Monday, June 30, 2008

Shhh, Exam Time!

I will be back on Wednesday, 2nd July, with interviews, a guest blog by a vibrant and upcoming new author, Karen M who has managed to nab one of the best agents in the US, and a deluge of reviews which I've been storing up - in other words: normal service will resume!

Please feel free to contact us - email on the right - if you would like any Underground (Kat Richardson's newest book) postcards posted onto you. Or if you would just like to contact us to shoot the breeze!

Happy reading, y'all!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Chris McGrath - Art of the Paranormal

I've long admired the very talented Chris McGrath's art - he's done the artwork for Vicki Petterssen's books, along with Rob Thurman's (yum Niko and Cal!) and of course, the covers for the Jim Butcher books, The Dresden Files.

He has also done the amazingly atmospheric covers for Kat Richardson's books and I'm lucky enough to have received some swagg in the form of a handful of post cards depicting Kat's newest book, Underground (available here in the UK in August 08).

Please contact me if you would like some posted onto you - don't forget to let me have the postal address! Our contact details are to the right.

This is the link to Chris's site. I think one of the reasons he's so successful as an illustrator is that he manages to keep everything in perspective. The men tote weapons and they look macho and very cool with the edginess of The Crow's noir world tucked around them. The girls are all pretty but in proportion. No gravity defying boobs or tottering high heels (which is a relief).

His art is deeply atmospheric and really helps put you there, in the vibe of the book. Which is what front covers are supposed to do, right? So, more than anything else, this is a pat on the back of one of our best artists in the spec fic genre out there. Chris, you are a legend!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Indiana Jones Books Galore

Gareth from Falcata Times has eventually given in to stop me nagging incessantly around his ears to do a guest blog for me - so, voila! he's reviewed a selection of the newest Indy Jones books that's come to the market.

The Lost Journal of Indiana Jones

Basically a great item for the fans of all the Indy films, there’s sketches, notes, photo’s and looks like Indy did write the whole thing. Within the journals pages there was information from his childhood right through to his latest exploits. Pretty groovy to be honest.

However, personally my major gripe is with the presentation.
Whilst it does look and feel like a “genuine” article I did feel a little disappointed with a number of things. Firstly one thing that the publisher took the time to give the journal a leather feel with stitching across the top and sides and even added the red binding band that you see in Raiders of the Lost Ark, however what they didn’t do, which I’d have loved would have been to have pull outs as if things had been “stuffed” inside or even had it feel like it had been glued (in much the way that they did with their Spiderwick book) and in order to cover the 4 films as if it were a true secret journal I’d have left out the childhood bits and just concentrated on the stuff that the “Government” wouldn’t want made public. But that’s just me.

On the whole a great item for the fans but it could have been so much more if a little more thought had gone into it.

The Adventures of Indiana Jones

If you’re a fan of the Indy films then this is the huge action packed book of the previous three films in written form. As you’d expect all are well written, great accompaniments however the major problem is that when you’ve seen the films it really does make this book redundant. An item yet again for the fans but its real value for money as how many other books for £8 do you get three seriously fun tales? That’s serious savings and will more than entertain for a few days and was a pleasure to read prior to heading to the pictures for the viewing of the fourth and probably final Harrison Ford Indiana Jones outing.

Indiana Jones Omnibus – Volume 1 Graphic Novel

You’ve seen all the films, read all the books and still need an archaeological fix that Tony Robinson just isn’t going to cut. What do you do? Quite simply head out and get this omnibus of graphic novel short stories featuring everyones favourite whip-cracking, ladies loving Professor. Contained within are tales by William Messner-Loebs ('Wonder Woman') and Dan Barry ('Flash Gordon') who also provides the art. Fun and mayhem are never far behind as the proverbial frying pan is never far from the fire and you do wonder how our hero has managed to live so long. The gods as well as the fans must love him and the presentation of this, truly was a delight to behold. An item that is a must keep.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Graphic Novel Movie Adaptation
OK, I’m going to come clean here, this arrived a week before the film was released and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, however it did ruin the film for me as I knew what was going to happen near enough down to the letter. As a bright side though certain facts omitted from the film did make it into this GN for example the fact that Mutt was expelled from school for betting on the outcome of his fencing matches.

A great item however I do feel that whilst the artwork was of a certain quality, in today’s technological world they really could have done a bit more to make the characters look exactly like the ones from the films rather than the artists own interpretation in places and to be honest I think it could have been better if the original script writers had spent more time working on the sparkling repartee of the characters over the action sequences that made the other films such compulsive viewing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Old favourites revisited

As I was lazing about on the couch today, erm, as I was sitting on the couch, studying earlier on today, my eye wandered over my bulging bookshelves and I luxuriated in how many of them are all time favourites which I will never pass on.

Like this site, the shelves and favourites are eclectic.

I highlight some of them here with reasons as to why they are favourites that will be packed into my case and taken with me to onto a desert island.

This is one of Charles De Lint's books which I came to quite late, after reading his other larger better known books like Moonheart, Yarrow, Forests of the Heart etc.

The thing about Wolf Moon is that it packs a helluva punch. It is a slender offering but it is hugely epic in scale and it rips along at a strong pace. It tells the story of a young werewolf (it is set in quasi-medieval times) who fights against prejudice in a tale of redemption.

There is a very cleverly thought out villain in the form of a bard - and of course, there is a girl in the picture.
The sheer scale of the story is huge, but in size it is tiny, proving again that CDL is a wordweaver of great renown and that not every epic has to be a paperweight.

I fell in love with Alice Hoffman's work through the movie - don't you dare shake your head and cry out "shame on you!" - Practical Magic. I bought the book and loved it even more than the movie.

Green Angel has to be one of my favourite examples of Ms Hoffman's writing. Her style is uniquely her own, with a strong voice and a dreamlike quality to it.
We follow Green - always a bit of an outsider, even in her own family - as she struggles to cope with living on her own, after her family gets tragically caught up in an awful Event that happens in the town/city a few miles away.

Society breaks down and things become really bad. Green adapts and learns and finds an inner strength to survive all of it.

Throughout the book you sit with this lump in your throat, not because of the situation the main character finds herself in, but because of the way it is written. Like Carhullan Army or even How I Live now, Green Angel is written by someone who loves what they do and their words have power.
An astonishing and powerful book and in my opinion, one of her best. Like a review said on Amazon about this, which I read a while ago: this can be read by anyone with a soul. And it fits.
I became familiar with Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's work through their amazing site over at Endicott Studios so when I accidentally stumbled across a copy of The Wood Wife in Forbidden Planet here in London, I had to have it.

Terri is well known for her editing skills and for running Endicott Studios but to be honest, her writing is up there with the best of the lot.
In The Wood Wife she tackles something that lies very close to my heart - mythic storytelling, weaving myths and legends into a dense vibrant story that shivers with magic and the possibility of the unknown.

Maggie Black, a writer, inherits a house outside Tucson, Arizona, from a famous poet with whom she had corresponded, and who met a mysterious death.

As she meets the local inhabitants, Maggie becomes aware of undercurrents of magic and fantasy, and that all is not as it seems.
Again, one of those very small, very misleading books. The artwork is by Brian Froud himself and he in turn has created works to compliment this story.

Don't let the cover fool you. Here we deal with the elemental powers of good v bad, summer and winter and well, you get the idea.

Midori Snyder is famous for her riveting YA novels over in the States and she has a very light touch when writing. I've not had a chance to read many of her books, but Hannah's Garden is up there with being one of my favourites because the characters seem real. It is an intricately woven story about a young girl- Cassie - who accompanies her mother back to the farm she grew up on. Her father (Cassie's grandfather) is gravely ill in hospital and as the story progresses it delves deeply into relationships and how fragile we are as human beings and how alone in the world without companionship and what we would do for fame or perceived fame. Cassie loves the farm with all her heart, seeing it as somewhere she'd always been happy. Her mother on the other hand hates it with all her soul and sees it as a place which had somehow cursed her family.
But things are not was they seem and we find vibrant magic and music go hand in hand with this amazing story. A definite must - yet more mythic story telling!

Och now, this is, thanks to my dad, here is one of my favourite books. I grew up reading cowboy books, because that is the only thing my dad ever bought. Louis L'Amour was a favourite so when this came out, my dad bought it and I read it and have had a copy of it ever since. In fact, I think my copy dates back to 1985. Because my hands are seizing up on me, I've copied this across from the Louis L'Amour website:
At the center of The Walking Drum is Kerbouchard, one of L'Amour's greatest heroes. Warrior, lover, scholar, Kerbouchard is a daring seeker of knowledge and fortune bound on a journey of enormous challenge, danger and revenge. Across the Europe, the Russian steppes and through the Byzantine wonder of Constantinople, gateway to Asia, Kerbouchard is thrust into the heart of the treacheries, passions, violence and dazzling wonders of a magnificent time. From castle to slave gallery, from sword-racked battlefields to a princess's secret chamber, and ultimately, to the impregnable fortress of the Valley of Assassins, The Walking Drum is a powerful adventure of an ancient world you will find every bit as riveting as Louis L'Amour's stories of the American West.

Other books of his that are favourites are: The Haunted Mesa which deals with the mysterious Anasazi and The Lonesome Gods which exults in the power of nature. It was through L'Amour's books that I learned about the Iliad and Homer and The Odyssey and the wider world. Who knew that cowboys and adventurers read Shakespeare whilst herding cattle? I think the most valuable lesson I've learned from Mr. L'Amour is to never ever pigeonhole a book or a genre, because you'll come short and look the fool.

Naturally, I can sit here and type this massive post of other favourites, but it will just become boring, so I'll leave that to the next time.

Thank you for reminiscing with me.

Happy Trails!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Musecrack, anyone?

(image from here)

I am not particularly fond of magazines, especially genre magazines and have in the past only ever subscribed to a handful of mags:

National Geographic
Empire Magazine
The Bookseller

And more recently to The Writers Forum. But I've got a new addiction.

SFX magazine - they are over at and besides the fact that they are genre encompassing, they are blindingly enthusiastic about sci-fi, fantasy, horror and the other spec fic genres, which is pretty darn cool. They also review movies, dvd's AND books. Yep. How much cooler is that than any other mag out there at the moment? And unlike others, it's not just ONE page of books that they throw at you, oh no, there is at least five or more pages. Pretty excellent, ay?

In an effort to yet again stave off the horror of picking up legal papers to study this morning, I pootled around the SFX website and discovered this!

So naturally I had to go down to the WHSmith and pick myself up a copy to look through. I bought my copy, went to Coffee Republic and sat down with the best Freezer and paged through the mag - it is cover to cover musecrack. I kid you not. Interviews with authors, film makers, fans, articles up the wazoo on Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury, her majesty Steph Meyer...the list goes on.

I would heartily recommend this to anyone who is a fan of sci fi, fantasy or who plainly likes to read well written articles about the people who write the books we enjoy reading!

And just for Gareth, there is an opus to the grand master, David Gemmell...G, if you are prepared to send me that review soon, I could conceive buying you your own copy and posting it onto you in the wilds of Manchester...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Possessing Rayne, Kate Cann

This my second book of Kate Cann's which I read this weekend. Allow me to just say: they are not small books either, they are just that obsessively unputdownable!

In Possessing Rayne we are introduced to Rayne who lives in an estate, somewhere in London. She shares a small flat with her mother and her baby brother Jelly. She has a boyfriend called Damian who is handsome and tough and who clearly likes having her his side. You get the impression that Rayne is a pretty girl and aware of it, but it is not all she is, which is very refreshing. Rayne isn't happy in her situation and she decides to make a change. She applies for a job in a tea room which is part of a Morton's Keep, some distance away, effectively cutting herself off from her too needy mother and a boyfriend who is on the cusp of becoming a big problem with his obsessiveness.
Kate relies heavily on your fear of the unknown at the start of the book, working deep into your psyche the fact that all is not what you see, there are more things here, just under the surface. She spins the story along at a good pace and Rayne meets St John (pronounced Sinjun) who does sound quite a dish, along with his little coterie of friends whilst walking around the actual town of Marcle Lees. But you can't shake the feeling that something is not right. They are too friendly, too keen...but Rayne plays along because honestly, what could they gain by playing her false, right?
The most important and pleasurable thing about Possessing Rayne for me was the fact that the author clearly enjoyed bringing in a strong strain of paganism and magic into the book and it is so beautifully written whilst being clear and to the point. When I got to the end of the book and I noticed that she's decided to bring Rayne back for a sequel, I was inordinately pleased. I can't wait to go back and attend another fire festival with the fire dancers.

The book is very gothic, very noir and will no doubt garner Kate Cann even more readers than she already has on both sides of the "age" divide. I know at least of three friends who will be getting copies of this!

Sea Change, Kate Cann

I spent Saturday and Sunday reading two of Kate Cann's books and I am pretty smitten. Kate knows how to write, that's for sure. And what is even more clear is that she enjoys creating vibrant interesting and contradictive characters that are so real they leap off the page.

In Sea Change we meet Chloe who is on the surface and average girl who goes to a relatively expensive school but she feels strongly that she does not fit in, at all. Her parents' relationship has blown up, her father is desperately trying to keep himself from breaking down completely and she feels, needless to say, very angry towards her mother whom she perceives as walking out on both of them. School is school - it's boring and vile and yet, suddenly an extra dimension unexpectedly surfaces in the form of Davinia, the new girl who is impossibly beautiful, glamourous and wealthy.

Chloe falls under Davinia's spell and I felt my heart sink as I watched this lovely girl being sucked into a destructive relationship with her new best friend. They set off on a summer holiday together, with Davinia's wealthy parents in tow. Initially, things are idyllic but then Davinia turns into one of the scariest and most uncontrolled characters I've come across in a book. In a word, this girl is vile. And Chloe realises it. Almost too late. And she's trapped in a hellish situation...but she is resourceful and escapes. And out from under Davinia and her controlling parents, Chloe finds herself, finds love and discovers her true worth as someone who is strong, capable and as someone who does not need anyone else to stand on her own two feet or to fight her own fights.

An utterly amazing and beautifully written book! I would recommend it highly to both teens and adults to read. I laughed when I read this review on Amazon just as I was about to publish this on blogger and decided to add it on here because, honestly, I couldn't say it any better:

Thank you to Kate Cann (my heroine of chick lit) for making fiction good again, giving all us single girls the hope that somewhere a nice guy does actually walk this planet.

Night Shift, Lilith Saintcrow

Oh my Lord God, do not forsake me when I face Hell's legions. In Thy name and with Thy blessing. I go forth to cleanse the night.

This is Jill Kismet's prayer. Jill is Lilith Saintcrow's newest creation. Jill is a rare creature, she hunts hellbreed and other things that go bump in the night. She is a Hunter but she has been infused with a bit of hellbreed herself, to make her faster, stronger and it helps her heal faster too. The fact that she is tainted by the hellbreed is a fantastic source or inner turmoil and it makes for some interesting schenes which Lilith is so excellent at setting up.

It is a very well written, very dark book dealing with a lot of raw emotion, pushing the boundaries of friendship and belief. We have a fantastic counter-foil to Jill's strong kick butt attitude in a Were called Saul. I am not spoiling the storyline but he sounds delicious and acts as a good springboard for someone who has no real life beside killing Bad Things.

The Bad Things are mainly earthbound hellbreed who overstep the line. Jill is called out to help in a spectacularly savage killing of several police out along a stretch of road. She picks up the scent of hellbreed and something else...soon she has two friends tagging along a ride, Harper and Dominic, two Weres who are FBI. With them is Saul and it only after an elaborate dance that Lilith is so good at choreographing, that we discover the premise behind their presence and the scope of the trouble.

It is the first Jill Kismet book and we find that although Jill is very good at what she does, she is quite still new at the game. She takes every killing personally and is both protector and avenger. It is a fantastic role and has tremendous scope as she comes across as loyal, caring and very uninhibited when it comes to hurting Bad People. The setting is very dark, very noir and quite savage. Magic is real and you are as likely to find something trying to eat your face off in the shadows as a Sanctuary where you can purchase spells and charms.

Jill's character is set up painstakingly with enough pathos to make you care about her. There are very few walk-on parts in Night Shift as you can be pretty sure the cast of characters will make a return in future books. They are well thought out and work well alongside Jill.

Lilith has again created a vibrant, strong, female heroine who keeps you running behind her in a breathless charge against forces you just know you would never be able to walk away from completely unscathed. But somehow you do limp away and all you pray for is that your integrity remains intact and what the hell next you will be getting up to with Kismet in that follow-up book!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Amazulu, Walton Golightly

To this day, there is still debate whether Shaka KaSenzangakhona should be remembered as a military genius who united the Zulu people and forged one of the most powerful sub Saharan nations, or a military genius with an almost sociopathic thirst for revenge whose reign saw over a million people fall to the assegais of his impis.

Time and romantic notions of a 'noble savage' have blurred history into myth, but the fact is that the story of Shaka really doesn’t need any such embellishment to be captivating.

Walton seems to have realized this and has created a sweeping, historical work which tells the story of Shaka’s bloody rise to power from his days as an exile in the service of Dingiswayo to undisputed king of a transformed Zulu nation, told through the eyes of one of Shaka’s trusted lieutenants and his shield-bearer as they navigate through these turbulent and often violent times.

While Walton’s not shy with fruits of his formidable research, he’s successfully infused the story with the right amount of nuance to create a finely balanced and thoroughly enjoyable tale that successfully blends fact and fiction. As someone who enjoys military history and a range of fiction, I have to say it satisfied on both counts and I’d happily recommend it to anyone either remotely interested in South African history or looking for a gripping adventure.

It's the first in a trilogy which will track the Zulu empire from its birth in fire and blood right up to its legendary clash with the British empire- and I for one am in it for the duration.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Carhullan Army, Sarah Hall

It was the rush of water into her own home that inspired Sarah Hall's third novel, The Carhullan Army, which won the Booktrust's John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in December 2007.

TCA describes the future dystopia which opens as a young woman, known only to the reader as "Sister", flees from a crowded apartment block in a squalid town under the totalitarian control of The Authority.

Resources are rationed. Food comes in tins from America. Fuel is scarce. Medicine stores are running out and in any case new strains of old diseases are resistant to the drugs.
Women are fitted with coils (nicknamed "dog leashes") to prevent pregnancy and there is a lottery in which the prize is coil removal for a few lucky ladies. Sister is heading for the hills, where a group of tough, renegade women are holding out as "unofficials" on an old farm where they grow their own fresh vegetables, striving to become self-sufficient whilst one elite unit prepares for battle against The Authority. (taken from the interview with Sarah Hall in the Telegraph).

The thing about The Carhullan Army is that it is one of the scariest books I have ever read. Not because it is filled with scenes of gore or horror, but because it felt uncomfortably like reading a book about something that is on the cusp of happening.

Like "How I Live Now" and "The Handmaid's Tale" it is set in a dystopian future which is, if you ponder it, uncomfortably possible. We follow Sister as she makes a run for it from an awful relationship and a life akin to slavery. She literally heads for the hills, to Carhullan, to make a better life for herself amongst a tribe of women who live a life of hard labour but contentment, battling the elements and eking out an existence on the land.

Sister's appearance on the farm triggers curiosity and very little animosity. She finds a home, becomes accepted and finds warmth and love with one of the women.

The leader of the women on the farm, Jackie Nixon, is one of the most charismatic and enigmatic characters I've come across in a book. She is a legend in her own lifetime, a woman with a strong spirit, who is as uncompromising as the land she cultivates. She uses Sister's appearance as a catalyst to create a shake-up in a community that's become lulled by into a false sense of security. It is not an immediate change, but it progresses slowly and in that time we watch Sister grow and find confidence, a place to belong.

This is an incredibly powerful book written with great skill and prowess by an author who has clearly given a lot of thought to how quickly society can fall apart and the awful consequences which can so quickly come about - all we have to do is look how bad things are currently in the economy and you can feel the catsoft feelings of dread pad up and down your back.

A very good and satisfying read. I will definitely seek out the author's other books.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Who knew, that so much could happen in so little time? I have not had a chance to put together any reviews on any of the books that I've read in the past few days - studying (blegh) has taken precedence, I'm afraid. However, I am putting together some news snippets below to keep you entertained!

Dear blogreaders, I'm happy to announce that fellow countryman (person?) Natasha Mostert will in the near future be putting in an appearance on the blog as a guest to chat to us about being an author, about growing up in South Africa and very importantly about her new, stunning book: Season of the Witch.

I am absolutely thrilled being offered this opportunity to host Natasha's guest blog. You can only imagine the internal-dancing (so as not to alarm colleagues and neighbours) whilst having to maintain the cool facade which I so badly try to cultivate. Liz, the Ice Queen. No, I can't imagine it either.

All four copies of Steve Berry's book has now found homes - thanks to everyone who entered!

Over at Marie Brennan's site (she is the author of the stunning Midnight Never Come) you have the opportunity to win loads of goodies. All you need to do is search for clues all around the site in order to answer the questions. This is the link to Marie's site. Enter the competition and good luck! Oh, if you click on the little half moon at the top of the page, something really cool happens, go give it a whirl.
Chris, The Book Swede is gushing about God (Neil Gaiman to you and I) over at his site, giving a very comprehensive review of his M is for Magic anthology of short stories and ficlets. I think I probably know parts of American Gods and Stardust off by heart...honestly.

For fans of Jacqueline Carey, there is an excellent interview over at Fantasy Book Critic. You know how some important things that happen to you are underscored and linked by certain things? For me it would be picking up Jacqueline's first book, Kushiel's Dart on my very first holiday here in the UK. It is intrinsically linked to lazy hot days, with nothing to do, and feeling of awe of a young woman with so much artistic talent who could write as magnificently as this, at such length! I was smitten. And I'm still a fan...can you tell?

Graeme, over at Graeme's Fantasy Book Review is currently giving away a copy of Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik.

Katie reviews a much loved favourite of mine, Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child. I went through a stage where I was so taken with Regency romance novels, I felt sure I could write one. Needless to say, it was cringeworthy and fit only to paper the hamster's cage. I still think Masqueraders would make a superb movie...just without Keira Knightly.

And then, to round things off, for butt kicking fun, pop over to Lilith Saintcrow's site to check out her tips on how to write better...whoever decided to call this lady a "hack" needs his / her head examined! Go and read her Hack Manifest. It is excellent!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sniper One, Dan Mills

Sniper One is Dan Mills first person account of the siege of Al Amarah, one of the most protracted engagements the British Army’s been engaged in recent history.

It’s a fast paced, gripping and overall a surprisingly good read. There’s no philosophical navel gazing, it really does what it says on the box and puts you right there with Mills and his cohorts from the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment. You’re firmly in the passenger seat as they come under attack from all sides; Mills certainly doesn’t pull any punches and gives what is in my view the best personal account of combat I’ve read since Moore & Galloway’s We Were Soldiers Once, told honestly and without bravado.

Admittedly some of the slang used might be a bit obscure for non-UK readers but shouldn’t prove a major stumbling block, certainly not for fans of the genre.

If you see this lurking on a supermarket shelf, do yourself a favour and drop it in your trolley.

Friday, June 13, 2008

**Stephenie Meyer News**

Yes, I know, before you shake your head with a big sigh! I am allowed this indulgence and yes I am an utter fan-girl and am squeeling in the inside.
Orbit has slipped in quietly and announced the new cover for Stephenie Meyer's newest offering: The Breaking Dawn.

Isn't it beautiful? Happy sighs. I can't wait for it to come out and let me say: thank heavens it's coming out AFTER the dreaded exam or I would fail my exam miserably because NOTHING would come between me and TBD!
If you go here you can read an excerpt snippet of SM's newest offering and here is an interesting bit about SM teaming up with Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October to do a mini-tour for the release of TBD. Very clever marketing this and will no doubt inspire new fans for both Stephenie and Blue October.

Scott Mariani Interview

Here is my interview with Scott Mariani I've promised! The Alchemist's Secret is out at the moment at all good book stores, with The Mozart Conspiracy being published on the 14th of July. Over here, at Avon, you can read an extract and find more information about Scott and his books and the other books Avon currently carry.

1. Congratulations, firstly, on your publishing deal with Avon. What is the very first thing you did when you found out that you were to be a published fiction author?

Thanks! It wasn’t quite the first time for me, as the book had previously been out in hardback with a different publisher and a slightly different title. But to be elevated to mass market paperback status by a publisher like HarperCollins is definitely a big step up and one of ‘those’ great moments for an author. I seem to recall there was a lot of champagne-drinking going on for a while…

2. Has it changed your life a lot?

Not so much in terms of lifestyle as I’ve worked from home for a long time already, as a literary consultant among other things. In career terms, though, it’s a radical change. Because the deal was for four books, for the first time I was able to immerse myself totally in that magical story world for an extended period of time. It’s a world I love to dwell in, though if you don’t come up for a gulp of reality sometimes you might get a little crazy!

3. The main character in The Alchemist’s Secret, Benedict Hope, is a tremendously tortured character. But his grief is very real and as a reader I became to empathise with him. How hard was he to create?

In real life a lot of people can be tortured long-term by a burden of guilt stemming from some mistake or accident that might not always be their fault. I think that’s something we can all identify with to some extent. It was interesting to create a hero whose life path had been dictated by this incident in his past, steering him in a whole new direction. As a result of it, it’s Ben’s destiny to have to help others, even though happiness is not something he can find easily for himself… As a character, he gradually came together in my mind over a period of time out of various different ideas. Then he just seemed to click into place. Looking back, I wouldn’t say he was very hard to create. He comes naturally to me, in his actions, his way of thinking and speaking.

4. Did you create the religious order in Alchemist or did you loosely base it on an existing religious order?

I’m pleased to say that Gladius Domini – Sword of God – is entirely fictitious, which is probably good news for the world. However I did do quite a bit of research into the rise of fundamentalist Christian cults, which is a very real phenomenon.

5. Do you read widely in the thriller / adventure genre you write in?

Fairly widely – I like to keep abreast of things and have certain favourite authors I keep up with. But my main passion is film, and so I see a lot more thrillers than read them. Many readers comment that my writing is very visual, just like watching a movie, and I guess that’s probably due to the fact that my process is more akin to directing a film inside my head than writing a book!

6. Your research into the alchemy, which formed such an integral part of the plot, is of a very high standard. Was this something you enjoyed doing?

Very much. It’s a gigantic subject, and in fact I ended up having sacrifice a lot of really fascinating material to avoid bogging the story down with facts. I fully resonate with my character Roberta Ryder’s interpretation of alchemy. At its best, it’s a much more profound and important science than history has really given it credit for.

7. It was refreshing to find an initially grumpy female side-kick in Dr. Ryder. When we first meet her she is a bit defensive (understandably so) but she comes about in her own way and time. How did you plan the escalation in their relationship?

Firstly, I wanted to create a heroine who wasn’t about to swoon at the hero’s feet! To me, the really compelling heroines in fiction are the strong, edgy ones – Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 is a favourite. Their relationship more or less develops naturally from their respective viewpoints as danger draws them together: she’s initially a bit wary of this guy who’s clearly not a journalist as he claimed, has certain lethal skills and isn’t afraid to use them. And Ben initially regards her as dead weight, an impediment to his quest. So yes, it starts out as a slightly frosty relationship in some ways. I wanted to draw that out for a while, letting the reader see the chemistry between them while the characters themselves are blind to it. Then later on, of course, they open up and come to realise how much they really care for one another.

8. Do you write to music and if so, do you think it influenced what you wrote?

Yes, I do. Depending on what you’re writing, and the kind of tone and atmosphere you’re trying to create, different kinds of music can really help. For The Alchemist’s Secret I listened to a lot of sacred choral music. The modern composer Arvo Pärt brings a slightly dark, dissonant edge to it – that’s what I was listening to for some of the more spooky, gothic-tinged scenes, such as the opening in the graveyard with the priest and the madman. Then if you’re doing car chases and gunfights, it helps to get your pulse thumping with something a bit more rocky.

9. Did you get to travel for your research at all?

I was fortunate enough to be pretty familiar with the locations for The Alchemist’s Secret, having spent a lot of time in France. There are a couple of locations in the next two Ben Hope books that I visited during the writing process, just to be able to bring an authentic flavour to the page. I think it’s important to take the reader there, make it feel real to them.

10. What is the most important thing you have taken away from completing your first novel?

Aside from the obvious sense of achievement, for me the most important and pleasing reward is knowing that this character I’ve created, who I always believed had ‘legs’ as a returnable thriller hero, will definitely be coming back at least three more times. That really allows me to extend his scope as a character, and I think the readers will find themselves more and more involved in his life and adventures as he goes on.

11. What can we look forward to for Ben in Mozart and Doomsday?

The next two books will really deepen the reader’s sense of this rather complex guy Ben Hope, while the plots get thicker and the action gets faster. In The Mozart Conspiracy we delve back into his past to see another side to him, and it’s through meeting up with his old love (opera singer Leigh Llewellyn) that he’s plunged into another intrigue, this time surrounding the death of Mozart in 1791. It’s a very intense chase thriller. Ben will be up against some seriously nasty villains, including my favourite, Jack Glass. The Doomsday Prophecy isn’t out for a while yet, but I can tell you that the action is ramped up another step again.

12. Would you consider writing in any other genres, maybe do a teen/young adult novel in the same vein?

It’s funny you should mention that… the idea of a kind of ‘son of Ben Hope’, aimed at a slightly younger readership, has been floating around for a while. Who knows, we’ll see. But I have lots of other ideas too. I noticed you’re a big fan of Kelley Armstrong. Me too, and I have a vampire / supernatural story on the back-burner. Though if the demand keeps up, maybe I’ll just keep writing Ben Hope stories until I eventually drop dead at the keyboard!

13. Do you have any literary heroes?

There are definitely authors I admire a great deal, but if I had to name heroes they would be more from the world of film, masters of the craft like Hitchcock, James Cameron, Peter Weir. I am a huge fan of what Paul Greengrass did with the Bourne franchise, and I also love – and am probably quite influenced by – the early work of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, things like Deep Red. And lots more… they’re too numerous to list!

14. You wrote a how-to book called “How to write a Thriller” and it looks pretty interesting. Did you find the task daunting at all?

Actually, it was a lot of fun to write. I was really glad to have the opportunity to do it, drawing on my experiences as an author and literary consultant. I’ve had a lot of very gratifying feedback on the book – I got a letter from one reader who used it to revise their whole manuscript and got himself a publishing deal as a result. It’s tough out there, and I’m delighted if the book has been able to help a few prospective authors on their way.

15. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?

Have your story in your head before you begin to write, or you’ll torture yourself staring at blank pages. Don’t give up. Don’t be put off, or embittered, by rejection. Believe in what you’re doing. And in the midst of all the blood, sweat and tears, don’t allow yourself to forget that you love this!
I will shortly be running a competition to win copies of Scott's book, The Alchemist's Secret so make sure to check back and oh yes, swot up on your Alchemical sigils!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hobnobbing at an Author Event and other news

Because I am an incredibly fast typist on the draw and subscribe to numerous ezines and newsletters, I managed to nab tickets to an event held by Legend Press at the Phoenix Arts Club in London earlier this evening. I had a chance to meet new upcoming author Mark Liam Piggott and got him to sign my review copy of Fire Horses. I also got to meet the incredibly charming and lovely Candi Miller who wrote Salt & Honey. I will get a copy to read and review shortly, I think. It sounds an amazing book!

Kevin Chandler, a very dashing gentleman with a George Clooney chocolate-coated voice read a part of his short story which appears in the 8 Hours anthology and I was smitten. I then had to go and nag him too and managed to corner him into a bit of a chat and as luck would have it, I had my copy of 8 Hours handy which I made him autograph.

Yes, I am a happy booknerd with signed books.
It was a fantastic venue and for £50 a year you can become a member. I am, to be honest, very tempted to join. I also realised that I need to get business cards for the site...everyone I spoke with handed me their cards and I had to scribble the site's details down furiously in my Moleskine and tear pages out and hand it out - which is not ideal.

I also met a top-secret literary agent who will - I hope! - be making a guest appearance on here shortly. I'm not saying anything more as things are currently a bit up in the air for her so once she's settled in, we will get to chat to her about her life as a lit agent.

And that's me for now. I've got three books on the go and some studying to do this coming weekend. I also have an interview lined up with Scott Mariani which should go live during the course of tomorrow (Friday), if I can get blogger to format things properly. And because the girls over at Avon are the absolute best, I'm being given the opportunity to run a competition for The Alchemist's Secret by Scott Mariani, to celebrate his newest book being published in July. Yay! So keep a beady eye out for that.

Remember, three days to go for the Steve Berry competition! I have 2 books left, people! I have received some answers but again, no snail mail check again! If you are stuck with the questions, go seek the answers over at Steve's site. Honestly, it's all there for you to find...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Small Favour, Jim Butcher

No one's tried to kill Harry Dresden for almost an entire year, and his life finally seems to be calming down. For once, the future looks fairly bright. But the past casts one hell of a long shadow.

An old bargain has placed Harry in debt to Mab, monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, the Queen of Air and Darkness-and she's calling in her marker. It's a small favor he can't that will trap Harry Dresden between a nightmarish foe and an equally deadly ally, and one that will strain his skills-and loyalties-to their very limits.

It figures. Everything was going too well to last...

More than his magic, Harry is defined by his ability to get himself into deep trouble without any effort and his stubborn loyalty to his friends and personal ‘code’, even if he wouldn’t necessarily describe it as that himself.

Harry and the usual cast of the Dresden Files are so well established that Jim has the luxury of catapulting us into the thick of things within the first dozen pages, and from then on, solidly hooked, you have no choice but to hold on tight for the rest of the ride.

And what a ride! White knuckles all the way as Harry goes up against a full contingent of fallen angels, while trying to keep his friends alive, friendships intact, and trying to escape the machinations of the Sidhe courts. I really enjoyed the tangible impression of how Harry has grown and matured since Storm Front (the first in the series); he’s not quite embittered by his experiences, but you do start getting a sense of the toll the war has taken on him personally; as a result, he's that much more believable. Not some super-hero above us all, just another Joe trying to do his best.

If you’re a Dresden fan (who isn't?), you probably won’t need much in the way of encouragement to get your hands on this. If you’re not, well, you’d be better served starting from Storm Front and working your way up to the current instalment; newcomers to the series won’t get many of the references or the depth of the characters shared history. It would certainly be worth the investment.

But then, I wouldn’t expect people to jump into a series at the tenth book in the first place.

I found myself reading this book anywhere I could, like an alcoholic trying to sneak a drink in rehab.


Sovay, Celia Rees

Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and its impact on British politics, this action-driven novel shows once again that Celia Rees is one of our very best writers for teenage readers. Wild and beautiful, spoilt and wilful, Sovay finds that her cosseted life in rural England has not prepared her for life as a highway robber, for defending the honor of her family or for trying to save herself from corruption and evil. As Sovay becomes more and more embroiled in adventures she could scarcely have imagined, a story of dark intrigue, thwarted passions and sinister intentions is revealed to her. Will she be able to survive, and if she does so, at what cost?

Firstly, I am a huge fan of Celia Rees. My first book I picked up of hers was Witch Child and I have been a fan since, having read Pirates! and various other offerings by her in the past.

Which makes Sovay a real treat for me. The book is tactile and beautiful to look at and to hold because of the hardback cover being a thick rich parchment type paper.

The story promises a lot. It delivers intrigue, danger, shocks, dashing men in masks, spying and generally a lot of adventure.

Celia Rees uses her tremendous skill to give us a glimpse of what it was like living in London during these troubled times. Through Sovay we discover how dangerous it is to speak your mind in times as fragile as this where there are so many factions at work. A criticism spoken to the wrong person, could lead to charges of treason. No one is safe. There is an air of menace in Sovay which makes it not a very comfortable read, to be honest. But it fits completely with the story itself and it enhances beautifully how dangerous life can be once you are exposed to the dark elements of having to live life to the best of your ability even if it goes against what everyone else from your world believes it should be.

The story highlights the grand divide between those who grow up privileged and those who have practically nothing except their own luck and intelligence. It is written as a rich tapestry and we watch Sovay grow from a petulant, spoilt little girl who acts out of spite, into a confident young woman with a strong loyal character and a circle of friends who are, at some instances, dubious at the best.

It is a thrilling breathtaking read, with engaging characters and like in Pirates! Celia Rees breaks the mould for historical teen / young adult novels in setting up a young woman against the odds by throwing every mean thing at her, to see how she responds. Sovay’s story brings history to life and it makes you realise that the characters you get taught about in school were once upon a time, real people with hearts and souls of their own, who acted the way they did because they needed to survive the circumstances.

This will, like Witch Child, become a classic, I am sure.

**Steve Berry Competition**

I'm happy to announce my next competition: FOUR copies of Steve Berry's newest book, The Venetian Betrayal published by Hodder, to give away to the first four people to answer these questions correctly.

Please note, the usual competition rules apply!

UK residents only

Make sure you email me your name and postal address. Use the email on the right hand side of the post. Duplicate emails will be ignored.


Referring to the history behind Steve Berry’s book, The Amber Room, the magnificent amber room was discovered by Hitler and he ordered it dismantled. How many men did it take to do this, over how many hours and how much did it all weigh? (3 part question).

Name the two men (one geologist and one Russian filmmaker) who managed to figure out where the Romanov burial site was located. (refer to the Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry).

Name the last master of the Templars to be burned to death in 1314. (refer to The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry).

Good Luck!

I'll run the competition until Monday, 16th June or until all the copies have been allocated. All winners will be contacted and informed that they will be receiving the books in the post.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Steve Berry Interview

Steve Berry is an American author with several chunky adventure thrillers under his belt. His most recent, The Venetian Betrayal is currently out and I’ve had the pleasure of reading during the course of last week and boy, he only gets better the more he writes!

Steve made a flying visit to the UK two weeks ago and I managed to get an email interview with him through his publishers, Hodder.

1. Describe your writing day for us - are you a "I have to write 2000 words a day" kind of guy or do you write until you can't focus anymore?

I work about 6 hours on and off throughout the day and try and do 1000 words or so. No pressure to do that, just work and let it come. Some days there are more, others less but, on average, 1000 words is a good day. I start early, around six a.m. and go till 11, break for awhile then work till around 3. On and off I still practice a little law and I'm a local county commissioner, so my day is full.

2. Are you a tidy writer or do you thrive in chaos?

I'm a tidy guy. I like order and I try to keep it all times. Chaos only breeds chaos.

3. Have you ever attended any writing courses or conference?

I attended a writers workshop every Wednesday night for 6 years. That's where I learned the craft of writing, through a tough critical process and I would recommend it to every writer.

4. I really like the Cotton Malone character, finding him honest, with a strong moral compass and a wry sense of humour. Have you based any of his character traits on anyone you know?

There's a lot of me in Cotton. I knew I was going to be living with this fellow for a few years so I decided to use myself. It's the only time I've ever done that..

5. I admire the amount of research you do for your books and your clear passion for history and those enigmas you use so wonderfully as plot-bunnies - which of the books was the most challenging to write from a research perspective?

The Amber Room was the toughest since, when I first wrote it in 1995 there was little or no research materials in English. So I went to Russia and did my research at the Catherine's Palace where the Russians were working to recreate the room. On all of the other books the problem was different. There was too much material and my task was to go through it all and try and find the consistencies, which is difficult.

6. What motivates you on those awful days when you struggle to get the words out?

That little voice in my head that tells me the writer, the same voice that first sent me to the keyboard.

7. What is the best thing you like about writing for a living?

That I get to do it. My goal is simple. To keep doing it, so I work hard everyday to make sure that happens.

8. Something I have noticed in your work is that you create a lot of interesting antagonists for your main characters to deal with. Do you enjoy creating them and how do you keep them believable?

I do like to create the villains. They're a lot of fun. They get to do things that most of us are never able to do. I try to make sure that each one is different and unique, but also right for the story. I also take a lot of time with their names, finding just the right label that conveys their personality.

9. Do you ever struggle to write from any of your characters' point of view?

Not once I decide that the character is going to be a point of view character. I have between 3-6 point of view characters in any one book. Those are quite precious, so I'm peculiar about who I choose. The story drives that decision and I have selected the wrong one before. The solution there is simple. Eliminate the character and find another one.

10. What are your plans for the future with regards to Cotton? More of his adventures or will you walk away and do a standalone adventure thriller or change tack on us completely?

Cotton will be back next year in The Charlemagne Pursuit, a story about what happened to Cotton's father 38 years ago. Then there will be three more adventures after that. What's next then? We'll have to see, but I imagine he's not going anywhere.

11. Who are your literary heroes?

James Michener was a writer I greatly admired. But David Morrell is the finest craftsman of thrillers alive today. I learned a lot from his novels.

12. Can you name five (or more) books on writing that you have found invaluable in your work?

How To Write Bestselling Fiction, Dean Koontz
On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner
On Writing Well, William Zinsser
Self Editing For Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
On Writing, Stephen King

13. Any advice to struggling writers out there?

Write, write, write. There is no other way to learn the craft except by doing it.
Keep an eye out in the next day or two for both the review and the competition in which four lucky readers can each win a copy of The Venetian Betrayal.

Last Rituals, Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Synopsis: A young man is found brutally murdered, his eyes gouged out. A student of Icelandic history in Reykjavik, he came from a wealthy German family who do not share the police's belief that his drug dealer murdered him. Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir is commissioned by his mother to find out the truth, with the help -- and hindrance -- of boorish ex-policeman Matthew Reich. Their investigations into his research take them deep into a grisly world of torture and witchcraft both past and present, as they draw ever closer to a killer gripped by a dangerous obsession...

This is Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s first book and if this one is anything to go by, she has a very lucrative career ahead of her as an author. Last Rituals does not read like a first book at all and the author is as eloquent in her writing as some of the best crime writers out there who win accolades for their work (even when you suspect they are a bit formulaic).

Thora, as the main character in the book is a delight. She is an attorney (lawyer) in a small concern and where she is cursed with the world’s most awful receptionist, Bella. Thora uses her investigative and stubbornness to plow through the mis-information thrown at her by the murdered student’s friends and tutors.

On the one hand Thora is a capable businesswoman with a lot of responsibilities but on the other hand, she is a struggling single mother of two, who somehow manages to juggle both career and being a mother struggling to retain her sense of humour and positive outlook whilst getting the job done.

The subject material of the novel is pretty grim. Witchcraft and the prosecution of witches and sorcerers in Europe is not a pleasant affair and the novel takes you pretty deep into some of the baser things done during those times. There are lashings of Icelandic history to boot and some stunning locales visited. It also holds up a mirror to show the disenchantment of today’s young people with being normal and revels in pushing the boundaries to show how far some people would go to prove that they are different and unique.

For all its dark subject matter, the book is written with a light-hearted touch with Thora being the focal point and we follow her quite closely. There are some moments of deep introspection but also some genuinely jocular and funny moments which prevents the novel from being too dark and grim. It is definitely a novel for people who enjoy books written by authors such as Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritsen amongst others.

I really do hope the author decides to write more, to bring back Thora for more adventures. There is definitely scope for it on the market and with the unique setting of Reykjavik and Iceland being used, it opens a whole new world to readers who have become a bit jaded about crime novels set in America’s biggest cities.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Black Magic Woman, Justin Gustainis

I have had a bumper weekend of reading and finished this off on Friday evening and now that our electricity is back on - thank the gods - I can upload the review.

Synopsis - Occult investigator Quincey Morris and his "consultant", white witch Libby Chastain, are hired to free a family from a deadly curse that appears to date back to the Salem witch trials. Fraught with danger, the trail finds them stalking the mysterious occult underworlds of Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York, searching out the root of the curse. After surviving a series of terrifying attempts on their lives, the two find themselves drawn inexorably towards Salem itself—the very heart of darkness.
The story opens with a bang, at breakneck speed. We meet Texan Quincey Morris (yes, grandson of one of the paramours to Lucy in Dracula, by Bram Stoker) as he goes about kicking some vampire butt, very reminiscent of the Wes Craven movie, Vampires...only better written without the swearing.
I like Quincey as a character as he brings across the Texan toughness with that long slow sense of humour that is so well portrayed in many westerns. Libby Chastain was a surprise. I thought the author was going to turn her into a parody of Wiccan cuteness a-la Charmed and thank the heavens he didn't. Here we had a genuinely well thought out, well rounded female lead who did not need rescuing with her bosoms heaving. It was refreshing and fun.
By far the most disturbing thing about Black Magic Woman is the fact that it deals with a very sore subject, that of Muti murders. Muti is an African word and means magic, black magic, and it is nasty stuff. It is very real and very horrifying belief system in Africa, especially South Africa so I was interested to see how it would be played out in the book. A spate of murders here in the UK had it all over the news not so very long ago and it was quite an eye opener to see it being used in the book as part of the plot. It is well researched and I found myself nodding along as a South African policeman, Van Dreenan who had been called in to help the FBI BAU, helped them sort through fact and fiction.
I enjoyed the book and the characters - each of the people we follow in the novel, towards the climax had a well thought out back story and the author did a lot of show, not tell, which is an amazing feat. I found myself checking impatiently at one stage to see if I had missed out on a previous novel featuring Libby and Quincey, but it turns out I hadn't. As the story unfolded, it gave up its secrets and I was pleasantly surprised and pleased.
I am not one to be swayed by quotes from other popular authors on the covers of books but Jim Butcher has a note on the cover of this and it merely states that it is one of the best manuscripts he's read in a long time. And the thing is, I have to agree. It is a compulsively readable and thrilling book that I will happily recommend to others because it hits all the right buttons - it deals with the supernatural, it has kick butt heroes, a really good plot, which is well told, interesting walk-on characters and a well thought out world. The trouble Quincey and Libby get into is pretty scary and things get ugly in here. The law is real and nasty things happen to nasty people, so in that instance it is a winner.
Having heaped on all this praise I am happy to say that I am looking forward to the author's other work. This is good, and the rest will only be better. The characters are solid and very real so he has several story lines which he can play with for future books. All we have to do now is impatiently wait for the next ones to be published!

Crescent Moon, Lori Handeland

Lori Handeland has been around for a little while now, writing some excellent fiction, if Crescent Moon is anything to go by. (And I am pretty sure it is - I am hoping to get the rest very soon!)
Synposis: New Orleans is known for sinful pleasures and strange magic, but for cryptozoologist Diana Malone it offers one irresistible attraction. For over a hundred years there have been whispers of the wolves around the Crescent City, and the recent discovery of bodies in the nearby swamps hints at a creature even more dangerous…one that could make Diana’s career and fortune, if she lives to capture it.

Adam Ruelle is a reclusive former Special Forces officer, the last of the mysterious Cajun family rumored to be cursed, and the only person skilled enough to guide Diana in her search. Rugged and captivating, he fills her nights with desire…but by day, Diana is plagued with doubts. Adam clearly knows more than he’s telling, but is his aim to protect her or to distract her? Something is stalking its prey in the Louisiana bayou, and every step towards the horrifying truth brings Diana closer to a centuries-old enemy that lives for the smell of fear and the thrill of killing, again and again…
This book is for people who love Kelly Armstrong, Patricia Briggs and CE Murphy, amongst others. It is urban fantasy at it best. The story unfolds easily and it is a very satisfying (and sexy) read. I have always loved New Orleans. I would still love to go and visit it. This has made me want to go even more. The book is filled with interesting people, sights and sounds. To make my reading experience even better, I put Harry Connick Jnr on my MP3 player and listened to some good Olreans jazz. It all fit.
Ms. Handeland has put together an interesting story and probably one of the sexiest leading men I have had the honour to read in a very long time - sorry, Carla, Clay doesn't stand a chance against Adam!
The book is difficult to explain as it has a certain feel to it. It has a slight breathlessness about it that is similar to the quiet before a tremendous tropical storm. The milieu of New Orleans is used tremendously well as a backdrop. Bourbon Street is familiar to everyone but you have this idea that just off of Bourbon Street with its tourist traps you will find something that is not quite civilised when you do go looking. Something that might just claw your face off or leave you bereft of blood.
It is not a story about a Lestat-clone. It is better - sorry Anne Rice. It is about werewolves, but it is about more than that - the South and the Crescent City itself seems to pulse with magic in the book. I genuinely liked the main character Diana Malone and found reading about cryptozoology very interesting. I hope she makes a reappearance in some of Ms. Handeland's other books.
I read the book in a day - not because it was a slender offering, to the contrary. We had a powercut and what better to do than sit outside in the sunshine, drinking Pimms, and reading? The fact that the author is an effortless storyteller genuinely helped - it was smooth sailing and I found a lot of the in-jokes very funny. The Priestess Cassandra (she helps Diana with some voodoo questions) pipes up quite blatantly and says she is a big fan of Anne Rice and Laurell K Hamilton's. It had me spluttering my Pimms everywhere. It was excellent.
The story revels in its own mystery and lushness. Who wouldn't fall for an extraordinarily handsome man who lives wild in a swamp with his own decaying mansion?! Especially if he is Cajun and sounds hotter than George Clooney dipped in Ben and Jerry's?
A very sexy and crunchy read and one I would recommend to people who like the paranormal shows and books.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Quick note - competition announcement!

My Friday finished on a high a parcel from Hodder Publishers...yep, FOUR (count them!) copies of Steve Berry's newest book, The Venetian Code arrived today for me to give away in a competition next week.

So the review should be online soon. AND I've got the interview lined up and ready to go live shortly after the review's gone up...and then the competition.

Do visit back and make sure you enter the comp. I'll work up some questions about Steve and his other books, so go do your research over at his site here and over at Hodder here to answer those pesky questions.

The Alchemist's Secret, Scott Mariani

Tagline: Where there's Hope there's trouble.

Synopses: A former élite member of the SAS, Ben Hope is tortured by a tragedy from his past and now devotes his life to finding kidnapped children. But when Ben is recruited to locate an ancient manuscript to save a dying child, he embarks on the deadliest quest of his life. The document is alleged to contain the formula for the elixir of life, discovered by the brilliant alchemist Fulcanelli decades before. But it becomes apparent that others also desire its secrets - for far more evil ends. When the script remains impenetrable, Ben teams up with beautiful American scientist Dr Roberta Ryder to crack the code. It seems that everyone - from the Nazis during WW2 and powerful Catholic organisation Gladius Domini - wants to unearth the mysteries of immortality. The trail leads Ben and Roberta from Paris to the ancient Cathar strongholds of the Languedoc, where an astonishing secret has lain hidden for centuries.

As you might know and have realised by know, I am a sucker for quest stories. I love them! In book form and in the movies! Yes, I am the original Indiana Jones fan – I dug up my parents’ carefully planned garden every weekend, looking for treasure I had accidentally “lost” – much to their anger. But I digress:

So, when Avon sent this onto me to review, I was in the throes of finishing a coursework assignment for CEM. So I got up extra early to read it and stayed up late to finish it. Alchemist is that good, I kid you not. I am so enarmoured of it, I’ve rung them up and asked for an interview with the author, Scott Mariani and because I can be a bit scary in full swing, they agreed just to get me to shut up. So keep an eye out for that in the next few days or so.

It is Scott’s first book and it is not noticeable in that it comes across as a polished piece of work that heralds a new light in this genre. The main character Benedict Hope is a fantastically dark hero who has issues and girls like dark broody men with issues! Having said that, nowhere does this make the story lag. The author has cleverly managed to work his dark character in as part of the storyline, so when the information comes as to why Ben can be a bit of a bastard sometimes, instead of feeling a bit annoyed because seriously, it’s not that big an issue in your opinion, you feel empathy and understanding towards him and like him for what he does even more.

An important part of the quest for an item is the adversary. And I relished the adversaries in Alchemist – a secret order of the Catholic Church – the Gladius Domini. They are Bad Men, with capital letters. And they are Ruthless, Dominating, Scary and pretty well thought out – you can sort of tell that they kept on going in the background, working towards their own goal, whilst keeping an eye on Hope and Dr. Ryder. In other words, they weren’t inanimate bad guys who only appeared out of the blue to annoy the main character and his leading lady.

The research done into alchemy rings true (she pronounces, in a nerdy way) and unlike in other books of this type, the info dump is done cleverly and at a good pace, so that you don’t just glaze over them, wishing they would get on with the story. There are interesting twists and turns, a few enigmatic characters along the way and a bit of a sting in the tail.

All in all, a satisfactory good read written with tremendous pace with good characterisation of the main character.

Scott Mariani has another book out, very soon, through Avon in July called The Mozart Conspiracy.

You can find out more about Scott here and more about Avon here.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Three ways to snog an alien, Graham Joyce

This is one of the funniest books I've read in a long time. I was laughing out loud on the train, which is always handy if you won't want to share carriage space with sane people, and literally tore through the book at high speed.
It's a slender offering, but don't let that put you off. I know Graham Joyce from his disturbing adult novels and had no idea he could be quite as uncomfortably and hilariously funny as this.
The book deals with Doogie who is a nice enough guy. His life isn't complicated, he acts the clown and is one of the guys in school all of us knows: he acts in such a silly and stupid way, making jokes, often at his own expense, and in the end, we all think he's a bit thick. Nice enough but not worth more than a laugh in class.
A new girl moves into the neighbourhood and completely thows Doogie's life out of whack. She challenges him, telling him that he needs to pull his socks up: if he keeps acting that stupid, he will stay that stupid, because everyone expects it. She drags him off on a date but Doogie decides to do research about dating and so he finds a website called and then the fun starts. I don't want to spoil it but anyone who picks up the book and reads the tips will be cringing - they are incredibly funny but also quite shocking because you know there are guys out there who would fall for these tips themselves. Kudus to Graham for coming up with these - they are excellent.
But the biggest question here is: is the new girl an alien? Her parents are very weird, she is super-intelligent and honestly, Doogie saw her lick the last bit of ice-cream from her glass with a forked tongue! And that's not all, he meets a group of people on the internet who confirms his suspicions...aliens are among us and all the weird things about Angelica point towards the fact that she is one...
It kept me guessing. All the way to the very last page. And laughing. Don't forget the laughing.
I've got the well-received "Do the creepy thing" by Graham to read too, so will report back on that once I've got a few others under my belt.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wanna be a writer?

Dark Hoard is a working title for a new creative writing project, which is currently being developed by graphic designer Nick Button.

It will take the form of an anthology of ‘macabre, thought-provoking stories’ and will be fully illustrated throughout by talented artists.

They are looking for authors, of any age, published or unpublished, to submit existing work - or write something especially for the book.

All submissions will be considered and, according to the website: ‘This is to be a collaboration of enthusiastic individuals, where they can express their creativity and see their name in print.’

The book will also feature profiles of all the contributors.

The format, content, style and price are currently under consideration. The anthology will likely be around 24 pages, roughly 18 stories, short pieces, poetry, etc, accompanied by similarly dark illustrations, design pieces and perhaps photography.

For more information, and to keep track of the projects development, see the website, at:

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Top 20 SciFi Authors...according to SciFi UK site

Whilst surfing the 'net, to figure out what to watch in the next few weeks, I discovered this interesting little snippet.
At nr. 18 is Neil Gaiman the god. At nr. 16 we have Mr. Phillip Pullman. At nr. 13 Ursula K Le Guin. Alan Moore, the Immortal, is in at nr. 12. Big Daddy Stephen King is at nr. 8 and JRR Tolkien is at nr. 4 and Robert A Heinlein coming in at nr. 1.
You can view the whole link here.
Interesting stuff.

Maria V Snyder Interview

I am really pleased to offer, for your delectation, an interview with Maria V Snyder who has the patience and perseverance of a saint.

Read the review I did for her first book Poison Study to hit the UK here.

MFB: Describe your writing day for us – are you a “I have to write 2000 words a day” kind of gall or do you write until you can’t focus anymore?

Maria: I sit down at my computer after my children leave for school. After answering email and procrastinating for an hour, I start writing and only stop briefly for lunch and continue until my son comes home around 3:30 p.m. During the school year (September through June), I’m very productive, but once summer comes along I can only do revisions.

I don’t write every day. Most weeks, I’ll have a school visit or other promotional event to attend or prepare for. I try to limit marketing and publicity to one day a week and weekends, but it doesn’t always work that way.

When my deadline nears, I’ll go back to my computer after dinner and write until I can’t focus anymore.

MFB: Are you a tidy writer or do you thrive in chaos?

Maria: My desk and office will start out being tidy and organized. As my current writing project advances, so does the chaos and by June my office is a disaster area.

MFB: What motivated you in the dark days when the words wouldn’t come?

Maria: Deadlines tend to motivate me, and sometimes I just have to take my dog for a walk or call my critique partner and brainstorm ideas with her. At various times during a writing session, I’ll be stuck on wanting to find the perfect word or sentence. At those times, I have to remind myself I’m writing a first draft and can change it later. Half the time when I review the section, I’m happy with what is there.

MFB: Have you ever attended any writing courses or conference?

Maria: Yes, many. When I first started writing, I attended a couple of writing conferences and learned a lot about the field. Once I had a finished novel, I pitched my novel to editors and agents at those writing conferences. I also attended a series of creative writing classes.

Eventually, I had enough knowledge and information that I started teaching writing classes at the local library and college. I enjoy teaching so much that I earned a Master of Arts degree in Writing from Seton Hill University and now teach at Seton Hill and have been invited to those writing conferences I used to attend, but now I lead workshops and panels. I’ve come full circle

MFB: What prompted you to write Poison Study?

Maria: I was reading Orson Scott Card’s book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. In chapter 3, Card tells the writer to consider some questions before choosing the main character. He wrote, “Too often - particularly in medieval fantasy - writers think their story must be about rulers. Kings and queens, dukes and duchesses - they can be extravagantly powerful, yes, but too often, they aren’t free at all. If you understand the workings of power in human societies, you’ll know that the greatest freedom to act in unpredictable ways is usually found away from the centers of power.”

This comment led me to think about a person who was close enough to the centre of power to witness important events, yet not be the Prince or Princess. I thought about a food taster and a scene jumped into my mind. I saw a woman tasting food that was most likely poisoned through the eyes of the King. He watched her with heartbreaking horror because he had fallen in love with her. That led me to wonder about this woman. Who was she? Why was she there? Why would a King fall in love with her? And Poison Study was born.

MFB: How much world building did you do in the end or did you base the society on an existing albeit older system?

I had originally intended to base my society on medieval Europe and have a monarchy. But the Commander had other ideas. He was tired of reading fantasies with monarchies, and assassinated the entire family.

The Commander isn’t a stereotypical dictator. His simple policy is based on a more equalitarian view. Everyone in Ixia wears a uniform, including him. He is not corrupted by the power of his position and lives as he rules. The centre of government is in a castle, but the throne room has been converted into a mass of desks for his officers, and all opulence has been stripped from the walls.

When my sister read an early draft, she told me Ixia was M&M/Mars (who manufacture M&Ms, Dove, Snickers etc…), which is the company she had worked for, and it’s also my husband’s current employer. In their factories, everyone wears a uniform even the plant manager, and their desks are all out in the open, including all the managers’. No one has a special parking space or any extra perks because they’re a manager versus a worker on the candy line. I guess I really admired the way the company treated its associates and I unconsciously used it for Ixia.

MFB: It is good fun watching Yelena grow during the first book. Did you plan that meticulously or did you let her grow organically on her own and did she ever surprise you?

Maria: I don’t plan anything meticulously. I’m what is known as a seat-of-the-pants writer. I have an idea for a beginning and know where I’m headed, but don’t outline or plan out the middle. To me, my characters start out like a Polaroid picture, grey and undefined. As I write, they become clearer.

All of my characters surprise me at least once during a course of writing the Study books, except Yelena. I know her so well that all her reactions and actions made perfect sense to me.

MFB: How hard was it to keep Yelena from becoming too big for her shoes? As I mentioned before, she grows admirably as a person and it is fun to watch. But I assume it was quite hard keeping her – for a lack of a better word – naïve but still tough and likeable at the same time.

Maria: For Poison Study it wasn’t hard. I wanted to show her going from a victim who didn’t trust anyone to being empowered and able to form friendships. It was very hard to keep her more modest in Magic Study. After I wrote the first draft of Magic Study, I realized she was this all-powerful super-girl and I needed to do some major revisions.

MFB: I know that Magic Study recently has been released here in the UK – are you prepared to give us a sneak peak of what you’ve got in store for Yelena?

Maria: I love the tag line for Magic Study – You know your life is bad when you miss your days as a poison taster. Poor Yelena does not get a break. In Magic Study, Yelena has an execution order on her head and has to escape to Sitia, the land of her birth. She needs to begin learning about her magic and travels to the Magician’s Keep. But nothing in Sitia is familiar to her. Not the family to whom she is a stranger. Not the unsettling new facets of her magic. Not the brother who resents her return. Magic Study chronicles her struggle to understand where she belongs and where her loyalties lie. She also needs to control her powers. With all this going on, a rogue magician who is murdering young magicians emerges, and Yelena catches his eye.

MFB: Are you a meticulous planner, when it comes to writing and do you stick to those outlines or do you allow yourself to meander?

Maria: I meander. I do have to write a synopsis for a new book for my editor to approve the project, which is harder than writing the book. But I don’t follow it past the beginning.

MFB: I did notice that you said you enjoyed the chocolate tasting you did as part of your research for the books – what other research did you do?

Maria: For Poison Study, I also learned how to pick a lock the right way and not the Hollywood way. And I had nothing to do with that rash of break-ins in my neighbourhood last year. Honest!

I also applied my knowledge of martial arts. I have a brown belt in Issinryu karate so all the fight scenes, self-defence moves, and Yelena’s use of the bo staff is correct. I found a class on the broadsword and rapier and learned how to attack and defend with them both. I enjoyed the straight and simple moves of the broad sword better than the more finesse needed to fight with a rapier, which was similar to using a foil. I had gotten some experience with the foil, sabre and epee when I signed up for a fencing class.

For Magic Study, I learned how to ride and care for a horse. Growing up in the major city of Philadelphia, I knew horses from pictures and on television. They’re a lot bigger in person and, I’m no longer that young and fearless. It was an…interesting experience, but I’m glad I overcame my terror.

MFB: What was the first thing you did when you realised that your hard work is to be rewarded with a publishing deal?

Maria: I danced around the house. Afterwards I called my husband at work to tell him the good news.

MFB: Did you struggle to write from any of the characters point of view?

Maria: I write mostly in first person point of view (POV) and didn’t have too much trouble with that viewpoint. I did write two short stories with characters from the Study world in third person POV. They were a little harder, but it was fun to do something different. Both those stories, Assassin Study and Power Study are on my website at:

Assassin Study is from Valek’s POV and Power Study has Ari and Janco’s.

MFB: Who are your literary heroes?

Maria: I really don’t have any. I admire the authors more than their characters, and must admit I’m not a fan of the classics. My favourite authors, listed by genre are: Fantasy: Barbara Hambly, C.E. Murphy, Lynn Flewelling, Naomi Novik, David Eddings and George R.R. Martin. Science Fiction: Kate Elliott, Orson Scott Card, Vernor Vinge, and Connie Willis. Mystery: Dick Francis, and Barbara Vine. Other: Harlan Coben, Sebastian Junger, Barbara Kingsolver, and Stephenie Meyer.

MFB: Can you name five (or more) books on writing or websites that you have found invaluable in your work?

From Aaron to Zoe, 15,000 Great Baby Names, by Daniel Avram Richman.

Your Novel Proposal, From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook.

On Writing, by Stephen King.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card. (a searchable database of markets and agents to send your stories to. Does have a fee). (writers beware site) (Predators and Editors – good resource for a list of publishers and agents and marks the ones to avoid) (Locus Magazine)

I have a more extensive list of useful sites on my website at:

MFB: Any advice to struggling writers out there?

Maria: Persistence is my biggest advice. I’d been writing for ten years and submitting for eight before I sold anything. Poison Study was rejected many times, but I kept submitting the book and had planned to submit until I ran out of publishers to send it to. I also tell writers to be wary of predators, if someone is asking you for money proceed with the utmost caution. Get feedback on your stories from fellow writers before submitting. Joining a critique group is very helpful. I also find that if I let a story sit on my desk for a few weeks I can pick out all the problems, typos and inconsistencies easier. And I agree whole heartily with Stephen King’s advice in his book, On Writing. He wrote, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And don’t give up! Ever! That’s more than one piece, but I think it’s very important. I even have writing tips on my website at and a series of writing advice on my blog at

Both Poison Study and Magic Study is available to purchase from Mira Books.