Friday, October 31, 2008

USA Today's Top 150 Titles of the past 15 years


USA Today has announced its Top 150 Titles of the past 15 years. This is the article and I've only copied across the first fifty titles. I've put the ones I've read in Italics - how many of these have you read?


1 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre

2 Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution Robert C. Atkins

3 The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown

4 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre

5 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre

6 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre

7 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre

8 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre

9 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre

10 Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson

11 The South Beach Diet Arthur Agatston

12 Tuesdays With Morrie Mitch Albom

13 Angels & Demons Dan Brown

14 What to Expect When You're Expecting Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, Sandee Hathaway

15 The Purpose-Driven Life Rick Warren

16 The Five People You Meet in Heaven Mitch Albom

17 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen R. Covey

18 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini

19 Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus John Gray

20 The Secret Rhonda Byrne

21 Rich Dad, Poor Dad Robert T. Kiyosaki with Sharon L. Lechter

22 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

23 Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... And It's All Small Stuff Richard Carlson

24 The Secret Life of Bees Sue Monk Kidd

25 Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert

26 Twilight Stephenie Meyer

27 The Notebook Nicholas Sparks

28 The Memory Keeper's Daughter Kim Edwards

29 The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger

30 Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden

31 A New Earth Eckhart Tolle

32 Oh, the Places You'll Go! Dr. Seuss

33 The Four Agreements Don Miguel Ruiz

34 Angela's Ashes Frank McCourt

35 The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold

36 Body-for-Life Bill Phillips, Michael D’Orso

37 New Moon Stephenie Meyer

38 Night Elie Wiesel, translations by Marion Wiesel and Stella Rodway

39 Chicken Soup for the Soul Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen

40 The Greatest Generation Tom Brokaw

41 Breaking Dawn Stephenie Meyer

42 The Celestine Prophecy James Redfield

43 Wicked Gregory Maguire

44 Good to Great Jim Collins

45 Eclipse Stephenie Meyer

46 Eragon Christopher Paolini

47 Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood Rebecca Wells

48 Your Best Life Now Joel Osteen

49 In the Kitchen With Rosie Rosie Daley

50 Simple Abundance Sarah Ban Breathnach

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Preacher - from Graphic Novel to Movie



Sam Mendes will be directing the screen adaptation of the graphic novel Preacher for Columbia Pictures!


Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (and others) created the graphic novel which focusses on the preacher of a small Texas town, who is struggling to get by until the city is obliterated by a supernatural otherworldly force. The preacher picks himself up and starts a journey across the country to kick some Evil Butt.


This is going to be interesting to see Mr. Sam Mendes pull out the stops - he is better known for the amazing work he's done on movies like American Beauty, Jarhead and Road to Perdition (this info culled from http://www.imdb.com/) with the actual article culled from SciFiWire.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Fire by Katherine Neville




Synopsis


In this long-awaited sequel, Alexandra Solarin, a chess-wizard and only daughter of Cat Velis, the heroine of THE EIGHT, arrives at her mother's Colorado lodge, only to discover that her mother has disappeared. Finding string of clues, Alexandra is soon joined by a group of people called there by her mother, including her aunt Lily, who explains the truth of Cat's past.

In 1822, as the fortress of Sultan Ali Pasha falls to the Turks, the Sultan's daughter Haidee attempts a desperate journey taking her through Albania, Morocco and Rome, while carrying an invaluable object and seeking the one man who can help her: the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron.

Ultimately both Alexandra and Haidee learn that their missions are even more desperate than they first seem, for both are players in a dangerous game, a game that began more than a millennium before either of them were born and that has the power to affect the fate of human civilization itself.


Twenty years ago, Katherine Neville's book, The Eight was published to great acclaim. It defied genre - it was a swashbuckling adventure, it had romance, the epic worldwide settings, intricate mysteries, strong female characters and sexy Russian chess masters. I have tried reading The Eight at least once every two years since I first picked it up in high school. If I had to choose a book that changed the way I saw authors and their skill, it would be The Eight. Because of The Eight, I learned to play chess (badly), my love for adventure and mystery novels were born, and importantly my obsession with quest novels - I can't get enough of them. Also, I discovered my dream car: the Morgan Lily Rad drives in the novel.

When a long-time fan of MFB told me that that Katherine Neville is writing a sequel to The Eight I was thrilled and when I was offered a copy to read by a very kind publicity assistant at Harper Collins, I jumped at the chance to read the sequel, The Fire.

The long wait has been worth it. We are introduced, from the very first pages, to Alexandra, Cat and Sasha's daughter. Through Alexandra we take each step forwards to uncovering the mystery surrounding her mother's disappearance. The Game has begun again - pieces of the mysterious and beautiful Montglane Service has reappeared, triggering the start of a new adventure for the various players.

The author deftly describes far-flung places as if it is her habit to take weekend jaunts there. She pulls us effortlessly into the past and history comes to life as she uses real events to elaborate on her storyline.

Ms. Neville has always excelled in drawing vibrant characters and in The Fire she reprises the roles of many of the characters from The Eight. Favourites are Lily Rad, Alexandra's one-time chess tutor and the other is Ladislaus Nim, Alexandra's uncle, enigmatic recluse and computer genius.

Ms. Neville is also one of the best dialogue writers I've ever seen. The dialogue fizzes and characters' stories are told in flashbacks that do not detract from the existing urgency in the novel - and that in itself is hard to do! (Read ANY book on writing and you will see that they warn aspiring writers about flashbacks/back stories - they slow the story down, they are boring and should be used sparingly.) Ms. Neville flies in the face of all of this and comes out trumps.

The action is relentless. Intermingled with chess analogies you are taught bits of history, alchemy, the occult, poetry, religion and cooking and you are never bored by any of the characters as they all manage to hold their piece of stage by being plotted and created really well. If you've not had the chance to read The Eight, but you would like to get stuck into The Fire, do so - although it would be an advantage to have read The Eight, The Fire is very much its own creature and stands alone very nicely.

The Fire is a feast - it delves deep into mythology and legend and demands your attention - there is no skipping scenes here, because if you do, you will miss crucial information to help uncover the new players of The Game. The story is multi-layered and it a strong compelling read.


About the author:

Born in 1945, Katherine Neville has had an extraordinary life, living in almost every state in North America. Aside from her work as an international bestselling author, she has worked as an international computer executive, a painter, photographer, and a waitress. Katherine lives in Virginia, Washington and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Find the link to her website here.

The Fire will be published by Harper Collins on 17th November 2008 in hardback and will be available from most good bookshops and online.

Drops of Crimson


I was alerted by writerly friend, Karen Mahoney, WW (WonderWoman!) officianado and newly employed staff member of Murder One, that one of her short stories The Wolves of Westminster has been added to a new e-zine called Drops of Crimson.

Always keen to support new e-zines and writerly friends I popped over and was genuinely pleased by the look of the site: understated, classy and dripping in crimson. So never one not to send compliments, I emailed JL (editor and creator) and promised a bit of a blurb about the site on MFB.

So, head on over to Drops of Crimson which is an online magazine specializing in quality Urban Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Gothic Fantasy, Steampunk, and Horror stories, non-fiction and artwork. Drops of Crimson will be published online every other month, and a once a year anthology will be available in hard copy for purchase.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Betwixt by Tara Bray Smith


Synopsis:

Beautiful Morgan D'Amici wakes in her trailerpark home with dirt and blood under her fingernails. Paintings come alive under Ondine Mason's violet-eyed gaze. Haunted runaway Nix Saint-Michael sees halos of light around people about to die. At a secret summer rave, the three teenagers learn of their true, changeling nature and their uncertain, intertwined destinies.

Betwixt is one of those rare teen YA novels, like Holly Black's Tithe and Cassandra Clare's City of Bones, that make you feel a little twitchy between the shoulderblades. There is a sense of unease and danger throughout the novel and its a slow burner written in a style that somehow manages to be both gritty and lyrical. The author turns her unflinching scrutiny on the three main characters of the novel, detailing their lives and highlighting, without much fanfare, the differences between how they see themselves (as different, special, odd) and how the outside world perceives them. They are not necessarily likeable characters, not by a long shot, but they are true to themselves. Ms. Bray Smith has a deft hand running the gamut of their emotions and I thought that Morgan's character was particularly well defined. She is truly a reflection of Morgana - beautiful, alluring, scheming and determined to have things her way.

Nix struggles with his visions and you immediately feel empathy for him but you also want to shake him and shout: tell someone about it, they'll believe you! but naturally this is where his conflict lies and this conflict is what drives and motivates him to take the actions he does.

Ondine, as the artist, is someone you would love to hate. She seems to have it all, talent, looks, wealthy parents...but the author is clever enough to give Ondine her hang-ups and it deflects your pangs of dislike to feelings of pity as she tries to make sense of what is happening in her life - she's a bit weird in that her paintings come to life...then she has to deal with completing her final year on her own whilst her parents and little brother move all the way across the country. Again, her internal conflict drives her motivations very well and I was keen to see how the story ends for all three the characters, especially once their true natures are revealed at the party (mentioned in the Synopsis).

The story is involved with twists and turns and would film beautifully. If you are a fan of books by authors like Jane Yolen, Midori Snyder, Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, you will no doubt like Betwixt.

You can find Tara Bray Smith's site here with the Betwixt wordpress page here.

Secret Histories: Giants, by Ari Berk


Synopsis:

Secret Histories: GiantsAri Berk, illustrated by Wayne Anderson, Douglas Carrel, Gary Chalk, Kevin Levell and Larry MacDougal

The first title in this eagerly-awaited series, Giants reveals the natural history of this secret race, presented by the Order of the Golden Quills, an ancient collective of various species (elves, dwarves, fairies etc).

Invited to join the order, readers are privy to the fascinating world of giants, including the mysteries of what a giants keeps in his sack; giant costume and clothing; the life cycle of giants and the mind-boggling evidence of giants that can be found today in landscape features around the world (Cerne Abbas hillside giant, Giant's Causeway, stone circles). Meet the world's most famous giants, including Goliath, Gogmagog and the 9'3"Child of Hale. A fascinating and beautifully presented volume, not to be missed!

I was over the moon when Ari Berk friended me on LJ (preens a bit) and then I spotted that his newest book, Secret Histories: Giants had been published. And I had to have it. Who cares about Beedle the Bard, right?

The Secret Histories: Giants, published by Templar Publishing here in the UK is packed with beautiful illustrations by a set of well known artists and illustrators. The artwork is gorgeous and thoughtful. The book is packed with information about giants, from all around the world, including their traditions, history and how they relate to the humans and the other fey creatures that inhabit the planet.

The pages are double-thick which means that it gives a feeling of luxury to the book - there are small flip-up notes on many of these, to relate interesting snippets of information about what is being discussed on that page specifically. Professor Berk is current acting Magister and Scribe of the Order of the Golden Quills and the books is written with the eye on it being an anthropological study of a very shy race which has existed side-by-side with humans since humans first appeared.

At the centre of the book a gatefold reveals a Zoologica Giganticum which presents some other giant creatures of the world from myth and legend. The rest of the book abounds with recipes, menus, rules for games played by giants and my favourite bit, a reworking of the telling of Jack and the Beanstalk, from the perspective of the giants.

Secret Histories: Giants is a treasure trove of a book and ranks right up there with the Runes of Elfland for its beauty and cross-over appeal to both adults and children. A must-have for those of us who have a vested interest in mythology and legends.

About the author: (culled from Mythic Journeys)

Ari Berk is a writer, visual artist, and scholar of literature, history, iconography, and comparative myth. His publications have included academic studies on myth and ancient cultures, as well as popular works on myth for both children and adults. He is the author of The Runes of Elfland and Goblins!, two books created with artist Brian Froud.

Deeply dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to teaching, research and writing, Dr. Berk holds degrees in Ancient History and American Indian Studies, as well as a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Culture. He has studied at Oxford University in England, and has traveled widely, making friends in many parts of the world. In the last decade, his work took him to the University of Arizona in Tucson where he taught courses and lectured in the areas of Early Modern Ethnography and Literature, Mythology, and American Indian Literature, History, and Culture. He was appointed to the committee that developed the first American Indian Studies doctoral program in the United States, and worked as the assistant to the Pulitzer Prize winning Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday. He is now a professor in the English department at Central Michigan University, where he teaches Mythology, Folklore, and American Indian Literature.

He was also one of the contributors to the Endicott Mythic Studio website which has sadly closed down. The site is still there in its entirety and a must for anyone interested in myths, legends, retellings of fairy tales and some fantastic artwork and poetry.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Titanicus, Dan Abnett



"When the vital forge world of Orestes comes under attack by a legion of Chaos Titans, the planet is forced to appeal for help. Titan Legio Invicta, although fresh from combat and in desperate need of refit and repair, responds, committing its own force of war engines to the battle. As the god–machines stride to war, the world trembles, for the devastation they unleash could destroy the very world they have pledged to save."

Titans- 250ft tall metal gods of neural linked firepower duelling across kilometres of torn countryside, unloading carnage on an epic scale and smashing through cityscapes in the hunt for their adversaries with an ease that makes Godzilla look like an escaped parakeet.

The war for Orestes is seen from the perspective of various characters, whose storylines are interwoven throughout. Political intrigue, religious schisms, personal tragedy and simmering heroism all get a showing, and while all I really wanted to do was keep plunging back into the screaming action, it all comes together quite satisfyingly, delivering a healthy dose of the 41st millennium.

Dan has imbued the art of waging war with these armoured behemoths with a vivid and brutal energy, infusing the action with a palpable sense of tension that belies the seeming indestructibility of the machines.

Encore!


You can sample an extract here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Writing Classes from Faber & Faber


A Mike Figgis Masterclass: Deconstruction of Film Narrative

Using the evolution of Timecode as a working example, internationally acclaimed director Mike Figgis will unpick the cinematic threads and explain what makes this film so utterly unique. Through close examination of versions one, eleven, fourteen and fifteen, Figgis will explore how the film evolved over a compressed time frame and through deconstruction, simultaneously shed light on how to construct a movie.

Paying special attention to space, light, sound, music composition, narrative, imagery, improvisation, drama, editing, direction, digital technology (including equipment and its uses), camera movement and framing, Figgis will present and explain the fundamental building blocks of modern digital film-making while offering a compelling and inspiring insight into his own experimental and groundbreaking aesthetic.

The course will take place at The Hospital Club from 2-4 February 2009 and there will be open Q & A throughout. Course price: £400.


http://www.faber.co.uk/article/2008/10/faber-academy-figgis-masterclass

Writing a Novel 2009 with novelist and MAN Booker Prize Judge Louise Doughty

This is a practical, workshop-based course which covers all aspects of novel writing from first ideas for a book through character development, plotting and structure, to re-writing.

Writing a Novel is the first six-month long course from the new Faber Academy. Beginning in February 2009, students will attend weekly evening workshops (2 hours) which will cover all aspects of novel writing from the first conception of an idea for a novel through to getting words on a page, narrative structure and style and re-writing. In addition, there will be six full-day sessions to take place on one Saturday each month. Most of the classes will be lead by the Course Director, novelist Louise Doughty, but there will also be guest seminars given by well-known writers, agents and publishers.

There are 16 places available on Writing a Novel 2009. One place on the course will be allocated free of charge. This place will be chosen at the discretion of the Course Director and the Faber Academy and will be based on merit and not financial circumstances.

Applications will be accepted until 28 November 2008. Course price: £3,500.
http://www.faber.co.uk/article/2008/10/faber-academy-writing-novel-course

The First Creative Writing Course at Bloomsbury House, the new home of Faber and Faber

Set over four days, Erica Wagner and Salley Vickers will rescue the words ‘traditional narrative’ from the dusty wardrobe full of faux-leather fringing and pseudo-ethnic costume where they’ve been stashed. This course will look at how to make it new in the way that human beings have always found best: by looking for the stories – of life and death, of love and loss – that have always meant the most to us and recreating them in original voice.

The course will take place from 5-8 February 2009 at Bloomsbury House, 74-77 Great Russell Street, London WC1. Course price: £500.
http://www.faber.co.uk/article/2008/10/faber-academy-london09

The Art of the Short Story with Gerard Donovan and Claire Keegan, Newman House, Dublin

Set over four days in the beautiful rooms of James Joyce’s former college, Gerard Donovan and Claire Keegan will explore how to transform everyday experience from statements into suggestion that is both intellectually and emotionally significant. Using discussions and exercises, the workshops will address the elements of the form – among them setting, characters, time, structure and how fiction forms a temporal arc - while pondering how short story writers use detail, and the lack of it, to cast the spell of that single effect.

The course will take place from 16-19 April 2009 at Newman House, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Course price: £500
http://www.faber.co.uk/article/2008/10/faber-academy-dublin-course


The details of other Faber Academy courses in early 2009 will be available shortly on http://www.faber.co.uk/

For further information please contact Patrick Keogh at Faber and Faber on 020 7465 7682 or patrickk@faber.co.uk

Friday, October 24, 2008

News and Friday Linkages

I love my RSS feed function in Outlook - it is the best thing, like evah! Here are some linkages which I thought were worthy of a Friday post as I'm working my way towards the end of The Fire, the newest offering by the vastly talented Katherine Neville, author of The Eight.

Following on from that little outburst, I was checking through SciFiWire's feed and found this article about the amazing and talented Zoe Bell whom I first came to know through Tarantino's Death Proof movie (which is one of his best, no matter what others say - he is a master at writing dialogue). Plus, if you're a fan of Lucy Lawless, there's some good eye-candy photos on there. Bell and Lawless are pictures on set whilst working on: Angel of Death.

Jon Evans over at Tor has put his neck out and discusses how Magic Realism is Not Fantasy.

The always thoughtful, mouthy and hilarious Stacia Kane urges everyone in any situation to consider one thing (if ever in need of advice) what would Michael Corleone do...it makes for interesting reading.

The boys and girls at Orbit are working as hard as ever and they have bought a new series by Marjorie M. Liu for the UK. A snippet of the outline to entice you...The Iron Hunt
During the day, Maxine’s tattoos are her armour and she is invincible. At night they peel from her skin to take on forms of their own, leaving her human and vulnerable and revealing themselves to be demons sleeping beneath her skin. But these demons are the best friends and bodyguards a woman could have. And Maxine needs bodyguards. She is the last in a line of woman with power in their blood, trained to keep the world safe from malignant beings who would do us harm. But ten thousand years after its creation, the prison dimension that kept the worst of these from us is failing, and all the Wardens save Maxine are dead. She must bear the burden of her bloodline and join the last wild hunt against the enemy. And because I believe in serendipity and teh InterWeb proved it last night here's a review by Caitlin Kittredge of, amongst others, The Iron Hunt, as released in the States.

Our very own blogger-chum, Graeme Flory of graemesfantasybookreview.com got to chat to the awesome bookish people at The Book Depository.


The British Library has acquired an important archive of one of the most influential literary figures of post war Britain, the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes (1930-1998). The collection comprises over 220 files and boxes of manuscripts, letters, journals, personal diaries and ephemera, and offers an invaluable resource for researchers in all areas of Hughes’s prolific and wide-ranging career over more than forty years. The archive has been saved for the nation with generous support from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Friends of the British Library, and a £200,000 grant from the Shaw Fund towards the purchase price of £500,000.

Steph, one of the reviewers over at Reviever X blog, gets to interview the legendary Rachel Caine. Find the interview here.

The AV Club has a pretty cool interview with one of my favourite people of all time: Simon Pegg.

As I was obsessively checking Neil Gaiman's site yesterday to make sure Kaz, Mark and I still get to meet him in a few days time, I spotted a note which he added to someone's query as to why David McKean will be signing The Graveyard Book the same night as NG was doing his thing for Blackwells...but at Forbidden Planet: Well, my event will have a 6:30pmish start time, not 6.00pm. but I take your point. Dave is planning to come down to the Blackwells event after his signing, and may well sign your books if you see him and ask nicely, but he isn't planning to do a whole second signing when I do mine that evening. He likes chocolate, and may well be bribable. I will be the girl carrying the biggest bucketload of chocolate EVER.

Queen of Wizards, JK Rowling, is to have a tea party to launch The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Find the Guardian article here. Can I just say that I'm shelling out a lot of money for one of the deluxe copies of this. My first ever JKR book I've ever bought, having read the HP series by borrowing the books from employers' kids and the library - I kid you not. Although I enjoyed the books, I prefer the movies...eh?

Scott Mariani, good friend to this blog and all round nice guy, has had his website revamped and it is slick. He also makes mention that a Hollywood film producer happened on a copy of THE ALCHEMIST’S SECRET on a supermarket shelf in London and immediately saw its movie potential. Discussions are now underway that could see Ben Hope hit the big screen in the future! The big question is: what actor has the right qualities to play the part? Scott welcomes ideas and suggestions from readers! Who do YOU see as Ben? Gerard Butler - all the way. Not only is he attractive, he looks rugged and handsome.

David Almond's novels to be turned into an opera! Further link to another Guardian news article.

Ramsey Campbell will be doing a reading at Neston library. Find the link and further information here.
That's all for now folks!

Interview: Alison Goodman

Earlier this month, I got to meet up for my first-ever face to face interview with an author and her publicist, from one of the largest publishers in the UK. Needless to say, I was nervous beyond description, but the author, Alison Goodman (my review of Two Pearls of Wisdom) and her publicist, Madeline Toy of Transworld Publishers, were incredibly sweet and immediately had me at ease.

The interview started over breakfast and my first act as interviewer was: to get my copy of Two Pearls of Wisdom signed. Yes, I am ever the professional.

I had prepared a set of questions which Alison read through and quite liked – which is a relief. What follows is not a verbatim set of answers she had given me, but more an informal retelling of the conversation.

I asked Alison if she had ever done hands-on research for the background for The Empire of the Celestial Dragons. The setting is very oriental and although it is a wholly created world, it has strong influences and echoes of Japan and China. Alison’s reply brimmed with enthusiasm. She had travelled in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong and had also done a lot of research on the Chinese Imperial court and their traditions. She also worked hard to relay the consciousness of the East into The Two Pearls of Wisdom. Alison confessed to being an explorative writer: eating the food, handling artefacts in various museums. (She stressed that there had been no “breaking and entering” whilst visiting the museums, everything was above board.) She carried her notebook with her and made drawings as she went along. A further “freshening up” visit has been planned to Hong Kong on her way home in November.

When I asked Alison if Eon (the main character in Two Pearls of Wisdom) had been the first character to show up and her reply left me dazzled. She was reading up on feng shui, its history and applications, when a story about a ruthless emperor made her spidey senses tingle. Roughly, the story related how an emperor had a palace built for his son by masters of feng shui. Once the palace stood completed he had all the feng shui masters killed – his reasoning: no one else would have a palace as magnificent and perfect as the one he had commissioned. Alison’s eyes sparkled as she continued, sotto voice: within ten minutes she had sketched out a pretty good workable storyline and character synopsis. She explained that it had been one of those serendipitous moments when the universe clearly slotted everything together in a neat package. (What a lady!)

When I asked Alison if she had ever done any kind of martial arts she was enthusiastic in her reply, flinging her arms about to demonstrate how she had a training session in using a Chinese sword and how she had taken up tai chi to harness the positive flow of chi through the body.

I queried what her day to day life was like and Alison explained that her working day was quite fluid. She tried to spend her mornings doing admin, emails, returning calls and doing bits of correspondence as required. She uses this time to formulate ideas and then writes steadily in the afternoon. Her work tends to be one draft, one which she constantly revises as her writing progresses. She works till evening, when her hubby cooks them dinner. She also sang the praises of her workshop buddies with whom she could unwind, relax and talk shop.

Personally I assumed that she wrote to music and when I put the question to her, she emphatically said “No.” I sat back to listen and she explained, looking a bit self-conscious. She reads her work out loud as she writes, re-enacting the actions (again she gestures elegantly with slender wrists) in certain scenes. Music interfered with the flow of the rhythm of her writing. Which is one of the reasons, she admitted, that she did not inflict herself on others in coffee shops. Madeline and I took a moment to picture this and burst out laughing.



When I asked Alison about her whirlwind tour of the States she laughed in delight, confessing that she had a fabulous time. It was a booksellers tour, so got to have dinners all around the USA, including Seattle, Pasadena, Chicago and whilst in NY, for Eon’s Champagne brunch, Two Pearls received a star review in Publishers Weekly. An American site has been set up at: http://www.eonbook.com/ for the release of the book in December.

Alison grew quite serious when I asked her how she managed to control the political machinations and intrigue in Two Pearls, in order to keep it interesting, but not to have it become too heavy. Her explanation was sensible – she has a built in “bullshit” meter and relied on it to tell her how much she could get away with in the novel. She preferred keeping the storyline tight.

As many of the regular readers of MFB would know, I am a fan of kung fu movies in all its shapes and forms. I asked Alison if she had an interest in them. She said she owned a couple but mostly watched them for style, tone and the elegance of the fight scenes.

Which lead me to my next question – did she have a current actress / model or character type in mind to visualise Eon? I suggested someone like Michele Yeoh or Lucy Liu, but Alison explained that she preferred doing her own character sketches, having created Eona/Eon from a very personal and emotional point of view. She knew Eona had to physically appear to be quite androgynous in order to pull off masquerading as a boy. The only true things Eona had, which was truly her own, was her senses, which does come across very strongly in the novel. You spend a lot of time experiencing what Eon/Eona experiences, be it touch, smell, hear, taste. Alison led me further down her path of reasoning: Eona was malnourished, mentally abused and physically maltreated by a tutor who saw her only as his meal ticket and ride to power. She had to remain true to herself and by relying on her instincts and senses, she did just that.

Alison went on to explain, as I asked about the creation of the other characters in Two Pearls, that all of them somehow reflect Eon’s very complex character. This is all in keeping with Eon being chosen by her Dragon. Each character not only reflected parts of Eon which she perhaps tried denying herself, her femininity, her poverty, her eagerness to learn and help, but each one somehow managed to move the story along, by that fraction more, to bring it to its thrilling cliffhanger climax.

I had a geek moment here and asked Alison if she could hint at the happenings in the Two Pearls sequel. She smiled mysteriously, leaned back in her chair and explained that the sequel would be faster paced, a road book, with Eon and her comrades fleeing the conquering army, in search of certain items, looking for help from the main antagonist who did a surprising about-face towards the end of the novel. Here Alison and I had a complete geek moment and gushed about Lord Ido who is, for all intents and purposes, a very bad man but boy, does he sound a very tasty bad man! What a relief to know that authors also form crushes on their bad-boy characters.

We ended breakfast much later than expected and after much hugging, I pootled off, leaving Alison and Madeline to the rest of their busy day.

Since this interview and my review, The Two Pearls of Wisdom’s been reviewed by SFX magazine, the incomparable Lisa Tuttle over at The Times liked it(!) and Sci Fi London has got some lovely things to say. This article also links to Alison chatting about her work.


So, don’t just take my word for it, go and buy a copy of The Two Pearls of Wisdom and read it for yourself.

Product information:

The Two Pearls of Wisdom by Alison Goodman
Published by Bantam Press, £11.99

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Exodus Quest by Will Adams


Synopsis


With returning enigmatic hero Daniel Knox, The Exodus Quest brings the legends of the Dead Sea Scrolls brilliantly to life. Has the sacred Copper Scroll been found, and will it unearthing cause more danger and death for our enigmatic hero?

On a dusty Alexandrian street, Egyptologist Daniel Knox comes across a Dead Sea Scroll jar that puts him on the trail of an ancient Jewish sect. But blood-and-thunder preacher Ernest Peterson has a sacred mission to complete, and he’s not about to let Knox or anyone else get in his way.

Then Knox’s partner Gaille Bonnard is abducted, and a hostage tape on TV threatens her with execution. Certain she’s hidden a message in the broadcast, and with time running out, Knox races across Egypt to the mysterious ancient city of Amarna and the tomb of a heretic pharaoh that may provide the answer to the great riddle of the Exodus itself.



Author Will Adams has sent out another invitation to get on a rollercoaster ride with him through antiquity. Daniel Knox whom we’ve met in the previous outing – see The Alexander Cipher – makes his re-appearance only slightly dented by his previous escapades. He’s maybe a bit wiser in his outlook and definitely has a nose for trouble. And he does manage to stir up a great deal of trouble, because frankly, that’s what he’s good at and Will Adams clearly enjoys throwing his hero into very difficult situations.


Yes, this is a quest novel, (my favourite type!), and like David Gibbins’ The Last Gospel, it is a wild spice mix of ancient history, biblical fact and fiction, myth and educated guesswork all rolled into an attractive package and presented for your delectation.

Daniel’s character is that of an intelligent scholar who clearly enjoys what he does, even when he gets into all kinds of mischief because of where his reasonings lead him. His enthusiasm shows in his conversations with the other characters in the novel and it is through these that the background to the story is relayed. His friends in the novel remain true and loyal throughout and I think that they were crafted very well to reflect the many aspects of Daniel Cox’s own character. The only item I would have liked a bit more news on is the aftermath of what he discovered in The Alexander Cipher. Having said that, I think that the author probably decided to not harp on about the previous events too much, allowing this book to be its own story. There are a few suggestions and nudges in dialogue between characters, but it is subtle.

Gaille’s character is one I see the author expanding. Gaille is still very much a conflicted person and it shows in her distrust of others. She sees Daniel Knox as one of the few people in the world she can trust and although she is drawn to him, she is also keen to distance herself from him because she is a strong, intelligent and independent person. I like Gaille and think there is good scope to help her grow in the future novels. This is me assuming there will be future novels! There has to be. I need my Daniel Knox fix!


The novel is intricately plotted with a strong storyline. It is a speeding train of a book, only marginally slowing down towards the conclusion. Will Adams has definitely put his best foot forward in this, his second outing. His writing has become even better than in The Alexander Cipher (which I cannot believe I did not review after I had read it – watch this space!) which in itself is a feat. I am loathe to make comparisons but I will be honest here when I say that Will Adams ranks high in my books, beside the giants in this genre of adventure which include Steve Berry, David Gibbins, Matthew Reilly and Tom Martin. The Exodus Quest is a luxurious heart-pumping adrenalin ride of a book by an author that just keeps getting better. If you are interested in biblical history, treasure, adventure in wild places, you will not be disappointed.

About the author:

Will Adams spent over two months in Egypt as part of his research for The Exodus Quest. Previous professions have included shop salesman, painter and decorator, microfiche technician before joining a firm of business history consultants where he wrote a number of corporate histories and biographies. He later worked as a communications consultant before resigning and selling his flat to try to fulfil his lifelong ambition of becoming a novelist.


The Exodus Quest - publication date 3rd November - available in bookshops and online.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Let's talk about...



books, of course!

I spotted the Spread the Word campaign's kicked off for 2009.

From their website:


Thousands of books are published every year, and only a small percentage makes the mark that it should.

The World Book Day team asked publishers large and small to submit books they thought deserved to reach a wider readership – most specifically those that would make good subjects for discussion, those that don’t merely entertain, but give greater food for thought.
From the many submissions received, we have selected fifty titles we feel fulfil the criteria. Each and every one brings something different, refreshing and stimulating.

This is an opportunity to vote for your favourite book on the list, so that we can find The Book to Talk About 2009.

This year we have included both fiction and non-fiction on the list, with something for all interests and tastes.

I am really excited about this project - I know many of the books nominated are worthy of winning but I would - selfishly - like to highly three of four of these which I have read and really enjoyed or am planning to read.

Firstly, the novel by an amazing author which I would personally like to thank for being an inspiration to work further on my own writings and to continue growing My Favourite Books: Daniel Clay. He wrote the amazing Broken which I reviewed shortly before it was published. I cannot recommend it enough as it is tremendously topical, both heartwarming and eyeopening at the same time.

Secondly, read it for its plotting and fantastic use of symbolism: The Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert. Again, a book I hugely enjoyed, being deeply mystical, intricately plotted and artfully capturing the duplicitous nature of women and how trying to do the right thing hardly ever seems like doing the right thing.

Thirdly, The Archivist's Story by Travis Holland. This is one I am currently reading and I'm finding myself deeply affected by it. I won't say more until I've finished reading but for such a slender volume it packs a huge punch.

Fourth, one which I've received from Beautiful Books but not yet had time to read, so I'll make sure I get to it! The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato. The description makes you salivate, wanting more and from the comments on the Spread the Word site, it's been received with open arms.

Happy reading!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kat Richardson Speaks


I found a note of this article over at Kat's LJ site and decided to post it here, for inspirational purposes. I think sometimes that authors overlook what is right under their noses and find the way she came up with the ideas that work through Underground brilliant.


Underground Digs Up Myths


Fantasy author Kat Richardson told SCI FI Wire that her new novel, Underground, grew out of her desire to write a "monster in the sewer" book.


"There's just no setting as perfect for a tale of ghosts and monsters eating unsuspecting people than a condemned and abandoned city hidden under the streets," Richardson said in an interview. "So I took my monster out of the sewer and let it run amok in the crumbling streets of buried Seattle. It was ridiculous amounts of fun to write."


In the book, something is eating homeless people in Seattle's Pioneer Square and leaving the gnawed remains lying in and around the underground city.


"Harper Blaine's friend Quinton fears he'll be associated with the deaths, so he convinces her to look into the situation, and they soon discover that they're up against a creature straight out of local Indian legends--and it's really hungry," Richardson said. "They'll have to get a lot of help from their friends as well as the local Indians to put a stop to the monster and its master before it makes them the next item on the menu.


"Underground is based largely in the history of Seattle's downtown and the legends of local Native American groups. "Both of which are topics that have often been ignored or marginalized," Richardson said.


"Through the Seattle Public Library, I discovered a book of local Indian legends collected and translated by a Seattle settler named J.G. Ballard and several books on the redevelopment of Pioneer Square after the Seattle fire of 1897, which was the cause of the underground city.


Online newspaper sources connected me to some examples of spoken Lushootseed--the language of the local Indian tribes--and information on the distribution of the language and people throughout the Pacific Northwest."


The head historian at the Seattle Underground Tour was another terrific source of information and a wonderful storyteller himself, Richardson said. "I also spent a lot of time walking around, looking at the historic district--and under it--and asking really strange questions of people who were mostly very gracious about answering them," she said. "I'm a sucker for weird tales from history, and the book required a lot of digging in that field, which was fascinating and fun." --


Article written by John Joseph Adams over at Sci Fi Weekly .


All apologies


...for not being very snappy and up to date with the olde blog of late.


Mark and I had a rush of holidays - a week and a bit away in Wales, and then a long weekend away in Bruges. And it was wonderful.


Bruges is one of the most beautiful cities I've had the honour of visiting. And the bookshops are excellent! I found a few favourite authors there, translated into Dutch/Flemish, which I can read as I am an intelligent bookwyrm. I now regret not buying Karen Miller's Innocent Mage to re-read in Dutch. I've promised her a pic of the book, which I will post here too.


I am finishing off two other novels I've started this week along with my first grow'd up interview (over breakfast) with Allison Goodman who has had some awesome reviews in The Times and over at SFX magazine this past month. She's done a whirlwind tour of the UK and the States and is currently in Paris, living it up, being the glamour doll that she is.


I have to squeel - my proof copy of Drood by Dan Simmons arrived whilst I was in Bruges. Any idea the rustlings in the undergrowth about this book? After the two books I've got lined up, Drood will take pride of place to read, luxuriate in and review. It's been lined up to be turned into a movie by HM (His Majesty) G Del Toro...twitches nose. Where will he get the time?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Midnight's Daughter, Karen Chance


Synopsis:


Dorina Basarab is a dhampir, the daughter of a vampire and a human woman. Subject to uncontrollable rages, most dhampirs are born barking mad and live very short, very violent lives. So for five hundred years, Dory has been fighting to maintain her sanity by unleashing her homicidal tendencies on those demons and vampires who deserve killing. But now Dory's vampire father has come back into her life. Her uncle Dracula, notorious even among vampires for his cruelty and murderous ways, has escaped from prison, and her father wants Dory to work with the gorgeous vampire dueling champion Louis-Cesare to put him back there. Vampires and dhampirs are mortal enemies, and Dory prefers to work alone. But Dracula is the only thing on earth that truly scares her, and when Dory has to go up against him, she'll take all the help she can get...


I have not read any of Ms. Chance’s books in the past, not due to anything else but the fact that the tottering TBR pile of books that were there before. However, Penguin UK took pity on me when I spotted this newest offering in their PR sheets and sent me a copy of Midnight’s Daughter to read and review and I have to say: I am thrilled that they did.


Karen Chance knows how to spin a pretty involved story with an amusing, wry and flamboyant main character. I gather from talking to some friends, that the story takes place in a world which the author already created in her Cassie Palmer books, with some characters from that series appearing in this one.


To be honest, I’m pretty sure that the previous books do not need to be required reading to enjoy Midnight’s Daughter. You get caught up pretty quickly with the main elements, the various characters and then the story just exploded – literally – with nonstop action and well written sequences that will make John Woo want to pick up the rights for a script.


Dory’s character as dhampir is handled and explained satisfactorily, she is given a range of emotions to explore within the novel and what makes it work is the fact that you can see her motivations. In fact, you realise that there are ripples to these motivations which stretch further than you might expect. Even her father, Mircea’s reasons for roping her in to sort out old dear Uncle Drac’s behaviour, is hinted at and then explored.


One thing is very clear throughout the book – Karen Chance knows how to write. Not just the action scenes, or having the butt-kicking heroine throw out pithy one-liners but the set-up is clever, the involvement of the various factions in the simmering war is well thought-out as are the repercussions to the various actions characters take in the book.


You can find Karen’s website here, with Penguin’s site here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thought Bubble - Leeds

The Stig - aka Mark


I did a very impulsive thing.


I've booked tickets for us to go to Leeds to the Thought Bubble Festival to attend the comic book convention. I've not booked accommodation yet. This is for the weekend of the 15th November.


Mark Millar will be there, along with Jock, D'Isreali and many others. As will Mike Carey. Yes, I am in geekgasmic heaven. This is the link to the site.


I told Mark that we are going last night. He looked a bit taken aback and then cheered up because he realised he could drive to Leeds at speeds of in excess of 80mph or more. Yes, little did you know he is in fact the Stig in disguise (pictured above).


I also belatedly realised this meant that I don't get to meet the amazing Caitlin Kittredge as she will be at Murder One that weekend. Sobs into her hankie. I'll have to bribe people going to get me signed copies.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Hub Magazine Competition


I love these guys. There is no end to their enthusiasm for the published word and for encouraging new authors.

See the details below which I scrounged from their website:

We are looking for the very best in Bootstrap SF to publish in a new anthology.

Competition rules will be published here, shortly, so don’t send us anything yet, but feel free to make a start on your story.


The competition basics:

The wordcount must be between 3,000 and 10,000 words.

The winning 12 entries will be published in a new anthology to be published as a limited edition book in 2009 (launch date to be confirmed). The stories may also be used in future editions of Hub.

There will be no fee payable for any of the published entries, though the overall winner will receive a prize of £100. All twelve featured authors will receive a copy of the book.
The competition is only open to authors living in the UK and Eire (we will be running a competition open to everyone else shortly, too). Entries will only be accepted by authors who have not been published professionally. If you have had stories published online or in other anthologies, that’s fine. If you have received any form of financial remuneration for them (ie. money) then you can’t enter. This is a competition for new writers.

All writers will retain full copyright on their stories. Featured authors will grant us non-exclusive electronic rights and limited non-exclusive print rights (full details will be published here, soon).
And Bootstrap SF?

Bootstrap SF: A Very British Future.The British are an unusual combination of heroism and fatalism, humour and malice. Their Science Fiction is unique, blending pragmatism with sarcasm and death with laughter. For the British, Science Fiction is something subtler than the standard utopias and dystopias, something more concerned with exploring the future with a healthy cynicism.The genre faces stagnation. Fans who discovered SF in the Sixties and Seventies are now actively resisting the very progress that they embraced when they were younger, cutting out new audiences by relentlessly defending stories which have little relevance to newer, younger readers. SF has built a wall around itself, and for it to survive we must break it down.


Bootstrap SF is designed to please the core fans whilst attracting new ones. By focussing on British stories about people, characters, the audience doesn’t feel excluded if they don’t quite grasp the science behind the plot.

And the authors? The authors are new. Previously unpublished in the professional arena, these people are brimming with ideas and passion, and aren’t blinkered by decades-old notions of what SF should be. The authors are what’s happening right now in SF. And SF has always been about progress.

In short, Bootstrap SF is about British authors who love SF.
New British authors.
New British SF.
What a fantastic opportunity for my writerly friends and readers out there! Amazing things are happening in the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres and it is evidenced in the upsurge of excellent new authors out there and the re-releases of old favourites to corner the new readers and those who has copies of old favourites that need to be retired.
Trundle over to the Gemmell Awards site and have a look at the books currently being nominated for this Award. That should keep you fresh and reading for a little while yet!

Geekheaven and muse fodder

Yaknow, I forgot to tell you I won £100m in lottery money a few weekends past and have decided to buy the above library for myself...complete with sputnik.

Okay, so I'm lying.

But I am not lying about the excellence of the above library. In fact, visit the article put together by one of the chaps over at Wired and experience the awesomeness of this place. Can you IMAGINE sitting anywhere as cool as this to read or write? The photos on the site are pretty amazing and strangely enough it echoes a library I had created in my current WIP. So, I am absoutely thrilled by this muse fodder.

Don't you love serendipity?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Keeper of Secrets, Judith Cutler

Synopsis:

England, 1810: Young Parson Tobias Campion is excited and nervous to be starting at the small parish of Moreton Priory. But his first night in the village brings excitement of the wrong kind when he has to intervene in the attempted rape of housemaid Lizzie Woodman. Even in the normal course of events life in the village is far from quiet, as soon Tobias has to deal with both violent and suspicious deaths which put his character and ministry to the test. But matters come to a head when Lizzie disappears from her employers. What has become of the girl and who is responsible? As Tobias searches for answers they find themselves delving into the dark secrets that haunt Lizzie's past.

I freely admit that I regret not having read any of Judith Cutler's books in the past. I received a copy of The Keeper of Secrets in the post a little while ago from Alison and Busby and decided to settle into it this Saturday past, whilst Mark was out fishing.

And I read it in one sitting, only breaking for lunch, but then trying to read it whilst wolfing down a toasted sarnie in one hand, with the book gripped in the other.

The author writes fluidly, introducing us to a very young, almost naive main character, Tobias Campion, as he takes up his role as Parson in a small unfashionable village. I loved the style of writing. It had echoes of Georgette Heyer but it never becomes too precious and Tobias' character forms the strong moral backbone of the story. Through his eyes we see the poverty of the villagers and he realises, coming from a very well to do family himself, how difficult the lives of servants and peasants are.

He teams up with the local doctor, Dr. Hansard, and together they try and sift through the layers of lies and deception surrounding the various incidents which shake up the parish and villagers.

The novel is well-written and worthy of a re-read. The characterisation is strong with a plethora of males which dominate the book. The women who do form the pivotal characters in the book are fantastically rendered and provide the nobility and gentleness required to soften the brutality and shock of the storyline.

I would heartily recommend The Keeper of Secrets as change of pace. Do not be fooled into thinking it is a cosy little crime / mystery novel. It deals with unpleasantness in an adept way and comments on the social mores of a time not so very different to ours.

Judith Cutler's site can be found here with some interesting reading about her various other books, including TKOS.

History Without The Boring Bits, Ian Crofton




The usual history books focus on the reigns of kings and queens, the dates of important battles, treaties, things like that. And we are quite happy to learn them and get on with having to study what our teachers and lecturers try and make impossibly bland.

But there are other more interesting stories to tell - stories that don't usually get into the history books, but which can nevertheless bring the past vividly and excitingly to life.

Imagine a history lesson that spares you the details of such seminal events as the 11th-century papal-imperial conflict, that fails to say much at all about the 1815 Congress of Vienna - and that neglects entirely to mention the world-changing moment that was the 1521 Diet of Worms. Imagine instead a book that tells you the date of the ancient Roman law that made it legal to break wind at banquets; the name of the defunct medieval pope whose putrefying corpse was subjected to the humiliation of a trial before a court of law; the identity of the priapic monarch who sired more bastards than any other king in England; and last but not least the date of the demise in London of the first goat to have circumnavigated the globe twice. Imagine a book crammed with such deliciously disposable information, and you have History without the Boring Bits.

The author of History Without The Boring Bits has clearly not just done a tremendous amount of research whilst putting this book together but he also probably had a lot of fun. And he excells in having found some of the most random and bizarre bits of information which is placed in the book in chronological order.

Example:

331 BC
Guided by Crows.
According to the contemporary historian Callisthenes of Olynthus, Alexander's army was guided through a desert by a flock of crows. The birds would fly ahead as the men followed them, or wait for them if they tarried. Even at night the crows called out to show the way.

The snippets of history are all concise and headlined by fun titles such as: Pelican devours pigeon, Monster awarded protected status, The lake of death...

A very interesting read, even for people who profess not to like history. Ian Crofton's other books include The Kings and Queens of England and Brewer's Britain and Ireland.

Dragon Orb: Firestorm by Mark Robson


Synopsis:


Four dragonriders on a mission to save their world. Dragon’s in Areth each have a single predestined rider and a single life mission, given to them by the Oracle. But this once all-powerful being is now fatally damaged and fading fast…Only the dragons and their riders can save it!


Don't you love it when slender books really give you a strong talking-to, unexpectedly? Developing characters with issues, unexpectedly? Turning from what might have been mundane into something pretty cool?


Yep, me too. Which is why I was really chuffed with this offering from Mark Robson. The novel starts off a bit self-consciously, with the first character Elian meeting his destined dragon, Aurora. Through Elian and Aurora we learn quite a bit about the dragonriders and their dragons. Through the eyes of the villagers we realise the majesty of the dragon and how a young boy can be changed from being a normal boy to a dragonrider, someone of legend. The author's storytelling evens out pretty quickly and you get the sense he becomes comfortable with the story he's just introduced.


What I appreciated is how little Elian knew about being a dragon rider. They are only mentioned in passing in his village, in order not to give young people cause to dream too high. Once Elian and Aurora set off to the Oracle the real adventure starts. They meet up with a young tribeswoman, Kira with her dragon, Longfang who in turn is also on her way to the Oracle to receive her mission and purpose. Nolita, the third member of the foursome was the biggest surprise. She is terrified of large creatures and the first sight of her dragon, Firestorm, sets her running. Fast. Away from her family and village. She runs for her life, too terrified to see straight. Her fears and her obsessive compulsive behaviour is what sets her apart from the two young dragonriders whom we already met, who have embraced their destiny.

The story spins along at a good pace with adventures along the way. The three form a bond, learn to work as a team. Once at the Oracle the fourth member of the foursome, Pell, rider of Whispering Shadow, makes his appearance. He is not a pleasant chap and makes life a bit more difficult for everyone.

And that's all I'm about to say about the story itself as spoilers would be mean and nasty. That's why you have to go and buy the book and the series! You can find out more about the rest of the series here, at the author's website.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett


Synopsis

Told in gorgeous prose that reads more like poetry, the elderly Matilda relates the story of her life to a young boy she finds in her parlor one day. A sensitive child, she grew up distanced from her parents until her father, as a coming-of-age gift, took her on an extended tour of the world in search of the single most beautiful thing. After returning home, she eventually began an uncertain relationship with an unworldly young man she met on the beach; she appropriately named him Feather. He abandoned his wild ways and moved into a cottage with her, but was never capable of loving Maddy as she did him. She never lost her awareness that his nature was too ephemeral for a long-term love affair, marring her happiness. As readers move through this lush fable they may begin to get a sense of the real identity of the boy in Maddy's parlor. The relative brevity of the story belies the depth it encompasses; it's a richly crafted tale-within-a-tale, worthy of repeated reading.

I admit to being lucky enough to read this novel whilst we were on holiday in Wales, so the stark setting of the windswept beach, which there was miles off, really brought home this unique story.

If I had to try and analyse the writing style, I would be at a loss for words. I have never read anything as unique as Ms. Hartnett's style before. She relates Maddy's story with a calm detatchment but whilst remaining a keen observationist. Her prose is strong and steady and lyrical at times but with this tremendous underlay of inherent sadness.

I don't think, if I'm honest, that this is a book for younger readers. It is definitely for older teens and adults. Not because it is explicit, far from it - there is this odd hazey dream-like quality to the story telling that makes you re-read some passages over and over just because it is so oddly surreal and beautiful. It will be lost on the very young but it will make a worthy addition to anyone's bookshelf.

I cried at the end of the book, not for the loss of the characters but because it was just so beautifully told. Absolutely magical, unique and with a strange and compelling beauty echoed throughout the work.

I had trouble finding the author's website and am therefore copying across some info from Walker Books, her publishers' below:

Sonya Hartnett was born in Melbourne, the second of six children. Her first book, Trouble All the Way, was written when she was just thirteen and published two years later. Since then she has gone on to write numerous successful novels, including The Ghost's Child, and has won many awards including the 2002 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the prestigious Age Book of the Year in Australia and most recently the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2008. Sonya lives in Australia.

The Sons of Heaven, Terrence Strong


Synopsis:


They are the Pessarane Behesht. Sons of Heaven. The secret sword of Islam. Spawned in war-torn Beirut from the seeds of legend. Nurtured in revolutionary Iran to wreak vengeance on the enemies of Allah. When the freighter Clarion Call disappears mysteriously in the Gulf, she is carrying a secret consignment of French arms for the Pessarane Behesht in return for the release of a hostage diplomat. Ex-SAS Major Robert D'Arcy, whose international security firm was protecting the ship, finds himself embroiled in a deadly battle of wills between the state-sponsored terrorists and rival Western intelligence agencies with conflicting interests. As the Iranians resort to kidnap and assassination in their thirst for revenge, and the lives of an innocent woman and her child are held in the balance, D'Arcy must act alone to prevent more bloodshed.


I found this book to be an incredibly fast and furious read. The main character D'Arcy is very much his own man, damaged and liable to hurt someone quite badly, but only after careful consideration. He is a strong alpha character with a strict moral code which he expects others to abide by. He is therefore completely taken aback by the attack on one of his clients, and in turn, a further attack on this same client's family.


He throws himself into the fray, doing his best to find out the truth and cuts a swathe through political machinations and wild plots by extremists which are, when considered, incredibly detailed and scary.


The book is worth a read if you are fans of the JB books, be they Jason Bourne or James Bond. In fact, the writing is way more Jason Bourne, right down to the ruthlessness and the single vision.


Terrence Strong writes well, with a tremendous ease that makes you thank your lucky stars that he's not decided to turn into the enemy because if he can come up with diabolical plots like in The Sons of Heaven, you just know the world will be in a millenium of trouble.


The fact that the book is set so strongly in what is currently happening in the world - the insane fears of the West, the constant lurking presence of terrorism which turns everyone into suspects...the heartbreaking kidnapping that occurs for political reasons be it in the East or the West, using innocents as pawns in a ongoing war, is what makes The Sons of Heaven work.


The story is strung along at a steady pace and the set pieces are well planned, like a good movie. The action does not let up and it leads you through the murky world of shady armsdealers and people who should be on your side...but who act only for their own good.


A really good read - if you like your action men tough and flawed, you will love D'Arcy. He ranks highly alongside Ben Hope from Scott Mariani's books. If you have read any Gerald Seymour, Chris Ryan, Stephen Leather, Jack Higgins etc. you will find a new companion in Mr. Strong's books.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman


Synopsis: When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing the entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him - after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. This is a stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod's life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?


I am a fan of Neil Gaiman's body of work - right through from the Sandman series to the quirky M is For Magic, Fragile Things and Neverwhere. There are bigger novels like American Gods and Anansi Boys which plows through myths and legends and serves them up for your delight. If you can find copies of Odd and the Frost Giants, I would urge you to buy it - who said epic stories need to exceed more than 300 pages?


You can therefore imagine my fan-girl squeeling when I received my copy of The Graveyard Book weeks before being unshrouded here in the UK. After the initial squeeling, I had to put it away as I had others books to finish. But it kept calling to me. So, I allowed myself to be led astray.


The Graveyard Book is that unique cross-over collection of stories which form a novel that will appeal to both adults and children. It is written in a very unique style and you do come to think outside the box: and who said that ghosts could not raise a child? Everything is plausable and well thought out.


Gaiman makes it impossible for you not to like Bod or the world Bod inhabits. Each chapter could be read as a standalone short. In each chapter Bod is just that little bit older so you get interesting and poingnant vignettes of his adventures as he grows up and his experiences both within and without of the Graveyard.


I was delighted by the slightly macabre feel of the book, the line drawings by the amazing Chris Riddell and Dave McKean are pitched just right to illustrate the noir setting.


Bod's guardian, Silas, is my favourite character after Bod in the book and is something completely different to what usually lives in the Graveyard. He isn't dead and he isn't alive - a unique mystery all to himself. The murderer of Bod's family, the man Jack, is fantastically creepy and weird and suits the story perfectly.


Neil Gaiman's created a book with bits that everyone will enjoy - there is murder, Hounds of God, Guardians, ghouls, ghosts, a girl called Scarlet, adventure, mayhem, Fading and Haunting, bullies to be taught lessons - in essence, an all round fun and thrilling book to read, no matter what your age or time of year.


This is the link to The Graveyard Book website which links to the two artists' sites including Neil Gaiman's.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

3 book deal for new SF author


Yes, people, this does really happen in the big world of publishing.

Cruising the internet and my livejournal friends' pages I found the following announcement and had to share it because, yaknow, it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, and more importantly, it makes you realise that hard work pays off:


John Jarrold has concluded a three-book World Rights deal for Scottish-based Finnish SF writer Hannu Rajaniemi.


Hannu’s debut novel (presently untitled) plus two further books were pre-empted by Simon Spanton of Gollancz for a high five-figure sum, on the basis of one chapter.


‘I received this chapter from Hannu by e-mail in the morning (and loved it), mentioned it to Simon when we were talking about other matters, and three hours later I had a very strong pre-empt offer,’ said John Jarrold. ‘After fifteen years in an editor’s chair I am very aware how unusual it is for an offer to be made for a debut novelist on only twenty-four double spaced pages – particularly at a time when many publishing executives are more interested in the opinions of their sales and marketing directors than those of their senior editors. So congratulations to Simon for his enthusiasm and the speed of his response, and much respect to those at Orion who trusted his judgement. I think everyone can judge the power of Hannu’s writing from the way this deal was done. This chapter leaves me thirsting for more!’


Simon Spanton said: ‘Yes, acquiring one book, let alone three, on the basis of a single chapter is a gamble; and not one I or any other editor is in the habit of making. But I’ve never been more sure of a hand than the one dealt to me by John and Hannu.


‘Hannu’s first chapter was entirely enticing; yes, it was brimful of energy, originality and fascinating science but these were bonuses. What caught me and left me desperate for more was the masterful way he set up the characters, created relationships between them based on intrigue and need and suggested a rich past and a dangerous future for all concerned. I haven’t been this excited after reading just one chapter in a long, long time and consequently I’m delighted to be able to welcome Hannu to Gollancz.’


The novel is due for delivery in August 2009.


Hannu’s short fiction has featured in INTERZONE, Finnish magazines, the anthology NOVA SCOTIA and two Best of the Year SF anthologies. Hannu has a Ph D in string theory and is a co-founder of ThinkTank Maths Limited, a technology consultancy.


The linkages are as follows:




Saturday, October 04, 2008

The book of a thousand days, Shannon Hale

Synopsis:

When a beautiful princess refuses to marry the prince her father has chosen, her father is furious. So furious he locks her in a tower. She has seven long years of solitude to think about her insolence. But the princess is not entirely alone – she can take her maid, Dashti. Petulant and spoilt, the princess eats the food in their meagre store as if she were still at court, and Dashti soon realises they must either escape or slowly starve. But during their captivity, clever and resourceful Dashti discovers that there is something far more sinister behind her princesses fears of marrying of the prince, and when, finally, they do break free from the tower, they find a land laid to waste and the kingdom destroyed. They were safe in the tower, now they are at the mercy of the evil prince. But this maid is a force to be reckoned with.


I know Shannon Hale's work from having read The Goose Girl a few years ago, shortly after it was published. I had to have it. I read it in a Saturday and loved it. I have re-read it a few times since then, along with its follow up novel, Enna Burning. The books are beautifully written with cross-over appeal and reworks age-old stories into something wonderful and new.
I was therefore very precious with my copy of The Book of a Thousand Days when it arrived from Bloomsbury a few months ago. I had to make an occasion to read it and our recent holiday was just such an occasion.


I was not disappointed. The young maid in The Book of a Thousand Days, Dashti, is courageous, funny, clever, resourceful, very young, innocent, but not stupid. She willingly joins her mistress in the tower and listens as all means of escape are blocked up by her mistress' ruthless father. She turns to look after her mistress, Lady Saren, with unfaltering loyalty, ensuring her wellbeing, whilst held prisoner in the tower.


It is, if you think about it, a horrible prospect. Locked up in a tower, with no means of escape, with guards outside to make sure that no one tries to break them out, for seven long years. Food was dumped in the cellar of the tower, just enough for seven years. If no one else ate of it...no one figured in the rats tunnelling their way into the tower and helping themselves to the two young girls' meagre supplies. Factor in the princess going slightly insane and gorging herself on bags of sugar and other dry goods, and your own stomach starts to roil a bit. Not at all a pleasant concept.


They do escape and find that the Lord the princess was almost betrothed to, has laid waste to the lands. Not just her father's lands, but also some of the lands belonging to the other kingdoms. The two young girls make their way to what they assume is safety. Dashti remains a steady companion to Saren and soon they are working as potscrubbers in a noble's house. But the way Ms. Hale writes, you just know the story does not end there.


In Dashti she created a noble and charming heroine. Through her book of days we learn about their hardships they endured in the tower, on the road to safety and what happens afterwards. The book serves as a testament to all of what Dashti is and it is used, towards the end, to mirror her character as she is called to judgement for her actions. I am not going to spoil the story, save to say, that Shannon Hale is one of the finest writers today in the young adult genre, especially when it comes to reworking classic fairy tales and myths. The Book of a Thousand Days is a luxurious read and written in a very intimate and beguiling style. Dashti is a fantastic heroine who fronts a beautifully thought out world so very close to what we would believe the Mongolian steppes to be.


You can find the author's website here. I am also thrilled to see that she is doing a graphic novel and reworking of the Rapunzel story. She has advice on scripting a graphic novel etc. on her site - a truly talented lady!

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Synopsis: Izzy Spellman is 28, single and works for Spellman Investigations, a family-run private detective agency. She might have a chequered past littered with romantic mistakes - but at least she's good at her job. Invading people's privacy comes naturally. To the whole family. To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail and wiretap a Spellman. But when Izzy's parents hire her 14-year-old sister to discover the identity of her new boyfriend, Izzy decides she wants out. Before they'll let her go, her parents ask her to solve one last case - a 15-year-old, ice-cold, missing person, impossible-to-solve case. But when a disappearance occurs far closer to home, Izzy's Impossible Case becomes the most important of her life.

At first, I thought I was going to be in for a romcom chicklit book and was therefore really surprised when the book got padded out with quite a bit of strong detective background, amongst which the most useful would be about tailing suspects on foot and by car.

I settled in for the ride, having no idea where the book was going to go. The main character, Izzy, is a scary, funny, fragile and above all, seriously messed up person. But likeable. The story is engaging and rattles along, with a lot of backstory to go be caught up on, before the cold case is thrown into the loop. I am sorry to say that I suspected pretty soon into the cold case investigation what the whole story was about, but it was good fun regardless, watching Izzy put it together. (I am sad like that, I'm afraid and does not reflect on the story being transparent!)

I particularly liked Izzy's youngest sister, Rae. Rae is worthy of a young adult book all by herself. All through the book there are short interview sections with Izzy and a detective and you discover that Rae's gone missing. Twine this through the cold case story, the insane machinations of a family weirder than the Addams Family and wrap it around Izzy's bizarre relationships with everyone she comes into contact with and you come up with a delicious tangle of a storyline. It all pans out in the end, I am pleased to say, into a neat little package and I am keen to find out what happens next in the Spellman's lives.

Find Lisa Lutz's website here. I am pleased to see that the follow-up novel is aleady out in the States and should be hitting the UK shelves shortly - The Curse of the Spellman's.