handful of these adaptations do the books justice. In my opinion, two of the best are Misery and Carrie.

By this point I’m sure you’re all wondering why I haven’t mentioned the great enigma itself, The Shining. There’s nothing I can say to build upon what other people have already written, so, in short; Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation is flawless and its fame has almost overshadowed the book but I don’t think any director can summon the power on screen that King can create on a page.

So, what is it about Carrie and Misery that worked so well? Well, Carrie will forever have a place in my heart as the first horror movie I ever saw, at the tender (and perhaps slightly premature) age of nine. And Misery is a film I will always relish watching with first time viewers. If you can sit through the notorious hobbling scene without wincing once, I wholeheartedly applaud you.

And, really, let’s hear it for the girls. Sissy Spacek put in an unfogettable performance as troubled teen Carrie White (“They’re all going to laugh at you.” Terrifying) and Kathy Bates was indeed Oscar worthy as deranged Annie Wilkes. Never before have I been so scared of a nice farming lady and her ceramic penguin. Spooky.


And the bad...

5. The Stand (1994)
4. Salem’s Lot (1979)
3. It (1990)
2. Frankenstein (1910 onwards)
1. Flowers in the Attic (1987)

So, why are the bad so mind-numbingly awful?

Now, I enjoy a good, traditional splatterfest as much as the next horror enthusiast but there are some things I just can’t condone and a bad Stephen King adaptation is one of them.

Think you can take one of the most timeless stories of all time and turn it into a dreadful ABC miniseries? Not on my watch. I’m talking, of course, about the sorry 1994 adaptation of The Stand.

The book is regarded by many as a masterpiece of the genre but the adaptation has been hailed as ‘campy and mundane’ by one Internet critic, who also suggested the casting was so terrible that ‘the only character who was cast accurately was Kojak, the dog’. *Bianca, author of this review, generously rated the show 2/5. Many other critics were not so kind.

Watching The Stand is a woeful experience, especially if you’re a fan of King’s work and the epic run time of 366 minutes really doesn’t help matters. That’s the thing with horror, it can’t be dragged out for too long. You need smart, snappy screenplays that cut to the chase and keep you gripped from start to finish. Of course, we need time to bond with the characters but the films on this list manage to neither charm nor hold anybody’s attention and, unfortunately, The Stand isn’t the only disappointing King adaptation, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Let’s examine exhibits 3 and 4, namely, Salem’s Lot and It. Let me start by saying that I absolutely adore both of these books. I really do, they’re two of my all time favourites and I really did try to enjoy the adaptions.

Let’s start with Salem’s Lot. Ah, a good old vampire story. Like I mentioned earlier, there are many brilliant vampire adaptations; there are also many shoddy efforts and, sadly, this falls into the latter category. King’s novel had a host of quirky characters who helped bring the story to life and there’s a terrific social commentary running throughout the book. These little details were missing in the miniseries, which relied too heavily on visual scares and tense moments, which never quite made me jump.

Then there’s It. It is probably my favourite Stephen King story of all time and when I heard there was a miniseries lurking in the back shelves of HMV, I had to see it. I shouldn’t have bothered. I cannot even begin to list the reasons you should avoid seeing this terrible piece of cinema. I have nothing good to say. Well, perhaps Pennywise is a bit creepy. I’d say more pervy than anything. Either way, not good.

Onto my penultimate choice. Flowers in the Attic is a good film and I did enjoy it. However, it wasn’t until I read the book years later that I realised what I had been missing. The incest and the Nazis; God, I’d been blissful in my ignorance.

Rather than the filmmakers and actors, I think the people to blame for this are those who work at the censorship board. Yes, Flowers in the Attic is not the most pleasant bedtime story, yes, it deals with things that might make the general viewing public uncomfortable but it’s briliantly written and the message is lost in the Hollywood adaptation that shies away from the difficult subject matter dealt with in the books.

I urge you, read this moving series of books before you watch the film; it will make the whole experience a lot more powerful. Although, I must point out that the fantastic “Eat the cookie!” moment will stay with me forever.

So, this brings me onto our final film on the list. It’s arguably the most famous of the bunch and may possibly have spawned even more remakes than Dracula. It is, of course, Frankenstein.

Now, Mary Shelley’s classic is not exactly light reading but it’s a harrowing story of love, isolation and man’s dangerous thirst for knowledge and power. Shelley’s novel has been described as the first of the ‘mad scientist’ genre and it is stunning reading. Sadly, the vast majority of Frankenstein films are made up of emotionless monsters with cardboard box feet and crazed scientists who trill “It’s alive!” at every opportunity.

The magic of Shelley’s novel was lost by the wayside many decades ago and there doesn’t seem to be any hint of a decent Frankenstein adaption on the horizon. Never fear though, once vampires have had their day, perhaps it will be the turn of the lonely monster and his reckless creator.

I also want to mention a few foreign adaptations that I feel are often overlooked in these lists. Of course there are the Asian frightfests: The Ring, Old Boy and Battle Royale, to name a few. But I really want to draw your attention to, what I believe is, the best horror film of this year. Let the Right One In is an adaptation of the Swedish novel of the same name and I was astounded by both book and film.

As I said before, vampires are all the rage but Let the Right One In manages to refresh a tired stereotype and I literally couldn’t take my eyes off of the film. It’s visually stunning and the story works just as well on screen as it does on paper. If you watch any film or read any book I’ve mentioned in this list, please make it Let the Right One In. I’ve heard horrible rumours there’s an American remake coming up (somebody even uttered the words ‘Miley Cyrus’), which already has me cringing.

So, with The Vampire’s Assistant and New Moon soon to be upon us the idea of novel adaptations is showing no signs of slowing down. I hope this list of the good and bad has made you think a bit more about adaptations. Some of them are brilliant, some of them are truly awful but as long as books are still serving as inspiration to those around us, that’s enough for me.

Carly Bennett

(*Bianca’s review of The Stand can be viewed here.)

About Carly Bennett

Carly is a 21 year old Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University. She's just about to graduate (which is utterly terrifying) and move into a swanky house in Bath with my boyfriend, Mark, and dear pal, Holly. She's hoping to make it, at some point, as a novelist or travel writer and her blog (here) chronicles her journey into the world of writing. Scary.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Trick or Treat by Sally Anne Morris


Synopsis:


Ever thought you were hearing voices in your head? Welcome to Lucy Diamond’s world... Nothing seems out of the ordinary about Lucy. Well, not until she starts hearing the voices of grumbling ghouls from beyond the grave. Hippie-mom Jasmine arranged for Lucy to develop the Gift and unlike the other presents of vegan cookbooks and tie-dye blouses, this one Lucy can’t return to the store. The Dead aren’t going anywhere until she sorts out their problems. But how can she be expected to deal with the lives of those in Limbo when she can’t even manage her own?


Perfectly timed for Halloween this light hearted romance is a sweet, clever and quirky treat to indulge in. Poor Lucy Diamond - she is merely another drudge in an office full of drudges. She has the glamourous friend JoJo who does "something" in publishing and the obligatory gay male friend, Nigel, who is more than just a little self-obsessed and more than just a little unhappy with how dull his life has become.

That is until JoJo and Nigel rally around Lucy when she starts having episodes of seeing dead people, talking to them and arguing with them - not just on the underground whilst commuting to work but also in her tiny flat above a shop in N17.

Things are pretty scary sounding for Lucy, actually - she's doubting her sanity, her mum, a flaky hippy living in a commune in Wales is no help, gushing that this is her birth gift eventually coming to the fore, her friend Nigel is somehow making everything about him and dammit, the dead just won't stop talking to her. Even attending a show where a world-renowned spiritualist is in attendance turns into a disaster as Lucy realises that she would get no help from the woman who can quite clearly not see anyone apart from her studio audience.

Trick or Treat comes as a pleasant surprise. I adore the cover, of course, and the people at Little Black Dress Books have yet again gone out of their way to publish a very sweet novel about friendship, communication, mis-communication, the supernatural and the downright odd.

Sally Anne Morris's writing is just plain good fun - her touch is light and her overall tone in the novel is a little bit Sir David Attenborough as she relates who Lucy Diamond is, who her friends are and her odd relationship with her "out there" mother.

A pivotal role has to go to Lucy's grandmother who, after Lucy runs to her in the depths of despair, convinced that she's going insane, tells her quite calmly that yes, her gift for seeing and speaking to the dead is a hereditary thing...Lucy baulks, stunned that her grandmother who is the world's most practical and steady person can drop a rock in her lap like that without warning.

Like in Girl from Mars, my first LBD Book, I was amazed by the character development and overall story progress in Trick or Treat. For a tiny book (311 pages) it packs a lot of whallop. If I worked in a bookshop I would file Trick or Treat in two places: romance (of course) but also paranormal / urban fantasy because Lucy may not realise it but she is pretty kick-ass. She's a medium with a can-do attitude and a genuinely sweet and giving heart. Not every single situation she gets herself into pans out well and she deals with that competently and bravely.

Trick or Treat is a definite must read for October and come December, it will make a perfect stocking filler indulgence. It will be the perfect antidote to too much sweet, delivering a kick and a punch and a little bit of bite. The romance is handled very lightly (with one section so funny I scared the life out of my receptionist as I chortled over my lunch whilst reading it) and with a wry tongue in cheek.

Sally Anne Morris writes well and I'm looking forward to more of her novels. Trick or Treat is out now from Little Black Dress books.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Matt talks braaaains...uhm, zombies

I love the fact that we have this reservoir of untapped talent we can call on to talk to us about all manner of weird stuffs. In this instance, Matt (THE Teen Librarian) chats about Zombies.


When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth

In extreme circumstances, the assailants can be stopped by removing the head or destroying the brain. I will repeat that: by removing the head or destroying the brain.

It shall also be qualified as attempted murder the employment which may be made against any person of substances which, without causing actual death, produce a lethargic coma more or less prolonged. If, after the person had been buried, the act shall be considered murder no matter what result follows.
Article 249 of the Haitian Penal Code

Liches, Revenants, Undead – they have many names but none more chilling than Zombie.

The first zombie-related book I can remember reading was a collection of short stories called Zombie edited by Peter Haining, it was published in 1985 so I would have been about 11 or 12. These stories (or the ones that I can still remember) focused on the traditional zombies of Voodoo myth, the dead raised up to do the bidding of their masters, it was in this book that I learned that salt would send a zombie back to its grave. On the strength of Zombie I purchased the novelisation of Dawn of the Dead by George Romero. I can still remember the cover – it was black and white with the title in blood red, it gave me nightmares.

After that zombies sank into the background, they were always in the movies with George Romero tinkering away at what he is best known for and the remakes of the first films that introduced running zombies – totally going against the accepted view of the undead as shambling, unstoppable monsters.

I think that zombies are the most horrific in the pantheon of monsters we know. With werewolves we can remember the words: Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, can become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright. They can be stopped with wolfsbane and silver, they can even be cured. Vampires are either tragic or evil but still operating to rules we can understand.

Then we come to zombies: they are pitiless, unstoppable and can look like our best friend, our dearest love, but their hunger is insatiable.



The first zombie-related book I read this year was the excellent Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, set in a post zombie-apocalypse world it shows how humanity has adapted to survive in a world where they are surrounded by what they now call the Unconsecrated.

Closer to home are The Beautiful Dead a new series by Eden Maguire, the first two books Jonas and Arizona are out now. These books have a totally different slant on the undead, not the mindless revenants of myth, they are returned to find out why and how they died. Aided by Darina, their schoolmate and only person alive that knows that they have returned. The Beautiful Dead mixes mystery, murder and melancholy with themes of love and loss.

The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z by Max Brooks detail how to survive zombie attacks and what happened during and after the Zom-pocalypse. Charlie Higson brings zombie terror to the streets of London with The Enemy - the first in a new series of novels about a world where everyone over the age of 14 is dead or a zombie hungry for the flesh of a the young.

In the 1970’s when the film Dawn of the Dead was released, zombies were a satire on the mindless consumerism of the people that flocked mindlessly to America’s shopping malls. These days the consumerism is still there but zombies can be seen more as a metaphor for the credit crunch, it was a long time in coming but almost everybody was affected (infected).

Nobody knows where or how the Undead plague started but with the current crop of books rising from the dead I know one thing -no matter how far we travel we are never alone for the dead travel with us!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Monster, monster, in the wall, who's the scariest of them all?

As part of our "Monster Mash Up" I've invited Mark Chitty, he of the pretty cool Walker of Worlds book blog review site, to pop by and talk to us about them there critters. And he's complied. Result!

Mark says:

I'm a big fan of anything monster related, from comics to books to movies, although the latter is definitely going to be the one that most people identify with. Whether you're a fan of Godzilla, Alien, Zombies or something a little different, the monster genre has something for everyone.

One of the first things that comes to mind for me is Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street films. I know these aren't strictly monster movies - at least in the traditional sense - but there's something monstrous about the idea of not being safe in your dreams that got to me and scared me half to death when I was a kid - I still struggle to watch the films and then get some sleep afterwards. Despite this I've got a fondness for monster movies that has stuck with me ever since.

I was never one to go for the old style Godzilla type movies when it came to choosing something to watch, I much preferred going for what was around at the time, although I was mainly subjected to whatever my brother and cousin decided we were watching - the gorier the better! Some that spring to mind are films like Critters, Gremlins, C.H.U.D., The Blob, Leviathan, Aliens, Predator and Ghoulies. Since those early days I tend to watch pretty much any monster movie I see on TV, although the acting can get pretty dismal in some of todays 'B' movies.

I can't miss this opportunity to tell you about some of my favourite monster movies and series, some of which are extremely worthy of you time!

The Alien films

The absolute classic alien monster film. This not only gave us an iconic monster that has endured for 30 years, but took the basic 'b' movie idea and raised it to play with the big boys. The first film was pretty much a straight monster movie and when it was released there were people running out of the cinema screaming and puking because of the infamous chest-buster scene. Aliens took a different apporach which added so much to the mix while the last two films were more of the same rather than too much new, but still worth a watch.


The Evil Dead films

Evil Dead is one of the best monster movies ever. Not only do you get the undead, you also get Ash, the best everyday hero you'll ever meet in a monster film. The first two films are more serious while the third, Army of Darkness, gives a more slapstick approach that is simply classic. The one-liners that Ash comes out with are brilliant:




The Tremors films

Perhaps not the most popular of franchises, especially as the films start a downward slide after the first, but Tremors is a great monster movie. It's got a secluded town, undergraound monsters and a guy that loves his weapons - an excellent combination. While each film adds to the mythology of the Graboids, once you get to the third and an evolution of them is names 'Ass Blasters', you know the series has seen it's day. Still, as it goes with a lot of cheesy films, I just can't help myself.

They're my favourite monster movies - what are your favourites?

Liz says: I have a confession: I have never ever watched a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Ever. Oh, I know how it goes etc. but have never felt that I wanted to watch.

I luuuurve scary movies. Is that me being a bit Addams family?

Favourites are things like The Excorcist, Prophecy and Fallen. Hmmm, religious undertones there...quick, let me think of others: Arachnaphobia - oh little green apples of doom, this movie did so much to hype up my paranoia about spiders, you have absoloutely no frigging idea. Another favourite is: American Werewolf in London and Wolf with Jack Nicholson. Oh, as is The Village and Sixth Sense and Others - all by that man with the unpronouncable name: Night M Shyamalan. I also have great affinity for From Dusk till Dawn, John Carpenter's Vampires and Interview with a Vampire. But I would think that there are two movies, quite recently made, which I utterly love for no other reason than they freak me out and mess with my imagination:

Dog Soldiers - Tagline: Six soldiers. Full moon. No chance.


I have watched this flick so many times. It never fails to freak me out. I've sworn off any kind of camping, especially in Scotland. Admittedly the wolves at the end aren't that scary but it's how much is implied that gets me. That and the fact that they are consorting with the enemy whilst hiding from the wolves outside. Everything about this movie works so well. I love it to bits and it has some of the best dialogue ever!

Cooper: Go on then Bruce, what scares you?

Bruce: The self-destructive nature of the human condition.

Spoon: You're just taking the piss now.

Cooper: What about you, Spoon?

Spoon: Castration.

Cooper: There's no argument there. Joe?

Joe: Only one thing guaranteed to put the shits up me: a penalty shoot-out.

Cooper: Figures. Terry?

Terry: Watching a penalty shoot-out... with Joe.

Bruce: What about you, Coop?

Cooper: Spiders. And women. And... spider-women.


Twenty Eight Days Later - Tagline - His fear began when he woke up alone. His terror began when he realised he wasn't.

Twenty Eight Days Later is just blindingly scary. There is the element of Resident Evil (hmmm, Alice) when Jim wakes up in the movie and he is utterly alone. As he wanders through the streets of London as the sun rises, the devastation becomes apparent. No one is on the street. The whole place is deserted. He walks through places and areas I know so well, having walked them these past ten years and it's so quiet, Christmas morning quiet. He slowly comes to realise that things are not normal. For a movie that starts off with this ominious quiet, there is a lot of show not tell which I admire greatly. Then all hell breaks loose and Jim, Selena, Hannah and Frank jump in their car and they haul butt out of London, going north, hoping that the infected have died. Which is where hell takes a sidestep and the abyss looms. This flick just "wins" so much admiration from me - I'm a complete geek fan! Fantastic stuff.
So, that's me for now. Now, anyone else? What's your favourite scary movie - be it monstrous or not?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

**Merlin - Signing News and Competition**

I did a tiny happy dance on the train this morning when an email came through to me from Random House with some news.

And being the benevolent blogger that I am, I am of course sharing it with you! And because I love giving stuff away, there's a competition too!

Forbidden Planet (London, Shaftesbury Avenue) is hosting a "Meet the Stars" of the smash hit BBC series 'Merlin' on Saturday 31st October 3 – 4pm.

Bradley James (Arthur) and Angel Coulby (Guinevere) will be signing The Adventures of Merlin: The Official Annual and The Adventures of Merlin: Complete Guide plus a full range of other Merlin titles.

Bradley James is a relative newcomer to television but has managed to make his mark in each role he has taken on. He made his television debut in the ITV series Lewis in 2008, in a recurring role opposite Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox, before moving onto Shine’s teen drama Dis/Connected on BBC Three. Bradley’s passion for sports, including football, athletics and cricket, has helped him in his physically demanding role as a young Arthur in Merlin.

Angel's impressive credits include Doctor Who, Life is Wild, Hustle, Tripping Over, Making Waves, International Emmy nominated crime drama Vincent, and BBC medical dramas Holby City and Casualty. Angel also featured in the BBC Three sitcom The Visit. She has worked with Shine before, on teen drama As If. Angel was a member of the National Theatre, and performed in productions including The Statement of Regret and The Importance of Being Ernest.
Competition Time:
Read this carefully because if you don't comply, you will be disqualified.

There can be only ONE winner, this one winner will receive TWO copies of Merlin Books, plus either The Official Annual OR a Merlin Activity Book.

The winner will also be entered into a prize draw out of ALL the winners from various sites to win a SIGNED copy of a book.
How cool is that?
The rules are:
  • One winner wins the above prize and will be entered into the overall prize draw.
  • UK entrants only
  • Email us at our usual address: myfavouritebooksatblogspot(at)googlemail(dot)com
  • You have to send in your name AND address this time around - also, if you're on Twitter let us know and we can follow you back if we don't already. The postal address will ensure swift delivery of your winnings.
  • Closing date: 26th October - it's a short lead time, but this is to make sure that if you did want to come to the London signing, you may have the books in time for that.

Good Luck!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spook's Apprentice by Joseph Delaney


Synopsis:


A terrifying series about a young boy training to be an exorcist. Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son and has been apprenticed to the local Spook. The job is hard, the Spook is distant and many apprentices have failed before Thomas. Somehow Thomas must learn how to exorcise ghosts, contain witches and bind boggarts. But when he is tricked into freeing Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the County, the horror begins . . .


What struck me the most about The Spook's Apprentice (another recommendation from Year 7's at Oak Lodge Primary) is that the author genuinely doesn't care how scary he's being in this story. Also, his use of language is extremely mature. I fully expected something twee, something Disneyesque and am so grateful that I am wrong.


When we are introduced to Thomas and we quickly discover that he's that little bit different from the rest of his family, probably more like his (mysterious) mother than his father, who is a hard working farmer with a serious disposition who seems a bit bemused by his youngest son.


Events unfold quickly - Thomas sets off with the Spook and soon we realise that the Spook, for all the good he does the countryside keeping it clear of weird critters, is seen as a necessary evil. He has acquaintances but apparently no friends and Thomas struggles to come to grips with the fact that should he one day take over from the Spook, he would be shunned by his family and have little or no friends himself.


It is a harsh reality, one of many. The Spook's character was a revelation to me - here was a fully fledged 3D character and not just a mysterious tutor who said cryptic and mystical things, letting poor Thomas figure it out himself. Written with a sly sense of humour and coming across as likeable, the Spook is someone you would want to know, not just to clear some boggarts from your cellar, but someone to talk to and understand.


Thomas spends a lot of his time swotting up on boggarts, witches and other unlikely beasties, whilst receiving hands-on tutoring from the Spook himself. The Spook is very careful to explain to Thomas how things are done, especially when it comes to dealing with witches. Armed with all this new knowledge, Thomas is still tricked into freeing one of the most evil witches the County has ever seen, Mother Malkin. It's up to Thomas to fix what he's let out and it's a hair raising adventure, to say the least.


I was strongly reminded of Robin Hobb's writing (for older readers who know this excellent author's work) and I couldn't help but be carried away by the story and the characters. Thomas is likable and intelligent but not irritatingly precocious. We have empathy for his situation and can easily see what his motivations are. I always think that when you start shouting directly at a character in a book "don't do it!!", that the author's done his / her job well in involving you with the story.


The Spook's Apprentice is a pretty wild ride - in fact, it's a more than just a bit scary. The language is quite mature and the author expects you to keep up with the plot and the Spook's explanations and adventures. I would definitely recommend this, especially for reluctant readers. It may be slightly challenging but to be fair, so much goes on, that it would be unlikely that they notice how much they've read!


Find the wonderfully creative website for the Spook Books here - the site also links to the author's site and the upcoming movie site. There are several books out in this series, with Spook's Apprentice being the first. And I've had it on good authority that these just become better and better...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Harrowing - Alexandra Sokoloff


Baird College’s Mendenhall echoes with the footsteps of students heading home for Thanksgiving break and Robin Stone, who won’t be going home, swears she can feel the creepy, hundred-year-old residence hall breathe a sigh of relief for its long-awaited solitude. As a massive storm approaches, four other lonely students reveal themselves to Robin: Patrick, a handsome jock; Lisa, a manipulative tease; Cain, a brooding musician; and Martin, a scholarly eccentric. Each has forsaken a long weekend at home for their own secret reasons.

The five unlikely companions establish a tentative rapport, but they soon become aware of another presence disturbing the building’s ominous silence. Are they the victims of an elaborate prank, or is the energy evidence of something genuine - something intent on using them for its own terrifying ends?


There's nothing quite like the inherent creepiness of a large, dark building when you're all alone.. when you sit there convincing yourself that the creaking noise behind you is simply the house 'settling for the night'.. that the movement you just caught out of the corner of your eye was really the cat coming in.

Now hold that feeling, and transpose it to a motley collection of college students marooned in an otherwise empty residence, watching as a storm rages outside, the only consolation the fire licking away in the fireplace. It's a classic setting, and a ripe environment for what the old ouija board unlocks.

It takes a couple of chapters for the story to find its stride, but after this initial stutter, it all starts to come together much more fluidly. The characters are a bit archetypal, but their interactions hold up enough to compensate for this. The chill factor is always there, lurking in the background, gathering itself for the moment when it slips its mask and, like the characters, you realise that things are not quite what you thought they were.

It's a truly interesting hook that Alexandra has used as the core premise of the story, a little nugget that makes you think, an echo of the story that bounces around in your thoughts long after you've slid the book back onto the shelf.

**Evermore Winners**

With the help of the very reliable Random.org I chose our FIVE winners from our stack of entries to each win a copy of Evermore by Alyson Noel.

They are:

14. Ailsa F
4. Natalie P
5. Joanne G
12. Andrea C
10. Sherie B

All of you have been emailed. Please send me your address details asap so that I can forward it onto Alyson's UK publishers, Macmillan. A big thanks to everyone who entered. My poor inbox thanks you too! And an even bigger thanks goes out to the team at Macmillan for letting me run this comp.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sarwat Chadda Short Story - The Bodmin Accord

Artwork taken from Werewolf Art Drawings . The picture is my choice and has nothing to do with Sarwat or his short story.


I am very excited and flattered to be allowed to put up this short story on the blog from one of my favourite UK YA authors - Sarwat Chadda. Sarwat wrote the whopping The Devil's Kiss published by Puffin here in the UK. We will soon be seeing the follow up novel The Dark Goddess from him, but in the meantime, he wrote this short story as a bridging link between the two stories. And as I am such a fan-girl when it comes to wolves and werewolves, I asked him permission to upload it onto the blog as part of our Monster Mash Up. And because he's a nice guy and he likes us, he said yes!

So, take it away, Sarwat:



The Bodmin Accord
by Sarwat Chadda
“We’re lost, Art.”

“Bloody hell...”

The flashlight came on and bobbed up and down as they ploughed across the muddy farm track. Percy kept his eyes on the few yards of rain-smeared earth and his hands tight around the steering wheel of Arthur’s old Jaguar.

“I told you we should have taken the jeep,” he muttered.

“Just...shut up, Percy,” said Arthur.

The underbelly of the car groaned as it scrapped over a semi-buried rock. Percy winced as he heard the exhaust rattle and break loose. Then it began clanging loudly, filling the interior with a dull metallic din.

Arthur snapped the ordnance survey map over and flattened it over the dashboard. The white beam of the torch splashed across the contours and narrow yellow lines of pathways and Percy caught a glance of Arthur’s old Royal Marines compass. The green cover was chipped and the lid held together with glue and tape. He’d told Art to get a new one but Art wouldn’t listen and there was no point arguing.

No one argued with Arthur SanGreal.

“Stop here,” said Arthur.

Percy slammed down on the brake, jerking forward so his face almost knocked the windscreen. He’d pushed the car-seat back as far as it would go but he’d still driven the entire journey from London with his knees up by his ears. He’d kept his head as low as possible but with all the potholes and trenches around here he’s spent the last hour banging his head against the ceiling. He unfolded himself out of the driver’s seat and groaned loudly as he stretched. He tilted his head hard sideways, pulling at his thick neck muscles until something cracked.

“Jesus, that’s better,” he said.

“Don’t blaspheme, Percy.” Arthur surveyed the dark moors with his binoculars. “Wake him up. We’re here.”

Percy hammered the rear passenger door.

“Oi! Gwaine!”

There was shuffling from within and the door opened. Gwaine peered out, rubbing his rough hands across his face.

“We there yet?” He didn’t look impressed. “I’m busting.” He yawned and walked over to the opposite side of the car. There was a sharp snap of a zip and then the patter of urine on earth.

Percy buttoned up his jacket and pulled down his wool hat. The last time he’d been out here was his Escape and Evasion training with the commandoes. He’d hated it then, too. The moors lay dull and desolate under the brooding cloudy skies. The moon was well hidden, leaving only a faint halo of shimmering cold white beyond the few cracks in the cloud cover. Stinging icy drizzle swept across the rolling landscape, whipped up and over the low hills and dull valleys. He’d met Arthur here. They’d both applied to join the Royal Marines and earned their green berets together. He glanced over at Arthur. He’d been a different man then. Hard, practical, but a laugh, someone who enjoyed life no matter how bad it got. He missed the old Arthur and maybe, deep down, he hoped that man was there somewhere.

“What’s on your mind?” said Arthur, not lowering his binoculars.

“Better days, Art.”

Gwaine swung open the boot. “Let’s get this farce over with,” he said.

Arthur handed the binoculars to Percy and pointed to a gap between two hills. “There.”

Percy turned the focus until the stones came into view. This part of Britain was sprinkled by prehistoric stone circles. Most were moss-covered lumps, the stones little more than roughly chipped boulders. The stones down in the shallow valley were maybe waist high, nothing like the glamorous circle of megaliths at Stonehenge. The circle was incomplete, maybe some farmer centuries ago had carted a few off to help build a barn or store house, but the irregular ditch still marked the original boundary. Figures moved amongst the rocks, half a dozen.

“Maybe I should do this,” said Percival.

“No.” Arthur reached into the boot and drew out his sword. “We’ve been through this already.” He pulled it out the scabbard and turned the blade, minutely inspecting its slivery edge.

“C’mon, Art,” Percival persisted. “Think about it.”

“About what?”

God, the man was stubborn. Percival grimaced but Arthur glanced at him, face cool and eyes dead.

“About what, Percy?”

“You have a kid, Art, in case you were wondering who that child was in your house. I’m here to tell you she is your daughter.”

“So?”

“So how do you think she’ll feel if you get yourself killed tonight? Let me do this.” Percival stuck out his hand.

Arthur slammed the blade back into the scabbard. He held it under his arm as he pulled on his leather gloves. “You’ll look after her.” He paused, then gave a casual shrug that may have fooled Gwaine but didn’t fool Percival. “Lord knows you’ll do a better job than me.”

Percival put his hand around the scabbard. There was no way Arthur could break his grip, Percival was almost two heads taller than the Templar Master and twice as huge.

“Let go,” said Arthur.

Gwaine pulled out a large revolver. One by one he loaded in chunky silver bullets. With a sharp flick the barrel snapped shut.

“Art wants to kill himself, Percy. You can’t stop him,” he said.

Percival peered down into his friend’s cold blue eyes. The creases around them were thicker than once they had been, his brown deeper with a constant frown, setting his eyes in a cavern of gloom. Friend, this man, Arthur, was his friend. They had no secrets from one another. They’d mingled their blood, sweat and fear on battlefields in Bosnia, in Iraq, in Africa. Once the join between them had been invisible, they’d been closer than twins. But after Jamila’s death a wall of cold stone had fallen across Arthur’s heart. He’d become a machine, alive only for the holy fight, the Bataille Tenebreuse.

Percival shoved the sword away. “You’re right, Art. Maybe Billi would be better off without you.” He’d said it to hurt him, injure what little spark of fatherly love there might still be. But Arthur just straightened his belt across his waist. His hand settled around the sword hilt.
Nothing hurt Arthur SanGreal. Not anymore.

“We’re wasting time,” said Gwaine. He pushed himself off the car and began down the slope.

Arthur looked at Percival, saying nothing. Then he turned away and left.


“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” muttered Percival. He grabbed his battle-axe, tearing off the oily cloth wrapped around the heavy steel head. He slammed the boot down so hard the entire car shook.

The other two were making their way across Bodmin moor towards the stones. For a second Percival was tempted to get in the car and just head back to London without them. If he was stronger, that’s what he should do. Instead he jogged after the two knights.

***

Bloody werewolves.

If there was any creature that Gwaine really, deeply hated, it was the werewolf. Mindless, bestial, savage like nothing else. They were machines of slaughter, which was why the Templar Rules clearly stated that any werewolf hunt should include a full lance per werewolf. Three knights per Hairy Scary.

So of course Arthur wanted them to take out an entire werewolf pack. Gwaine shook the mud off his boot, but it did no good. The field was just one huge quagmire and his legs were black with mud up to his knees. He swore and ploughed on.

Bloody Arthur.

The man wouldn’t listen to reason. Ever. Hadn’t he trained him? Hadn’t he brought Arthur into the Templars? He’d given the man purpose, pulled him, literally, out of the gutter. Now there were times when Arthur looked at him, well, it made Gwaine think he was something stuck to the Master’s boot.

The gutter. He’d found Arthur, in the gutter, under Waterloo Bridge. With the drunks, tramps, illegal immigrants. Snoring in his stinking old army sleeping bag, lying on a bed made of cardboard boxes.

He’d been kicked out of the Royal Marines after some bad business in Bosnia, and had spent six months in a psychiatric hospital. From there, out onto the streets.

Ghul attacks were up. He should have been suspicious, even then, that something was brewing. But that was all hindsight. No-one, not Lot, not Elaine, no-one could have predicted what was to follow. The Nights of Iron. The near-extinction of the Knights Templar.

A ghul had brought him to Arthur. The Unholy blood-drinker was feeding amongst the flotsam and jetsam that lived under the arches. It made sense. You drink from a kid, someone would investigate. You drink from some smelly tramp, even kill them, who’s interested? No-one.

Easy pickings.

Unless you pick a psychotic ex-Royal Marine with bad blood and an even badder head. The ghul had just sunk his needle-sharp fangs into Arthur’s neck and woken him. Strong as the undead was, even he was taken aback by Arthur’s ferocity. Gwaine had been trailing it, hoping to find its sleeping place and kill it during the day, but it had delayed, looking for a snack. A big mistake. A big, fat, fatal one.

Arthur had grabbed its hair and held it down with one hand while he pummelled its face with a half-brick. The concrete walls had echoed with the high-pitched screech of the Fang-face and Arthur didn’t stop until the only thing left was a smear of blood, brains and bone. Then he’d crawled into a corner and wept.

When he’d stopped sobbing, Gwaine spoke to him. Told him that other monsters were out there, tonight, doing what this creature had tried to do. He’d asked Arthur if he believed in God. He’d asked Arthur if he wanted to help fight against theses monsters, these Unholy. Arthur had only asked one question.

Why?

Gwaine smiled as he pushed himself through the deep, sticky mud. He’d given him the only answer a Templar could give.

Deus vult.

Okay, Arthur was still deeply disturbed and unstable, but now his rage and anger at the world had direction, focus. Gwaine had been pleased. It was simple. Just point Arthur in the right direction as send him on his way. The details were irrelevant, but his successes were legendary. The guy was just born to slaughter. With guns, swords, knives, his bare hands. Uncouth, lacking technique, just simple and direct.

Then he met Jamila. God, what an evil day that was!

She’d been a doctor working at the psychiatric hospital where he’d been a patient. She specialised in Post-traumatic stress disorder and while he hadn’t been her patient, she remembered him. They talked. They swapped numbers.

They fell in love.

The day they married Arthur should have been kicked out. Simple as that. No Templar was allowed to marry. Relationships were an unnecessary distraction. You needed to have one focus, one love. The Order. Nothing else. God had given the Templars a holy duty and it was not to get married, happy and lazy.

The less said about the kid, the better. Uriens was insane to let Arthur stay when they discovered he was about to become a dad. Insane.

Then Jamila died. The ghuls killed her and Gwaine got the old Arthur back. No, he got something better. Or worse. His hate was like a laser beam: pure, narrow and devastatingly intense.

With Uriens one of the first killed, Gwaine was finally in charge. Or should have been. The Nights of Iron were mad times. Death-dealing times. Truth be told, they all thought they were going to die. Knights were being picked off, the ghuls attacked in hordes. Gwaine tried to organise some defences, he’d even contemplated going for help. He tried to think things through. Like a proper Master. Conserve their strength and try and understand what was going on.

But total chaos reigned. The other Templars realised if they were going down, they were going down fighting. They took Arthur’s lead: Total war.

Sacred slaughter.

They killed and died and it was a close run thing. Out of the forty knights that had served under Uriens, less than ten survived. Gwaine’s strategy had failed. War was madness and it needed a man like Arthur to wage it.

The stones came into sight and they stopped. Torches flared around them and figures approached, cautiously.

Yes, times were mad. A man married to a Muslim led the Knights Templar. Hope rested on the shoulders of children. Here they were, fighting for a boy that all sense dictated should die.

Gwaine peered amongst the gathered figures, darkly robed in long winter coats or rough builders’ jackets. They looked like gypsies. Then he caught sight of him. Small, skinny and huddled against a rock, his hands tied together like a lamb ready for the butcher’s yard. The social services report said he was ten, but he looked younger, skinny with malnourished, sunken cheeks. His hair was silvery-white and crudely cut, half-covering his shining too-big blue eyes.

Gwaine scowled. They were risking their lives for this boy. Their eyes met and a chill crept up Gwaine’s spine. If he was a powerful as Elaine suspected, better they kill him quickly, here and now. Leave him to the wolves.

The boy called Kay.

***

Who do I kill?

Arthur gazed around the slow-gathering crowd, palm resting on the large iron pommel of the Templar sword.

He counted twelve, a mix of ages and equally divided between men and women. The Bodmin pack didn’t look like much. One, an old bloke with a faded red scarf wrapped around a scrawny neck, snarled at him. Most of his teeth were long gone, his gums pale and wrinkled. A few deformed canines dangled somewhere near the back of his mouth but his body was stick thin, buried deep under a heavy coat and bundle of blankets.

They’re dying.

As Arthur watched them he saw the sluggish movements, the deformities and dull stares of the Unholy.

The Beast Within was nearly extinct. Elaine had been right. This kidnapping was a last ditch attempt to hold off the inevitable; the end of the werewolves. Where the Templars had failed, technology and civilization had succeeded. The fumes belching from the millions of cars, the soot rising out of the factories and mines, the day by day erosion of the wild countryside, bound into parks or cleared away for fields of dumb sheep and cattle, all heralded the end of the werewolf. Soon the last of the wilderness would be tamed and the curse of lycanthropy would vanish. The Beast Within would fall silent forever and the last link between Man and Animal would gently rust away into nothing.

The werewolves of Bodmin had become civilized. That was their doom. Enclosed, isolated and lonely, they’d interbred for generations, hoping to protect the Beast within the intermingling of blood. Arthur could see the folly of it. The children were pale and puny. The Beast Within existed within everyone. It was a person’s capacity for savagery. For rage, raw action, for revelling in the hunt and the scent of blood in the dawn. The werewolf’s bite merely activated the Beast, brought it to the fore and allowed the person to truly awaken his animal soul.

But civilization dulled the Beast. Concrete imprisoned it. Words and letters and language baffled its senses. So as mankind marched towards a technological utopia, the Beast withered in mens’ souls. Britain, with hardly a forest or wild place, was especially hard. Dartmoor and a few places in Scotland offered some haven, but even these became tainted as they built roads and the horizons filled with houses and shops. There was no room now for wilderness, not on these shores.

Elaine had warned him. If he was bitten Arthur would succumb to the Beast. Not because he was weak, but because he was strong. The Beast fed on blood-lust and Arthur was all about blood-lust and battle-madness. The Beast Within howled day and night in his chest and a bite would allow it to break free. And once free there was no going back. Given the choice between true, bestial freedom and the constraints of being human, of being civilized, who would pick the latter?

Freedom. What he wouldn’t give to have it. Arthur would have let the werewolves be, in another generation they’d be gone and he would have been happy to play the long game. The battle had been fought for seven hundred years, what difference would another twenty have made? The Templars would have won.

Except for the boy.

Arthur tried to avoid looking at him, in case he betrayed how important the boy Kay was to him. An Oracle.

Elaine had tested him and his powers were off the chart. ESP, precognition, telekinesis, telepathy. The boy would save the Order. He was a Mentalist of extraordinary potential. True, he couldn’t control any of the gifts he had and they were driving him slowly mad, but under Elaine’s guidance, he would be saved. Arthur had Kay’s future mapped out. Maybe that was why he’d run away.

Straight into the claws of the Bodmin pack. Arthur knew something of their legends, of their religion. The werewolves followed ancient, pagan ways. Of gods of thunder, battle and night goddesses. They believed they were the first witches, taught the art of transformation, of animal tongue, command over the elements by their ancient goddess. Gaia. Morrigan. Parvati. Hecate. Kali. She had so many names but she was the first. Even now they sacrificed to her and what she savoured more than anything was the blood of the Spring Child.

In the dead of winter the ancient tribes would pick a child, one pure and beautiful and perfect, and cut out its heart and splash its life-blood over the earth, a sacrifice to summon spring out of the winter darkness. Back then, the magic had been stronger. Now, only a few Spring Children came along. The Gifted. Like Kay.

The Gifted indeed. Arthur had studied the Templar dairies, even though he struggled with Latin even now, the message was clear. In the Bataille Tenebreuse the Templars needed such recruits. Now they were called psychics. Once they would have been prophets, witches, magicians.

Mentalists like Kay. Able to access the hidden secrets of the mind, control thought and matter with just the strength of their will.

Mediums, who communicated with the Ethereal Realm. Who could speak with the dead, with the beings of Heaven and Hell.

Elementalists. Humans who commanded the wind, the earth and beasts. They could raise storms with the clap of their hands and summon earthquakes with the stamping of their feet.

But the Gifted were extraordinarily rare. Which was why everyone fought over them. The werewolves believed the blood of the Gifted could renew the earth, that their flesh would awaken the Beast. The Spring Child was a pack’s salvation.

Arthur had heard rumours that others too recruited the Gifted. The Inquisition had a secret seminary high in the Italian Alps where they trained demonologists and exorcists. Even the Assassins of Alamut were said to have killers who could disappear from plain sight and walk through walls. The tales were fantastical, but that didn’t make them false. He’d seen enough to know there were few limits.

"Where’s Nuada?” Arthur asked. Neither side could face a war, even over one of the Gifted. So a duel had been agreed. Arthur versus the pack’s alpha. The winner would take Kay.

Gwaine had argued for an ambush. Get the werewolves all together and wipe them out. Once, maybe, Arthur would have agreed. He had washed in so much blood, what difference would one more massacre have made? But as he’d made his way to the conclave he’d passed Billi, laughing at some stupid cartoon on the telly. She’d been sitting on the sofa with Balin playing baby-sitter. A plate of bread crumbs and glass half-full of milk lay on the floor beside her. How she laughed when she didn’t know he was there.

It had cut him straight through. His legacy was one of fear. Arthur brings nightmares to the monsters. That’s what they said about him. But at that moment he’d seen the legacy he’d left for his daughter. She feared him too.

She would be better off with Percy.

He’d kept his Templar life hidden from her. He knew she was suspicious, but too afraid to ask. He couldn’t tell her. He owed Jamila that. He would keep Billi away from the Knights Templar. She would not share his dark dreams.

“Here, Templar.” A man came through a gap between two weathered boulders. He wore his blonde hair in long plats, decorated with beads and feathers. His naked body was covered in Celtic patterns, deep blue spirals and knots of elaborate beauty. Beside him was a small boy with wild blonde dreadlocks. He hung onto his father’s hand and stared at Arthur with desperate, fear-filled eyes.

I am his nightmare, too, thought Arthur.

The pack alpha peered passed Arthur at Percy and Gwaine. Arthur could see the calculation in the man’s eyes. There were a dozen of them, only three Templars. But a dozen what? Old men. Sick children, weak-limbed adults. It wouldn’t be a fight. It would be a massacre.

“To the death, then?” said the man and in that moment Arthur knew he’d won. He watched the man unwrap his son’s fingers from his hand and the boy fought back tears. The old man put his hand on Nuada’s shoulder then led the boy to the side. A loose circle formed.

He just wants to live.

Why don’t I feel that? He wondered that and felt there was something wrong with him. Arthur didn’t fear because he didn’t have anything to live for. His wife was long dead and his daughter a stranger. He was a useless father. He’d been a poor husband. He’d ruined what few relationships he’d had and would ever do so. Percy stuck by him for old times’ sake, vainly hoping Arthur would change. But how else could he do what he did? He’d buried pity. Buried compassion. Buried his love.

“Yes, to the death,” answered Arthur. He drew out his sword and held it low and ready to his side.

“C’mon, Nuada, kill the bastard!” shouted someone. Nuada took a step sideways, hunched with his brawny arms spread out in front of him. His nails lengthened into yellow long hooks. Blonde and light brown hair thickened across his shoulders and his jaws stretched, fangs rising from his jaw.

Arthur didn’t move.

The transformation was gradual, disjointed. Nuada howled as his spine mutated and his skull lengthened. He walked on two legs, a grotesque man-beast, powerful forearms and reverse-jointed knees, thick corded muscle, locking immense strength within his legs. Only the eyes remained human, they never changed.

Arthur moved. His sword flicked up into a two-handed grip. The werewolf howled as the Templar Master stepped within range of his lethal claws. The monster’s eyes blazed with eagerness and he swept his right claw in a throat-ripping arc.

Arthur drove the sword blade upwards, catching the werewolf through the elbow joint. There was no resistance against the razor sharp steel. He turned into the blow that never came, instead Arthur was sprayed by arterial blood as the arm, completely severed, flew away. He twitched his wrist, reversed his grip and slammed the pommel square in the werewolf’s forehead. The creature wobbled and Arthur roared as he smashed the pommel once more across the beast’s jaw.

The beast collapsed and lay panting in the mud. Arthur pushed his boot onto the creature’s chest and held the sword high, ready for an executioner’s chop. The fight had lasted a few seconds.

“Not my da! Not my da!”

The boy broke free of his grandfather and threw himself against Arthur. He punched and kicked him, tears streaming down his pallid face. The grandfather jerked forward, but stopped. This was Arthur SanGreal.

He felt the terror amongst them. It made him sick. They were the monsters, and yet all he saw were a pitiful bunch of beggars, dressed in clothes gathered from charity shops, undernourished and so afraid. They had no hope, these predators. They saw the future and it was without them. Despite their claws, fierce fangs and howling, it was futile. Man had won. They lived in half-worlds, trapped between wolf and man, and they suffered.

Arthur lowered his sword and stepped backwards.

Instantly the boy threw himself onto his father, hugging the panting monster around its massive neck. The beast stared up at Arthur, blinking and bewildered. Then he nodded, slowly.

The crowd parted as Arthur approached the boy huddled against the rock.

“Come with me, Kay,” he said. He helped him up and drew the blade against the rope knot and the threads peeled apart.

Kay looked up at Arthur.

Arthur smiled. “You’re safe now, boy.”

Kay shook his head. “Not anymore.”

THE END

Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection - Don Roff


The year is 2012, and what starts as a pervasive and inexplicable illness ends up as a zombie infestation that devastates the world's population. Taking the form of an illustrated journal found in the aftermath of the attack, this pulse-pounding, suspenseful tale of zombie apocalypse follows biologist Dr Robert Twombly as he flees from city to countryside and heads north to Canada, where -- he hopes -- the living dead will be slowed by the colder climate. Encountering scattered humans and scores of the infected along the way, he fills his notebook with graphic drawings of zombies and careful observations of their behaviour, along with terrifying tales of survival.

Being a bit of a zombie groupie, I've been following the release of Zombies: via Don's Facebook page for a while now, so I was stoked to receive a copy on Saturday morning. And since I was home alone, I thought I'd just sit for a moment to flip through it while I finished my coffee.
It goes without saying that a refill and a sneaky bowl of Cheerios later, Zombies: had been suitably devoured. As the blurb says, the book takes the form of an illustrated, handwritten journal kept by Dr Twombly as he seeks refuge from the burgeoning zombie epidemic. It's a nice concept, written in a way that suggests an academic who's trying to hold it together while facing up to the bleak reality that he's one mistake away from being a takeaway. There are some interesting ideas, not least of which is the probable cause of the outbreak- an idea which, unlike some previous zingers from the annals of zombie history, has the bittersweet aftertaste of satirical truth to it.

Dr Twombly's horror at what is happening around him is nicely contrasted by the vestiges of his clinical training as he records his thoughts about the biomechanics of the infection while weighing up whether a shovel or baseball bat is more effective for personal defense. There's plenty of the good stuff you'd want from a zombie apocalypse- streets choked with zombies, survival nuts going mental, gnawed off limbs, ongoing decomposition, set against and balanced out by Twombly's horrified and reluctantly pragmatic approach to surviving the epidemic.

Chris Lane's illustrations provide some wonderfully coloured, gory punctuation to the story and have a rough edge to them that lets them blend in nicely with the concept.


Zombies throws out some good ideas and is a punchy, interesting read- and while fun, I reckon it deserves, and will be even better on, a second reading. Welcome to a permanent home on my zombie shelf, Dr Twombly.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Big Bad Wolf by Christine Warren

Short review:

read this, reaD this, reAD this, rEAD this, READ THIS BOOK!

More detailed review:

Missy Roper's fantasies have revolved around Graham Winters since the moment they met. But the imposing leader of the Silverback werewolf clan always seemed oblivious to Missy's existence. At least he was, until Missy collides with him at a party and then abruptly runs away - arousing Graham's interest...and wild desires. Lupine law decrees that every Alpha male must have a mate, and all Graham's instincts tell him that the sensual, beguiling Missy is his. Trouble is, Missy is human - every delectable inch of her. Convincing his clan that she's his destined mate, and keeping her safe from his enemies will be the biggest challenge that Graham has ever faced. And now that he is determined to have her - as his lover and his mate - Missy's world is changing in ways she never imagined...

When Liz mentioned to me that there was going to me a Monster Mash Up on MFB I knew immediately which super-sexy werewolf I was going to throw into the ring.

"Big Bad Wolf" is book 8 in Christine Warren's "Other" series, but chronologically fits right at the beginning. The "Others" books are about a community of were-animals, vampires, fae and others, who live in New York and have recently revealed themselves to the humans (talk about opening a can of worms).

Missy is a Kindergarten teacher with the biggest crush on Graham there could be. Unfortunately the wolf has one ironclad rule: No Humans. Well, that's until he sees Missy in The Dress;D. What follows is a fast-paced, super-sexy, laugh-out-loud romp that will always keep "Big Bad Wolf" on the top of my to be re-read pile.

Obviously it can't be all roses and happiness and the fly in Graham's ointment is Curtis, a distant cousin who will never be Alpha because he a spineless whimp who cannot fight, but still tries to get Graham to step down by dusting off ancient laws that the pack hasn't paid attention to in years. One of those rules states that the Alpha has to have a mate who can bear children. To say that Graham has his hands full with persuading Missy of his honorable intentions after ignoring her for months and fending off his cousins sleezy tricks would be an understatement. And then there is the Lupine Matehunt...

I think I may have mentioned already how much I enjoyed "Big Bad Wolf". It is has fabulous characters, scorching chemistry and dialogue that kept me glued to the page and reading until I finished in one sitting.

"Big Bad Wolf" is published by St. Martin's Paperbacks and Christine's website is here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

**Wanted** - Editors and Music Editors

Please read the following blog post and see if you make the grade for this fantastic opportunity offered by one of the coolest teen reading and music sites in the UK:
***

WANTED:

BOOK EDITORS AND MUSIC EDITORS FOR SPINEBREAKERS.CO.UK


Calling all creative whizzes, book heads, musos and budding writers. We at Spinebreakers are recruiting a team of 13-18 year olds to become the next line up of music and books editors for Penguin’s online community, http://www.spinebreakers.co.uk/, run by teens for teens.

Spinebreakers launched in 2007 and is now crammed full of creative content inspired by books, contributed by 13-18 year olds. The website is backed by publisher Penguin but the content of the site is totally in the hands of the young editors.

The past editors have had brilliant experiences interviewing famous authors like Nick Hornby, being the first to hear and review brand new music from Island records, sitting on the first ever Orange Prize for Fiction Youth Panel, attending the Underage Festival, speaking at events, and letting the world know their opinions when it came to books.
We are now looking to recruit a second generation of editors: this is your chance to fill their footsteps, gain some amazing experiences and be a part of something unique.

You will:

- Receive tonnes of free books
- Get to listen and review some of the hottest new music around
- Work with industry professionals
- Meet and interview famous authors and musicians
- Explore imaginative topics around books and writing
- Unleash your creativity
- Get something totally amazing on your CV
- Have all travel expenses covered

I have to say my involvement with Spinebreakers has helped me a great deal, not only it's given me the confidence to stand out within a crowd, public speaking, writing articles, but it has also given me the opportunity to be on BBC Radio 4, which I'm really proud of.” Osman Diallo (ex-Spinebreakers Editor, aged 20)

If you have a passion for books, music, reading, writing, drawing, filming – anything creative – then we want to hear from you.

The editors will receive a half-day workshop at a youth marketing agency in London. You need to be:

- Available on 26th October 2009
- Within commuting distance of London (for Books Editors only)
- Able to attend monthly meetings at Penguin in Central London
- Able to commit to creating monthly content


To apply, we want you to show us what you can do. Send us your favourite piece of writing you’ve done – it could be a short story, book or album review, rant or feature. Plus we want you to tell us in 100 words or less why you should become one of our teen editors. And, don’t forget to state if you’d rather be a books or music editor. Send the info to:
jointheteam(@)spinebreakers.co.uk
(make sure you fix the actual email address above)
Please send your submissions to reach us no later than 22nd OCTOBER 2009

Please visit http://www.spinebreakers.co.uk/ to find out more about the site and to apply to become an editor.
***
I genuinely wish I could go for this. I could maybe blame my wrinkles as an 18 year old on laughter lines? Nah, I didn't think so either.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

Twenty-four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives. In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death - televised for all of Panem to see. Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12.

When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.WINNING WILL MAKE YOU FAMOUS. LOSING MEANS CERTAIN DEATH.

-----

When I picked up The Hunger Games, it was with a mild case of trepidation- generally speaking, getting into the head of a 16 year old girl isn’t something I do for fun.

Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the novel, lives in a land divided into 12 subjugated districts, kept firmly in check by the iron rule of President Snow, leader of the Capitol, victors of a ruinous civil war some seventy four years previously.

The story opens as Katniss’ district prepares for the shrill, compulsory fanfare of The Reaping, the annual lottery when the Tributes are chosen for the year’s Hunger Games: 24 Tributes, a boy and girl from each of the Districts, locked into a custom built arena to fight to the death until only one remains. . a stark and typically brutal reminder of the dominion of the Capitol.

This year, Katniss is going to the Arena, and things are never going to be the same again.

Because Katniss isn’t going to go out without a fight, not with her little sister, mother and the boy she’s now realising her true feelings for, watching. As she and the taciturn Peeta, her co-tribute, travel to the capital city, she begins to realise the scope and scale of the world beyond District 12, and the vast gulf between her world and that of the Capitol. And as she does, her determination to fight, to win and to stay alive hardens.

But she’s not alone in that; the tributes from the other 11 districts are looking to win as well, and the producers need to put on a good show; it’s a recipe for death- and a damn fine story.

I was pleasantly surprised how crisp and punchy the books were; you’re swiftly drawn into Katniss’ world, and with that, the lives of Katniss and Peeta. They’re both clearly drawn characters with their own goals and personalities and Katniss, rendered cynical at a young age by the grim reality of life in District 12, is given an endearing naiveté in respect of seeing past the obvious actions of those around her, a trait that deftly underlines her character and made her far more interesting.

The growth of their relationship is handled with equal care; it grows subtly, and becomes the foundation for much, if not everything, that comes after. It’s never allowed to smother the pace of the story or distract from the ever present threat of the Capitol and the deadly environment they find themselves in.



The story continues in Catching Fire, the second instalment of the trilogy, and reaffirms that the Capitol, still headed by the unrelentingly sinister President Snow, isn’t going to take Katniss’ victory lying down (and that’s not a spoiler- it’s written in the first person). Having returned home to the still gritty District 12 with the trappings of a victor of the Games, Katniss should never have wanted for anything again. But the reality of their vulnerability taints everything, denying her the chance to explore her feelings towards Gale, the boy she had to leave behind.

It’s not long before the repercussions of her actions are felt and the long arm of Capitol reaches out to smash apart any semblance of the future she’d hope to build. The same irresistible pace pervades Catching Fire, a turbo-charged rush that won’t let you lay the book aside without a fight.

They’re a fantastic, fun read – all I need to do now is force myself to wait for part 3!


See the promo video here.