Saturday, January 31, 2009

**Super-Agent John Jarrold Speaks**

One of the nice things about running MFB is that you get to know some of the publishing industry's big names, the people in behind the writers and the cogs in the wheel that suss out new authors. One such big name and cog, is John Jarrold whom I personally admire greatly for his unbiased opinion and his steady commitment to his clients and the public.

I managed to secure an email interview with John and this is the result. I hope you enjoy reading it.

How did you become a literary agent?

Having spent fifteen years as a publisher of SF and Fantasy in London with Orbit, Legend and Earthlight, I left Earthlight (Simon & Schuster UK) in August 2002, for various reasons. I set up as a freelance editor, but early in 2004 various authors started asking if I’d thought about becoming a literary agent, and if so – would I consider them as clients. When I attended the 2004 Worldcon in Boston, I had four clients. Now I have just over 40 – and I’ve turned down well over 4,000 submissions to the agency. I love being involved in SF and Fantasy publishing – and horror/supernatural fiction. Although I took on a few authors in other areas, in the early days of the agency, I concentrate entirely on those core areas now.

What made you decide to strike out on your own?

See above! I work from home, I’m a one-man band. So if something needs to be done, I know that I’m the one who needs to do it. And e-mail makes this all so much easier than it would have been ten or fifteen years ago.

How do you cope with difficult authors / publishers?

Ninety-nine percent of the time, everyone is working in the same direction – the author, the publisher and the agent are all working towards getting a terrific book published as well as possible. But occasionally someone blows a fuse, or gets too egotistical. Having worked in publishing for so long, I know what all sides should be doing and normally we can sort that out. But occasionally an author and an agent – or an author and a publisher – realize they can’t work together. This is true in any endeavour that involves individual human beings. Sometimes, the vibes just don’t work. In which case it’s best to admit that, and wish each other the best for the future. As an agent and as a publisher, I have occasionally read authors the Riot Act, or just said ‘We shouldn’t work together any more’. And as an agent, I’ve had conversations occasionally with publishers saying ‘This isn’t good enough’. And they know I sat in that chair for fifteen years before becoming an agent, so I’m not saying this for the sake of it. And of course I have sometimes held my hands up and said I’ve made a mistake. The main thing is that there should be a WISH on all sides to sort matters out. Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War, to quote Churchill.

Have you ever been approached by an author, liked their work, but felt that they just would not be right for your agency to represent?

Yes, absolutely – and as a publisher. It’s a subjective business and I published many authors other editors turned down – and vice versa. A writer needs intense enthusiasm – personal and professional – from their agent and their editor. If that isn’t there on my behalf as an agent, I’m the wrong person. But if I think they’re very good, I recommend other agents they could approach.

Do you have a regret not signing a specific author?

Regrets are pointless – but no, as it happens!

How can newbie writers / existing authors catch your eye with their work?

Brilliant prose, great, involving opening, then wonderful storytelling, terrific plots, intriguing, three-dimensional characters and outstanding dialogue. And be aware of the market.

Are there any books – How To books or novels – that stand out for you that you would recommend new authors to read?

Lisa Tuttle’s book WRITING FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION is very good. Agent Carole Blake’s book on publishing is highly respected. Novels? Well, how about some favourite writers in the present day? Iain M Banks, Ken MacLeod, Ian R MacLeod, William Gibson, George R R Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ian McDonald, Neil Gaiman, Robert Holdstock…all class acts. I don’t include any of my own clients, because it would be invidious to chose one over another.

What is your pet peeve as a literary agent?

Unprofessionalism. It’s a business. If an author wants an agent or publisher to treat them professionally, they should return the favour. Think about your submission, don’t just dash it off. This is equally true about writing in general.

Do you ever stop working?

Ha! I’m usually at my desk at 8 a.m., and often there until 6. But I think it’s necessary to have interests outside work. Mine include cooking (as anyone whose seen my Facebook page will know!), films, theatre, history, archaeology and music (ranging from Mozart to Canned Heat, Eliza Carthy to Vaughan Williams, Art Tatum to Handel). I try to take one day a week, or sometimes an afternoon, to get away from the desk – not always out of the house, but out of the room I use as an office, so I’m not tied to the computer. Living in Lincoln, I’m lucky with restaurants and pubs, and the area of the city around the cathedral is particularly fascinating.

What is the best thing about being a literary agent?

Wonderful writers. When you see something special, it’s like Christmas morning! I never get over the enthusiastic buzz that outstanding writing gives me.

And the worst?

Hmm. Can’t think of anything specific. You have to accept that there is a downside to any job, and get on with it.

What would you recommend aspiring authors look out for when approaching an agent for the first time?

Check out the agent’s website. Make sure they actually represent authors in your area – you’d be amazed the number of submissions I get for all areas of fiction and non-fiction, despite the fact that the home page of my website specifically says I only represent SF, Fantasy and Horror novelists. And make sure that you supply what they ask for – opening chapters or the whole typescript – in the way they want to see it, on hard copy or by e-mail.

What do you think will be the next "big thing" – for instance, here in the UK we are currently experiencing the urban fantasy / paranormal romance phenomenon whilst it has been on the rise in the States for quite a while. Young Adult/Teen fiction is also on the rise – do you ever spot clear trends or do you let your instincts guide you? (apologies if it's garbled, but I'm sure you understand the "gist" of it.)

Happily, I don’t know! If I could second guess public taste I’d be rich (which I’m not, as my bank manager will tell you!). But it would also mean we’re selling baked beans, ‘pre-wrapped ‘product’, and the joyous truth of publishing is that every book is different. Even if you’re looking at two fantasy novels that feel very similar, there is a fair chance that one will work commercially and the other won’t. There’s no exact template. So - as an agent or as a publisher – all you can do is trust a mixture of your gut instinct, your personal reaction and your knowledge of commercial publishing.

***
You can find John's website here - what makes me smile is if you click through and have a look at his client list, it's a whos who of established and new and upcoming writers in the world of genre writing.

Now, I wonder if I can somehow bribe him to employ me...

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Graveyard Book - The Movie


Just spotted this via Mr. Gaiman's RSS and Twitter feed:

Neil Jordan will be writing and directing The Graveyard Book film. And this article from the LA Times blog confirms it. So, do we think it will be real life people or animation?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Doomsday Prophecy by Scott Mariani


Synopsis

When ex-SAS operative Ben Hope decided to give up his life rescuing kidnap victims and return to the Theology studies he abandoned years before, he should have known that fate would decide differently.

When his old professor begs him to find his missing daughter, the wild and wayward biblical archaeologist Zoë Bradbury, Ben soon finds himself saddled with his most dangerous mission yet. What is the ancient biblical secret that Zoë uncovered? And who will stop at nothing to protect it?

As Ben’s quest leads him from the Greek Islands to the American Deep South and the holy city of Jerusalem, he comes to realise that it’s not just his and Zoë’s lives on the line, but those of millions. The stakes are unimaginably high as he finds himself racing to prevent a terrible disaster that could kick-start nothing less than the End Times foretold by the Book of Revelation...


Scott Mariani is back with a new adventure for Ben Hope, his main character whom the author seems to delight in throwing in the deep end. In both The Alchemist's Secret and The Mozart Conspiracy, you get to know Ben's character very well, you learn what makes him tick, his skill sets and you form a pretty good idea of what his world is like.

At the end of The Mozart Conspiracy I was in floods of tears. I was totally devastated by what had happened to Ben and was tempted to write a stern note to tell Mr. Mariani that he should ease off on Ben and that he should pick on someone else. Fortunately I didn't and Ben's back for a wildly conflicting novel.

The Doomsday Prophecy is, at its heart, a fantasic character driven novel with a depth that many thriller and adventure novels lack. Oh, there is action aplenty and dastardly deeds get done by mean men in dark suits BUT what puts this head and shoulders over other novels of the same ilk is how well Mr. Mariani balances out the action, the drama, suspense and the character development.

Zoë's disappearance sets off the thrills and spills of the adventure. I was fully prepared to like her and was therefore pleasantly surprised when she turned out to be a nasty little piece of work - and I loved it. Again, my preconceived expectations came into play. I should know better than that by now, knowing Mr. Mariani's writing.

Ben is called in by her parents who are devastated at the disappearance of their one and only. Ben is hesitant, having sworn off his previous life, wanting to make a new start after all he's been through. He capitulates in the very end and goes to Greece where things become really wild. He almost dies in an explosion - the description will leave you gasping, I kid you not - and he ends up doing what he does best: puts his head down and follows the leads, no matter where it leads him.

He sojourns to America and makes a turn in Savannah, following up clues. He is kidnapped, shot at, gets into trouble with the police, finds the girl, rescues the girl, gets shot at even more, snatched by men in suits for nefarious reasons and ends up in Jerusalem - it is a thrilling ride, one heavily anchored in modern culture, playing on our fears and beliefs - no matter if you are Christan, Muslim, Jewish or an atheist.

In no way am I giving anything else away - especially not the rest of the plot. It twists and turns and it is sneaky.

The end of the novel is a showstopper and 100% satisfying. You know you are rooting for the guy and he does something so cool you do a mental fist-punch in the air (the equavalent of running the length of a football field with your shirt over head) and you have to bite the inside of your mouth not to shout out "YES!" in case you get arrested on the train. Awesome thrilling stuff - I know, it sounds a bit silly as I gush about it, but it IS Ben Hope afterall and he is top of my list for dark damaged and tortured heroes.

Can you really have a crush on a fictional character...apart from Mr. Darcy, I wonder?

But even BETTER news than this is: more is to come...THE HERETIC’S TREASURE will be released in June 2009. This fourth instalment of the series will see Ben travel to the sands of Egypt to crack an ancient mystery and repay a debt to an old SAS comrade. Find Scott's website here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Triskelion by Will Peterson




Synopsis:

Twins Rachel and Adam are sent to stay with their grandmother, following their parents' divorce. But the quiet English village is a sinister, unsettling place. Is there a dark heart beating beneath the thatched roofs of Triskellion?

It is a place protected by an ancient, three-bladed artifact; a village where crops never fail and where the war memorial is blank; a community with much to protect.
With the help of the mysterious boy Gabriel, Rachel and Adam begin to unearth centuries-old secrets and make a shocking revelation about their family’s past – and their own future...


I read Triskelion in one sitting. I started it Sunday morning at breakfast (herb and cheese scones!) and I took it with me when we went into Beckenham for our usual Sunday afternoon session of lazing in a coffee shop, to either read or write. I had become totally immersed in Rachel and Adam’s world and couldn’t bear to not have the with me – I had to know what happened. I finished reading it at around 7pm last night. Fantastic thrilling stuff. So – this is my review:

Because Rachel and Adam’s mom could not deal with both of them at the time of the divorce going through, she sends them from the New York, to live with their grandmother (in the UK) whom they don’t really feel comfortable with, as they don’t really know her.

The village of Triskelion is an enigma, appearing deserted when they first arrive on the train from Paddington. No one is there to collect them, but there are bicycles left at the station with their names on them. They cycle through to their gran’s cottage, following the instructions on the note left for them. But they stop in the village itself for a break and soon come to believe they are the only people in the village – there is no sign of anyone about on the streets or anywhere. The feeling of unease creeps up on you and you feel like encouraging them to get on their bikes and leave, back to the station they just came from. But, shouting at characters in a novel will get you arrested in a public, so I didn’t shout out loud.

Things go from creepy to worse when there is a run-in with two local thugs who beat up Adam and then pull a disappearing act. They eventually make it to their gran’s cottage and although they still don’t feel like they are home, they do think they are safe.

Rachel and Adam are introduced to a range of people from the village and the mysterious boy Gabriel makes his appearance the night of a tremendous thunderstorm, walking the chalk outline of the triskel that is visible on the hill outside of the village. There are many rumours about the triskel and the name of the town itself (Triskelion) which relates to the eye within the triskel.

The dark and pervasive mood stays with you throughout the book. As it is, the novel is set during the school holidays when the days are so hot and overbearing you can barely think straight. All of this enhances the feel of the novel and helps create the explosive feel of the writing. The fact that the village adults are portrayed in a candid way – they do not like the twins snooping about the town. They do not appreciate incomers. They want things to stay as they are, to retain the status quo. In Rachel and Adam they see change, the world outside of their village, and it’s not something they want to embrace.

I enjoyed seeing the strangeness of village life through the children’s eyes. As they are from America there are many things that would be unusual for them, for example, the Sunday afternoon cricket on the village green is odd, there is no internet café to use to email their mom, there is no mobile signal so they can’t phone her either, everyone knows everyone else’s business. They are isolated, in a village where they don’t feel safe and where secrets are simmering just below the surface.

The archaeological dig that comes to the village, to dig up what is assumed is a Bronze Age burial mound, stirs things up even more. More incomers, this time with TV cameras and what they find in that dig, pushes the village that one iota too far. The repercussions of the find has a knock-on effect within the village; people come to realize that what they had thought was the luck of the area, was in fact, a lot more than that. And how far would you go to protect the status quo?

The novel is an excellent piece of work, with two interesting and strong characters as leads, whom almost everyone will be able to identify with. The kids go through some awful things in pursuit of the truth and you cheer them on wholeheartedly in their quest. As the novel races towards its conclusion – and it is a race – the actions of the villagers are highlighted as they decide to take a stand either for or against one of the two factions that have risen up within their midst.

It is a powerfully written piece of work definitely for slightly more mature, more confident readers. I would highly recommend it as a read – it explores wonderfully the relationship between the twins and highlights that special gift so many twins seem born with. I was thrilled to learn, when I visited the publishers’ site, that the next installment of Triskelion is due for release this March with the third installment of the trilogy available in 2010.

Find the mini-site put together by Walker Books here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Eastercon News


Mark and I have decided to attend our first big convention - we took the big splurge, booked ourselves some tickets and accommodation over the Easter weekend to attend Eastercon. This is the link to the official site.

Watch this space for updates and for roving reporter coverage of the event at the time.

Rubs hands - so looking forward to the geekfest!

Michelle Harrison Interview

Author photograhed by Charlie Hopkinson

Michelle Harrison is a young Simon & Schuster debut novelist who wrote the fantastic The Thirteen Treasures. Michelle works as an editorial assistant at a publisher, she is 28 years old and currently lives in Oxfordshire with her partner (Darren) and a badly behaved cat, Pepper.

1. You are clearly very fond of what you do, both as writer and illustrator. Do you have any favourite writers and artists that influenced you in your own career?

Artists such as Arthur Rackham, Alan Lee and Brian Froud have all influenced my artwork style, particularly where fairies are involved. With writers it’s harder to pin down specific influences, as I read so much. I think to an extent you can take something away from everything you enjoy, but writers I’m especially fond of are Roald Dahl, Julie Hearn and Eva Ibbotson.

2. What was the very first thing you did when you heard back from S&S that they have decided to publish The Thirteen Treasures?

I was taken to the pub by my agent and treated to a glass of wine! I then spent the rest of the day telephoning relatives and friends to share the good news, and staring at the Simon & Schuster catalogue, wondering what my book cover would look like.


3. Tell us more about The Thirteen Treasures and can you hint about its upcoming sequel (if you’re allowed!)?

The Thirteen Treasures has been described as ‘dark faerie fiction with a classic feel’, and I feel this sums the book up well. It’s quite a dark story as it deals with secrecy, betrayal and revenge, and at the centre of it all is 13-year-old Tanya, a girl who has the extraordinary ability to see fairies. Most strands of the story are tied up at the end of the book, but there is one plot element (with one character in particular) that’s left unresolved. The sequel is going to lead on from this strand, and will be from this character’s point of view, though all the characters from book one will be part of this story.

4. Tanya and Fabian are two very different character types, with Fabian being the more dark and strange of the two. They represent different points of view – the believer and the unbeliever – how difficult was it to maintain the two views, to let the characters ring this true in your novel?

I didn’t find it at all difficult to maintain the different viewpoints of Tanya and Fabian, as both of their characters felt so different and so clear to me in my mind. I was aware that there would come a point when Fabian would be faced with a choice whether to believe what was happening to Tanya, and so I knew it would have to be something major that presented him with this choice. Fabian is a very scientific person, but a small part of him – perhaps the capacity to ‘believe’ that adults tend to lack – still remains. Tanya can see this because of Fabian’s feelings towards the gypsy woman, Mad Morag, who is rumoured to have powers.

5. What came first – the characters or the storyline?

It was a bit of both. The character of Tanya was my true starting point - I named her after my niece. I knew the main theme of the story was to be Tanya’s persecution by malicious fairies, and that the setting would be the creepy, shabby manor house, but many aspects of the story developed as I was writing it. The fairies were the second lot of characters that I developed, while Fabian, Warwick and Amos arrived with me only as Tanya arrived at the manor for the first time. Red’s character was the last to make it into the book – I had initially been saving her for my second book, but decided to introduce her in The Thirteen Treasures as I felt the story was in need of a stronger subplot.




Art by Brian Froud

6. Did you do a lot of research into the world of fairy and its associated myths and legends?

Yes, I did a fair amount of research. I have an ever-increasing collection of books on fairy folklore and legends. A number of things I discovered made it into the book, such as the methods Tanya uses to deter the fairies from bothering her. I also came across the legend of the Thirteen Treasures, which is closely linked to Avalon, the fairy realm, although I’ve adapted the legend to fit with my story.

7. Have you ever been anywhere as odd and mysterious as the manor house you describe in The Thirteen Treasures?

Elvesden Manor is a mixture of several odd places I’ve been to. When I was young I visited an old farmhouse that belonged to a friend of the family – it had a really creepy cellar, and was full of dressers crammed with stuffed game. Another place that sticks in my mind is a pub in Essex where a staircase next to a fireplace is blocked off halfway up – this was the inspiration for the servants’ staircase at the manor. The forest that surrounds the manor – Hangman’s Wood – is based on an area of woodland of the same name very close to where I grew up. It’s much smaller than the forest in the story, but it has the deneholes that inspired the ‘catacombs’ in The Thirteen Treasures.

8. Did you do drawings of Fabian and Tanya whilst you were writing, as an aide memoire, to yourself?

I didn’t do any sketches as reference, but I drew several pictures of Tanya when I thinking about what kind of illustrations to put in the book. After following my agent’s advice I decided not to include any of the human characters on my illustrated letters, in order to allow the reader to imagine them fully.

9. What is your writing day like?

I work a full-time job, so all my writing is done in the evenings and at weekends – and frequently in the library at lunch times, these days. And whenever I write it’s usually supplemented by endless cups of tea.

10. Do you write to music / do you do soundtracks for your characters?

I’ve never thought of having character soundtracks, but I like the idea of it! On occasion I listen to instrumental music like the Edward Scissorhands or The Lord of the Rings soundtracks, or Loreena McKennitt’s music before I write or between breaks, but generally I find anything with words too distracting while writing.

11. What do you do to relax and unwind?

Reading or watching a film always helps me to unwind, but as I’ve got older I tend to like being busy most of the time.

12. What does it feel like, being on the other side of the spectrum now, as an author yourself? Do you feel famous?

I’m over the moon to be a published author now – it’s been my dream since I was a teenager, and I know I won’t ever forget what a challenge it was. Many writers find it difficult to break into publishing and I was no exception.

I don’t really feel famous - my work in publishing has involved meeting and working with other authors and illustrators who have been published for many years and are seasoned professionals. I still feel very new to it all!


13. Will you be touring to promote The Thirteen Treasures?

I have several events with schools lined up, and a launch party at the Stafford branch of Waterstone’s where I used to work as a children’s bookseller.

14. When did you find out that The Thirteen Treasures has been shortlisted as one of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize and what was your reaction?

I knew about the shortlisting back in October but had to keep it confidential until the press release in January – which was difficult as my instinct was to tell anyone who would listen! It means a lot to be considered for this prize as I remember reading the shortlists when I still worked for Waterstone’s. To now be on the shortlist feels amazing.

15. What advice do you have for other budding authors out there?

Definitely to read as much as possible – it’s the best way to know what’s being published and to see how successful stories are constructed. Practise writing, even something simple like keeping a blog or diary is a good way to start, and always go back to see how you can improve your work. Getting someone you trust to give some feedback on your work can be really helpful. Finally, keep at it, don’t give up!

Michelle's website and more information on The Thirteen Treasures can be found here.

Competition News!

Michelle's lovely publishers have agreed to let me offer a copy of The Thirteen Treasures to give away to celebrate, not just its release, but being put on the shortlist for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize. Now that is, as they say, made out of "awesome".

So, the rules are as before: UK residents only, one entry only per person/household, duplicates will be disqualified. Use the email address to the right to enter - send me an email, subject line titled The Thirteen Treasures with your name and address. I'll let the competition run for a week, from today, with the closing date being Saturday, 31st January. I'll announce the winner - randomly chosen by our dog Sparrow (he is a genius) - on Sunday morning. If you are the winner, I'll send you an email to let you know.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Thomas Emson - Sneak Extract for Skarlet


Thomas Emson, author of Maneater has sent me a link to a sneak-peak of his upcoming novel, Skarlet which forms part of the Vampire Trinity set of novels.

Click through here to read it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Newsflash! **Missing Authors Found**

By our investigative reporter, Liz de Jager

This reporter has just received with some astonishing news from two authors who are friends of this blog.

Sam Enthoven and Mark Robson sent a plea for help earlier today – they have been kidnapped and are currently being held captive in a damp cave somewhere in the UK.


Eight authors set out on a mission to write a grand book of all monster adventure, but the monsters got to them first.

Upon waking Sam and Mark discovered that their fellow authors, Baz Hutchison, Ali Sparks, Joe Craig, Andy Briggs, Tommy Donbavand and David Melling are also being held captive by the monsters.

So far no ransom has been demanded from the authors’ families but Mark and Sam did let slip that they were being forced to blog about books, do short stories and write poems and to reveal secret writing tips.

The monsters have agreed to allow them food on occasion, along with loo breaks. After much other negotiation, the monsters have agreed to let them do guest appearances at schools and bookshops – but only to maintain the facade of normality.

Please do not be fooled – make sure to do everything in your power to help these authors out. The monstrous site can be found at: http://www.trappedbymonsters.com/

David Devereux and friends take over Forbidden Planet

Mark and I attended the large author signing event at Forbidden Planet London last night with our friend Karen Mahoney. We got to chat to all the authors in attendance, there was a surprise guest appearance by the inimitable Robert Rankin (who did the most amazing sketch for me in my new autograph book) and everyone seemed to have an amazing time.
Authors in attendance were:
Witness the coolness of Mr. Robert Rankin and friend - I felt a complete paparazzi running around taking photos of everyone.



Mark Chadbourn (left) and David Devereux (right) signing stock as the evening moved towards its end. I like to think it was the halo-like effect of the light above them that drew our Mr. Devereux's pensive side. Or maybe he was just contemplating a pint...


The big table of books were being cleared and the authors were taking their ease. From left to right: Joe Abercrombie, James Swallow, Jaine Fenn, Alex Bell, Tom Lloyd and Suzanne McLeod.


Danie Ware from Forbidden Planet instigated this shot - she tried to get them all to fit into the same frame. It progressed though and soon everyone made it in. I sadly could not fit another picture on the blog to prove that they all managed to squeeze in. But I do have it if anyone is interested!

Jaine Fenn (left) and Alex Bell (right, wearing the funky hat) chatting to adoring fans.

Girl Power - Alex Bell (left) Karen Mahoney (middle) and Jaine Fenn (right) mugging it up for the camera. And that's Mark in the background looking smug.

Joe Abercrombie and fan in deep discussion.

A glimpse of the large table of books with various authors chatting and signing.

David Devereux chatting to Jonathan Weir from Gollanz, with Graeme Flory of Graeme's Fantasy Book Review behind them.


Suzanne McLeod got Mark, Karen and I invited to David Devereux after party at the Phoenix Club as part of the launch of his new novel, Eagle Rising. We had a brilliant time and got to chat with several of the authors and we were introduced to a new rising star at Gollancz, Stephen Deas whose upcoming novel, The Adamantine Palace, is to be published in March 2009.


Can't quite begin to describe the "high" you get rubbing shoulders with the greats like this and realising that they are in fact lovely, normal people who not just like what they do for a living, but who love talking about it, as much as their fans do.
Back to the mundane world today. I do however hope the photos gave some kind of idea how much fun everyone had.

Forbidden Planet did an amazing job of pulling this off, so thanks to Danie Ware and her team for entertaining all of us. We all had a brilliant time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Clockwork King of Orl, Mike Wild

“The words of her mentor inspire Kali Hooper to explore the lost places of Twilight, unearth the secrets of its past and discover the fate of the vanished Old Races. So far, so good. But when an unexpected encounter in the deadly Spiral of Kos brings Kali head to head with Twilight's all-consuming Final Faith, she finds herself in a race for the keys to the 'Old Races' most terrifying secret yet ­ the mysterious construct known as the Clockwork King of Orl.”

The Clockwork King of Orl takes place across the breadth of Kerberos, a land littered with the discarded and forgotten remnants of the long-vanished and enigmatic dwarven and elven races.

It across these lands that Kali Hooper ranges, plying her trade as a proponent of ‘athletic archaeology’. Driven by an insatiable curiosity, Kali doggedly seeks out remote pockets of the old races civilisation, selling the trinkets and sharing the true discoveries with Moon, her mentor.

The story begins as Kali explores a particularly inhospitable forest, and stumbles across a seemingly untouched old world structure, the Spiral of Kos. However, she and her enigmatic steed ‘Horse’ are not the first ones there.. the ensuing encounter with the ruthless Munch -an oddly fluffy name in the context of his man’s homicidal leanings- sets the wheels of a certifiable Adventure in motion (and yes, it needs a capital).

Kali is an intelligent, tough, outspoken and likeable character; the leather-clad lovechild of Lara Croft and Rick O’Connell. She has an intriguing story of her own, part of which is revealed to her during the race for the Clockwork King, and something which I hope Mike Wild will explore in later novels. As a setting, Kerberos is certainly fertile enough to support a wide range of further adventures.

As it is, Clockwork is the second book in Abaddon’s ‘Twilight of Kerberos’ series and I’m quite tempted to go pick up a copy of the first book, Shadowmage, so I can match up some of the references.

But the fact that I could pick up Clockwork as a standalone read and enjoy it as much as I did speaks volumes; I’ll definitely be adding any of Kali’s subsequent adventures to my ‘get this, read this’ list!

Evil Ways by Justin Gustainis



Synopsis (from Amazon.com's site)

In a story that ranges from Baghdad to Los Angeles, EVIL WAYS sees eccentric billionaire Walter Grobius attempt to unleash a devastating magical apocalypse. Quincey Morris and his partner, white witch Libby Chastain, are drawn into their deadliest case yet, but from different directions. In Los Angeles, Quincey is blackmailed by the FBI into investigating a series of ritualistic child murders. In New York, Libby barely escapes an attempt on her life by assassins armed with magical weapons. Both of these threads eventually intertwine, leading the investigators to a conspiracy so vast and diabolical as to defy belief.

The final, bloody confrontation takes place at Grobius’s isolated Idaho estate, on Walpurgis Night -- the night of the Witches’ Sabbath. Quincey and Libby, and their allies, must fight a desperate battle against immensely powerful dark forces that threaten the future of all mankind.

Libby and Quincy are back – against their will, admittedly, but adventure waits for no man...or white witch.

White witches are being killed across America for sinister reasons. And yet again children are going missing with parts cut from them. This time around it’s not “muti” murders as in the previous novel by Mr. Gustainis, it is something even more awful.

I fell under Libby and Quincy’s spell when I first read Black Magic Woman (click for review). The urban fantasy setting felt very real, set in modern times, where few people knew about the occult, wizards, magic or supernatural creatures. The action was raw and mean and people got hurt and there were repercussions. I looked forward to the new novel and am happy to say I was not disappointed.

Evil Ways trots out our occult investigators, setting them up on a ride all around America to figure out who has been killing the witches and abducting children and cutting them up. Quincy is approached, yet again, to work alongside the FBI’s BAU but this time around, he doesn’t have to really spend time quantifying supernatural things happening – the agent in charge, Fenton, has come to realise that there are things in the dark that go bump in the night. Even his superior officer calls cases like this the “woo woo” cases.

The fact that there are “woo woo” things happening and that the authorities were semi-aware of this, changed the perspective of the novel a bit. Especially when it turns out that Fenton’s new partner is a bit more than just a clever gall who can shoot straight.

What made me chuckle is that everyone’s favourite Chicago wizard gets a mention in the novel and a few scenes take place in said wizard’s local pub. The two worlds overlapping was done flawlessly.

The plot twists and turns as we follow the two “couples” investigating various end of the enigma. There is a lot of harsh language, tough descriptions and some things that made me wince and pull a face. Evil Ways is not, in any shape or form, a comfortable urban fantasy read. It describes the other side of the fence, the one that doesn’t really care about werewolves or pretty vampires, but focuses more on the evil that men do – to others and to themselves. It is a lot more gritty than most UF out there and it may put some readers off but for those who like Mike Carey and David Devereux amongst others, should add Justin Gustainis works to your TBR pile.

The rapport between Quincy and Libby is good, as it is between Fenton and his new female colleague. In some instances it is almost Whedonesque and made me grin.

The bad guys in the novel made me scratch my head – I did not like them or what they were doing and how they went about doing it was not pleasant. But, contrary to some readers, I enjoy reading about bad guys. The bad guys in Black Magic Woman rang true and made me cringe, the baddies in Evil Ways were pretty awful BUT I did not feel like they could step off the page and do me damage. They did not push me outside of my comfort zone – maybe I’m just odd? – and I found I enjoyed a new female character which the author brought on as muscle and protection for Libby and Quincy, a lot more. I initially thought she was one of the antagonists and cheered for a truly bad girl. Her motivations are not immediately clear, but I did find her character very interesting. I hope to see more of the “Widowmaker” in future novels. There are depths there that can do with exploring.

All in all, it was a good read – the characters have grown, new characters have been brought on set and it’s good to see how things are fleshing out in the series. Solid groundwork is being cast for several more novels (I’m hoping and thinking) and it’s going to be interesting to see how the author expands his created world.

Find Justin’s website here and I’ve found an online link here to some free excerpts, which I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Children's Book Competition News


This is the final proof of the leaflet for the competition. I will have a limited amount of leaflets to send out to libraries and schools, along with a limited amount of bookmarks, to advertise this very cool event.

We received our final box of books from our publishers last night and needless to say, we are chuffed beyond belief by the fantastic response. We are very grateful and beamingly pleased and proud that this initiative has taken off.

Mark and I are preparing the individual books to give away to selected school kids entering the competition. We are also putting together the four rather large and bulky boxes to go out to four lucky schools. (Or more, I'm thinking, as the donations from the publishers exceeded my expectations!)

If any of you, dear readers, are in the UK, and you have kids / have friends or family with kids in school / are libarians / are in school (you get the idea) please get in touch with the school as soon as possible and send them over here! I've had the marketing leaflets and bookmarks done up, to promote the competition and am keen to send them out.

In this instance, to make sure that I'm not wasting my time, I will ONLY be sending the leaflets and bookmarks to librarians and schools.

Rules:

Entry will be open to schools and libraries only. (The boxes will only be sent to these places, not to individuals/residential addresses.)

School children entering the competition for individual prizes can only do so with the permission of their parents - I expect to see a note of consent from a parent in the email or the parent's own email address so I can verify it. Only if you win, will I contact you for your address details - please do not send any address / contact details in the initial email.

No emails or addresses are kept once the competition is over.

As part of the vetting process, school children will have to also let me know what school they are in. This is to prevent too many books going out to perhaps the same school.

The competition starts 1st February 2009 and the last day will be 28th February 2009. Winners will be announced on 1st March 2009. Our random selection of names will be final and no discussion will be entered into. If you are contacted as a winner and you do not respond within 5 days of receipt of the confirmation email, the prize will be allocated to another winner and so on.

***

And that's all I can come up with for now. We're keeping it simple and easy - an email is all it takes to get you / your school in the running.

Please contact us via the email on the top right to enter to let us know if you would like any flyers and bookmarks and once the competition starts and make sure to say in the subject line if you are a school or a library.

If you are a school child, you will be required to put down the book you would like to enter for in the subject line. You can enter as many times as you wish for different books.

Good luck to all and I look forward to sending out my pretty leaflets and bookmarks!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Tomb of Hercules by Andy McDermott


Synopsis

Finding Atlantis was just the beginning...

The stunning sequel to THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS sets Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase on another dangerous quest - to find the tomb of the legendary Greek hero Hercules, reputed to hold the greatest treasure in history. But there are others who want the contents of the tomb for their own malevolent purposes, and they will go to any lengths to get it...


The Tomb of Hercules should come with a warning message: Extreme Nonstop Action.

The book is insane, the pace is not something I've ever come across. You know when you feel pummelled on behalf of the characters in the book that you're reading is pretty intense.

Nina and Eddie are thrown in the deep end - Eddie goes off to rescue his ex-wife Sophia, leaving Nina exposed to some serious trouble. Nina finds herself on the run tied to a valuable manuscript. Eddie's in Singapore getting shot at, rescuing his ex-wife from an abusive husband. It so happens that their respective running, fighing and being shot at on two different continents, has one thing in common, the Tomb of Hercules.

The action is adrenalin pumping, as Eddie and Nina are crossed, double crossed, saved, tripple crossed, accused of assasinating a high ranking African official, shot at some more and blown up. Very cinematic sequences written with a good eye, which I really enjoyed.

Whilst all of this is happening, we get to examine Nina and Eddie's rapidly declining relationship. They bicker, argue and fight like cat and dog. It's nasty stuff, very real life and not for the faint-hearted. I think if Andy McDermott feels like he needs to branch out from writing adventure quests, he'll find a good market at writing guy-lit (the opposite of chick-lit, naturally).

The couple are racing against the clock, held captive, to try and decipher the ancient manuscript and cryptic clues left behind relating to the lost tomb of mythical Hercules.

A thoroughly enjoyable ride all over the world on an epic scale. You do not need to have read the first novel, Hunt for Atlantis, as you get caught up pretty quickly with what had happened, leaving you free to thrill to the current adventure.

Two more novels by Andy McDermott are in the works - The Secret of Excalibur (already published in hard back) and The Covenant of Genesis (coming in November 09). Find Andy McDermott's site here and my review for The Hunt for Atlantis here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sepulchre by Kate Mosse


Synopsis

In 1891, young Léonie Vernier and her brother Anatole arrive in the beautiful town of Rennes-les-Bains, in southwest France. They’ve come at the invitation of their widowed aunt, whose mountain estate, Domain de la Cade, is famous in the region. But it soon becomes clear that their aunt Isolde—and the Domain—are not what Léonie had imagined. The villagers claim that Isolde’s late husband died after summoning a demon from the old Visigoth sepulchre high on the mountainside. A book from the Domain’s cavernous library describes the strange tarot pack that mysteriously disappeared following the uncle’s death. But while Léonie delves deeper into the ancient mysteries of the Domain, a different evil stalks her family—one which may explain why Léonie and Anatole were invited to the sinister Domain in the first place.

More than a century later, Meredith Martin, an American graduate student, arrives in France to study the life of Claude Debussy, the nineteenth century French composer. In Rennes-les-Bains, Meredith checks into a grand old hotel—the Domain de la Cade. Something about the hotel feels eerily familiar, and strange dreams and visions begin to haunt Meredith’s waking hours. A chance encounter leads her to a pack of tarot cards painted by Léonie Vernier, which may hold the key to this twenty-first century American’s fate . . . just as they did to the fate of Léonie Vernier more than a century earlier.


Reading Kate Mosse’s work is a joy. I was swept away by Labyrinth, her first published novel and couldn’t wait to read her second novel, Sepulchre. Having said that, it was not something I wanted to rush so due to other books on the TBR pile I set it aside – and every now and again I would eye it up and it would eye me right back.

Then, over Christmas, I had my chance. I was off for two weeks with nothing to do but read. So I did. I left Sepulchre to be my last and gave myself four days to read it. I read it in two. And I was going slowly.

The main character of the novel, Léonie Vernier, is brilliantly sketched against the background of a Paris heaving with artists and musicians, where the bohemian lifestyle grates on those of the more staid persuasion. She young, passionate, deeply caring, highly intelligent and prone to reading Poe and other exciting novels whilst her brother, Anatole, is more interested in his antique books. But Anatole has a secret, one that causes him great pain, and he has plans to leave Paris for a while, thinking about using his young sister, Léonie as an excuse. When Léonie is unexpectedly invited to visit her aunt in Domain de la Cade, serendipity seems to be on his side and he tags along for the visit.

They travel to Rennes-les-Bains and this is Léonie first trip this far from Paris and her observations and reaction to the countryside and those they meet, are kept fresh and interesting. To their utmost surprise Rennes-les-Bains turns out to be anything but the backwater town in the mountains they expected. The manor, Domain de la Cade, is a treat to read about – it sounds beautiful, sad, sinister and perfect as a stage for the story to unfold.

Léonie’s discovery of the book on tarot enhances the sense of drama and this feeling of jittery excitedness and concern creeps over you. At a dinner party, one of the guests, Audric Baillard, chats to her about the tarot, how dangerous they are, tht she should never try to find their hiding place as they could release an evil so terrible, it could lay waste to everything. Slowly but surely she pieces bits together about the tarot, the sepulchre that is said to be a place of great evil, the legends about the surrounding countryside, and the truth about the secret Anatole is keeping from her.

In modern times we meet Meredith Martin, musician and researcher visiting France in search of finding that extra bit of information on Claude Debussy. We follow her around a Paris that is described with great familiarity. She attends a tarot reading, on sheer impulse. This scene, for me personally, is the turning point in the novel – wonderfully written, understated and if I didn’t own around nineteen decks of tarot cards already, I would be out there choosing my first set! Meredith makes her way to the Domain de la Cade, in search of her own family’s history and stumbles across a newly refurbished hotel, still wonderfully evocative and steeped in the legends of the surrounding area.

I devoured the book – although I liked Meredith, I really enjoyed Léonie’s part in the novel more. Probably because her perspective on everything that is happening is so fresh and new. She develops from a lovely, impulsive child into a steadfast young woman of great courage and impeccable character. Meredith’s journey in the book is no less interesting, but I think because Léonie’s story is the pivotal one, I found myself keen to find out what happened.

Before I gab on too much and you get bored with my gushing, allow me to say that this is a brilliant read – written with great style, well researched, informative, fun to read (tres important!), with twists and turns, duels, murder, paranormal happenings, two interesting heroines and a very satisfying ending.

Find the author, Kate Mosse’s website here. She has the opening chapter of Sepulchre on her site, along with information on Labyrinth, her first novel.

Call for submissions - Best Horror of the Year

Ellen's most recent anthology she's edited - and one I'm currently reading, so keep an eye out for a review very soon.

One of my favourite editors of all time, Ellen Datlow, has put out a call for submissions. See the details below:

Although I'm still reading for Volume One, it's already time to start reading for Volume Two, so:

Call for Submissions

I am editing the new anthology series Best Horror of the Year (Night Shade Books) and am currently reading for the second volume, which will include all material published in 2009.

I am looking for stories from all branches of horror: from the traditional-supernatural to the borderline, including high-tech sf horror, supernatural stories, psychological horror, dark thrillers, or anything else that might qualify. If in doubt, send it. This is a reprint anthology so I am only reading material published in or about to be published in 2009. Submission deadline for stories is December 15th 2009. Anything sent after this deadline will reach me too late. If a magazine, anthology, or collection you’re in or you edit is coming out by December 31st, you can send me galleys or manuscripts so that I can judge the stories in time. No email submissions. I strongly suggest that authors check with their publishers that they are sending review copies to me as I don’t have time or energy to nag publishers to get me material. I request it once (maybe twice) and that’s it.

There will be a summation of "the year in horror" in the front of the volume. This will include novels, nonfiction, art books, and "odds and ends"-- material that doesn't fit elsewhere but that I feel might interest the horror reader. But I must be aware of this material in order to mention it. The deadline for this section is January 15th, 2010.

Ellen Datlow
Best Horror of the Year Volume Two
PMB 391
511 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10011-8436

****I do not want to receive manuscripts from authors of stories from venues that it’s likely I already receive (like Interzone, The Third Alternative, Cemetery Dance, Subterranean, Postscripts, Weird Tales, F&SF, etc) or from anthologies and collections, unless I don't have or can’t get that anthology or collection. Please contact your publisher and ask him/her to send me the magazine or book.

Please do not send a SASE. If I choose a story you will be informed. If you want to confirm that I‘ve received something, enclose a self-addressed-stamped postcard and I will let you know the date it arrived. For stories that appear on the web, please send me (or have the publisher send me) print-outs of your story.


What are you waiting for? Dust off that manuscript, edit it till it's shiny, spic and span, and send it off to Ellen. You just NEVER know!

Find Ellen's official site here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison


Synopsis

While visiting her grandmother's house, an old photograph leads Tanya to an unsolved mystery. Fifty years ago a girl vanished in the woods nearby - a girl Tanya's grandmother will not speak of. Fabian, the caretaker's son, is tormented by the girl's disappearance. His grandfather was the last person to see her alive, and has lived under suspicion ever since. Together, Tanya and Fabian decide to find the truth. But Tanya has her own secret: the ability to see fairies. And, after disturbing an intruder in the night, it emerges that someone else shares her ability...The manor's sinister history is about to repeat itself...

Firstly, I loved the cover, illustrated by Christopher Gibbs. The picture of the charm bracelet really hit the right spot. I love charms and talismans and really believe in their secret powers. (Yes, even expensive Links of London charms are imbued with that magical something).

Also, the line at the top of the front cover – A family secret, a fateful inheritance...

You just cannot go wrong with the look and feel of this, at all.

The novel introduces us to Tanya who has some issues, apart from being harassed by fairies, her mother believes that she is being particularly difficult (mostly because of the pranks the fairies play), therefore sending her off to live with a grandmother she’s never warmed to in a manor house that can be described as gloomy, at the best of times.

I found the novel a bit self-conscious to start with, there was a hesitancy there for the first few pages, but once the author gets into the swing of things, Tanya’s adventure is full blown and it is a hairy one!

Her life at the manor house is stilted – there is no warmth from her grandmother, her days are spent avoiding the forest outside the door and trying not to draw the attention of Fabian, the grounds keeper’s son. Fabian is an interesting creation and I found him very well drawn, with insecurities a mile long, a stubbornness and a weirdness, that was both endearing and a bit alarming.

Together Fabian and Tanya unravel the story of the girl that went missing in the forest, all those years ago. Fabian feels harassed by its memory – it’s directly affected his family, turning his grandfather, Amos, into an unpleasant old man, locked away on the second floor of the manor house.

Throw in Fabian’s dad who watches them with an eagle’s eye, warning them to stay out of the forest, toss in the rumours of the hidden tunnels that run from the manor house into the small adjacent town, add into the mix mysterious disappearances of very young children in the area, pinch in a Tanya’s own second sight ability which is both a curse and blessing, stir in the mystery surrounding the original owners of the manor house, fold in the weird gypsy lady who lives in the forest whose presence is a constant reminder that all is not well in the area, place in the oven and bake to perfection until you get a book with several ingredients, pulling together to make a hearty satisfying read.

I enjoyed it – I thought it was satisfyingly dark with the author reworking the Victorian image we have about fairies, shining a new light on them, their courts, making them a bit more sinister, turning them into proper adversaries to go up against Tanya and Fabian.

So much goes on in this novel that I can’t even begin to put it all together into this review as it will spoil the fun you will have reading it.

I hate doing “if you like” recommendations BUT am happy to say that if you liked Holly Black’s Tithe, Valiant and Ironside you will enjoy The Thirteen Treasures. Similarly, if you read Emma Bull’s Finder or Midori Snyder’s Hannah’s Garden you will thrill to The Thirteen Treasures.

The Thirteen Treasures were published by Simon & Schuster earlier this month. Find the author’s site here.

Hump Day Links


I have a few books on the go at the moment, so here’s a Hump Day link-up to various articles, blogs and reviews which I’m subscribed to via RSS feed:

Jessica Faust gives a good overview of the agency business through the BookEnds LLC blog – check out one of her most recent posts on how agents decide on which books to represent: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/01/agents-taste.html . The blog is updated daily and gives a really interesting snapshot of what agents want, what they do and how authors should approach them for representation.

Interesting article over at the Guardian about Tolkien’s version of the tales of Sigurd the Volsung – he put the tales into narrative verse, before he wrote LOTR. This reworking will be available this May through HarperCollins which will be publishing the text as The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun - http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jan/07/tolkien-norse-legend .
For everyone who enjoyed Peter V Brett’s debut this year, there is even more good news – a deluxe edition has been planned – check it out here - http://www.sffworld.com/news/597.html .

My good friend Dave-Brendon interviews Kate Elliott over at his blog - http://davebrendon.wordpress.com/2009/01/11/an-interview-with-kate-elliot-alis-a-rasmussen/.

Voracious reader and review, Graeme’s got his newest review up on Jennifer Rardin’s newest offering from Orbit - http://www.graemesfantasybookreview.com/2009/01/one-more-bite-jennifer-rardin-orbit.html . He also has a review up of Mystery of Grace by one of my all time favourite authors, Charles de Lint : http://www.graemesfantasybookreview.com/2009/01/mystery-of-grace-charles-de-lint-tor.html

Faith Hunter (amongst a bevy of other brilliant writers such as CE Murphy and David B Coe) writes bits and pieces for a brilliant site called Magical Words. The site is worth checking out for good articles on writing, the industry, creating characters etc. Check the link out to an article Faith wrote about some writing techniques - http://magicalwords.net/faith-hunter/twenty-one-fatal-techniques/ .

Personally, I love the Hellblazer graphic novels, I also love Mike Carey (his new novel is out very soon, yay!) so when I spotted an article about how Hellblazer inspired fantasy author, Daniel Abraham to write his most recent novel, Unclean Spirits (albeit under a pseudonym) I had to share it: http://scifiwire.com/2009/01/hellblazer-inspired-hanovers-unclean-spirits.php .

If you like Neal Stephenson, here’s an interview with him done by the AV Club - http://scifiwire.com/2009/01/hellblazer-inspired-hanovers-unclean-spirits.php .
The crazy galls, Ana and Thea, over at The Book Smugglers are having a manga appreciation week – check it out! http://thebooksmugglers.com/2009/01/manga-appreciation-week-an-introduction.html


Thomas Emson, author (of Maneater), friend of the blog and one of my first big interviews, let slip some news about his upcoming works – more gritty urban fantasy with a twist, anyone? Check out the new site for The Vampire Trinity - http://www.thevampiretrinity.com/ . I’ve heard that there are some Library Binding copies available on Amazon for the first book Skarlet...

Chris Voss, one of the contributors to Unbound has gone and diversified himself: he’s started a movie review blog! Pop on over to Celluloid Moon - http://www.celluloidmoon.blogspot.com/ - to see what shenanigans he gets up to.

As an aspiring writer and someone who gets too easily distracted by teh intranets, txt messages and real life, when I try to write, I was quite chuffed to see that clever monkey (named Charlie) has come up with an idea to create a space where writers can retreat to for a day, without any outside interference, to write. Naturally, there is a charge, but imagine the output you can have in one day without having to worry about anything else, except writing. Check it out: http://urbanwritersretreat.wordpress.com/2009/01/05/2009-writing-retreat-dates/ for the dates and then the official site at: http://urbanwritersretreat.web.officelive.com/book.aspx .

I must apologise for the unsightly external linkages – for some reason my html is messing around and it’s not picking up the embedded links.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Skin and Bones by Tom Bale


Synopsis

On a cold January morning, a nightmare awaits in a small Sussex village. A deranged young man goes on the rampage, shooting everyone in his path before taking his own life. It is a senseless, tragic event, but sadly not an unfamiliar one.

At least, that’s what everyone thinks.

Only Julia Trent – believed to be the sole survivor - knows there was a second man involved. But after being shot and badly injured, her account of the massacre is ignored.

But she cannot let it rest there. Together with Craig Walker, the journalist son of one of the victims, Julia sets out to find the truth. As they peel back the layers of a dark and dangerous conspiracy, they discover the slaughter didn’t begin on that bitter day in January. And worst of all, it won’t end there…


The novel was such a good read - as it is set in the UK, in the South East and very true to the society we currently live in. I recognised some of the places described, having been there in the past on visits. There is nothing like reading a book, like Skin and Bones and feeling that uncomfortableness, that connection with place, because things seem almost too close to home.

The book starts with the big event; opening in the village where the main character Nina, arrives, very early in the morning, to clear out the house her parents had lived in. From the first paragraph you know something's up. The opening page is brilliantly written (unpublished writers go check it out) and before I knew it, I was drawn in and I had to finish the novel. I started reading this at around eight at night (on a Friday) and went to bed at 3am, having read it in one fell swoop.

The events run cinematically, as Julia realises things are too quiet in the sleepy village. She investigates, against her better judgement, and walks bang into anyone's worst nightmare.

The sequence of events, as they unfold, feel real. Because there is so much media coverage in our average day to day lives, we've become used to watching the war on tv, investigations as they unfold. This is no different.

In the midst of the chaos of the horror of the gunman's actions, the other players in the novel are roped in and you have to keep your wits about you. The book is multi-layered and a fantastic puzzle with twists and turns. The writing is never overly descriptive, the events do not get overplayed, rather people's reaction to these events.

Onto the two main characters: Julia's a survivor. She's tough but not brash, which makes her very likeable indeed. The author has worked very hard to gain your empathy for Julia and what she goes through as she recovers from her near murder. Her actions are deliberate, logical and her motivations make sense. She WANTS to find out what really happened - there is a need to know, but because she knows that things didn't go down as the police wrote down in their report, there are times that she doubts her own sanity. She fears for her life, certain that the events in the village would follow her.

The second main character, Craig Walker, the son of one of the victim's, turns to Julia for help, sensing that there is more beneath the surface than the media and the police lets on. He's a likeable chap, a trained journalist, and like Julia he is keen to figure out what exactly motivated these events and who / what instigated them. Julia and Craig form a good team and they dig, mercilessly, to find the right answers.

Skin and Bones is plotted with great care and the author unfolds the story like a pro. The main characters are well drawn and the cast characters vary from unlikeable to intensely dislikeable to surprisingly human. The writing is very sharp and the observations on how society reacts to awful acts in a close community is very close to the mark.

Find Tom Bale's website here, along with a link to the opening chapter here. Skin and Bones was published earlier this month by Preface Publishing.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bake by Rachel Allen

Synopsis:

What could be better than the smell of freshly baked bread or the joy of eating warm cookies straight from the oven? From gingerbread houses and holiday delights to the warming goodness of a home baked casserole, your best friend in the kitchen Rachel Allen is bringing baking back!

According to Rachel, baking makes you stop and really enjoy your time in the kitchen. It's warming, comforting and nurturing, filling the house with wonderful welcoming smells, whether its cheese straws or calzone coming hot out the oven. In Bake Rachel has devised a collection of delicious and easy recipes including cakes and bakes, tarts and pies, quiches and casseroles, all from her brand new TV series.


Baking is not just about cakes and cookies, and Bake offers a wide range of yummy treats, both sweet and savoury. From beef and stout pie and lentil dahl to red velvet cake and Valentine's Day honey buns, the book includes ideas for all occasions from kitchen table suppers to those special celebrations. If you can master a set of weighing scales, then you have all the skills you need to bake... so get that pinny on and start baking!

I bought this book on impulse on Thursday because I needed to cheer myself up as I was truly struggling with the world's most tenacious and irritating cold. And nothing cheers me up as much as looking at recipes and pictures of food and planning menus for entertaining friends.

I am a big fan of Rachel Allen - she's funny, a good cook, very much a foodie, enthusiastic about her topics and she clearly has good fun when cooking and talking about food with her various guests on her tv show.

Right, back to the book, and less of my slavish adoration of Ms. RA!


The contents of Bake:

Sweet mouthfulls

Cakes

Puddings

Breads and savoury bites

Tarts and pies

Breakfast and patisserie

Baked meals

Holiday and celebration

Basic recipes and techniques

Thursday night when I got home I informed Mark that we would be baking this weekend. He looked alarmed, but then I showed him the simple recipe of what I wanted to do and he happily agreed. We invited our arty neighbour Ray around for a late lunch on Sunday - lunch was a rich stew and I baked Meredith's Zucchini Bread from the cookbook as a light starter.

I was very impressed - it came out EXACTLY the way it looks in the book which a) impressed me no end and b) had Ray declare it was the best thing he had tasted in years. I have him the rest of the cake to take with him at the end of the dinner. This is not because I was being generous but because we have more batter left for a second loaf!

The recipes are pretty fool proof and go from easy bake sweet scones to making roast mushroom and goat's cheese tartlet with sweet onion jam, to baked aubergines with tomatoes, basil and pine nuts to making the coolest ever gingerbread house!

The fact that she doesn't just concentrate on sweet bakes but also savoury ones with detailed step by step instructions, really has Bake stand out for me, amongst all my other cookbooks (and I have loads of them). What also works well is the fact that she's cleverly added a much needed extra section - the basic recipes and techniques section, which will help the slightly less advanced cooks master techniques such as making shortcrust pastry or the deceptively easy choux pastry which, once you get the hang of it, you can add to your repertoire to stun and amaze friends. The advice is commonsensical and straight forward - there is a glossary of terms which explains plainly certain words or expressions used in many cookbooks and unless you can can google them whilst cooking, you're at a loss.

I would recommend Bake for those of us who love tasty things but who may not be very assured cooks. And for those who are assured cooks, there are some recipes in there that can easily be followed to expand your repertoire. The recipes are easy to follow and use everyday ingredients you already may have in the house. It's a good all-round baking book which has some excellent feelgood recipes in it.

See the pics below for the result of my baking day today.

Unbaked Zucchini Bread




Baked zucchini bread - lovely, moist and decidedly moreish. I would like to show you pics of what it looks like sliced...but there's nothing left!
Find Rachel Allen's website here and this is the link to her UK TV Food profile where there are some excellent recipes from her newest show.

Gav Thorpe Signing

We went into town yesterday to visit Forbidden Planet to get our copy of Malekith signed by Gav Thrope.


Walking across Trafalgar Square we were stunned to see the fountains frozen over!








Once we got to FP, I spotted the new Young Adult cover for Alison Goodman's Dragoneye novel renamed to: Eon, Dragoneye Reborn.

We lurked around FP for a bit, went for some coffee and came back to wait for Gav to arrive. He was running late BUT we forgave him because he's a cool guy. He arrived and we gushed at him, actually spoke lucid words at him, and got him to sign TWO copies of Malekith and our brand new autograph book. We are deeply nerdy. And proud of it!






From left to right: Mark, Gav and a random fan whom I asked to pose with them...



Gav's signature and note...he's number 1!

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Lost Art by Simon Morden


Synopsis

A millennium after the formidable war machines of the User cultures devoured entire civilisations and rewrote planetary geography, Earth is in the grip of a perpetual Dark Age. Scientific endeavour is strongly discouraged, while remnant technology is locked away - hidden by a Church determined to prevent a new Armageddon.

This is the world to which Benzamir Michael Mahmood must return. A descendant of the tibes who fled the planet during those ages-old wars, he comes in pursuit of enemies from the far reaches of space. The technology he brings is wondrous beyond the imaginings of those he will meet, but can its potency match that of the Church's most closely guarded treasure?

For centuries it has lain dormant, buried in a lead-lined tomb deep beneath the flagtones of a remote Siberian monastery. But it is about to be unearthed, and the powers that will be unleashed may be beyond anyone's capacity to control. Even a man as extraordinary as Benzamir . . .

Former warlord and assassin-turned-Monk Va and brash, smitten princess Eleyna set off to get them back. Meanwhile, mysterious Benzamir and a couple of desert locals set off in search of Benzamir's enemies. The two groups come together and find that their goals are far from mutually exclusive.


I have conquered my fear of sci-fi novels...thanks to The Lost Art by Simon Morden. I had no inklinkg it was going to turn sci-fi on me as I started reading it (this happens when you read as I do, i.e. go in "blind") and far from making me run for the hills, I found myself getting crabby when my reading got interrupted. I liked the world, I liked the setting and appreciated the tremendous world-building the author did. (The author, by the way, is a bona fide rocket scientist!) And I also liked the characters, Va, not so much but definitely enjoyed the spirited, intelligent and down to earth Princess Eleyna and the star man Benzamir.

The setting is rich and as the plot and story unfolds you get lured in. I would suggest the novel is perfect for older or really enthusiastic readers who will not be put off by coping with learning that the world as we know it has been turned on its head - no really! Before you wonder what I'm on about - TLA by Simon Morden is published by Random House Kids under their Corgi Children's imprint. The age bracket is around 12+ which I would say is correct, although, having said that, the novel does deal with some pretty intense science and the subject matter is quite mature.

As I mentioned, I did not really like Va's character - he was too abrupt and too rude - mostly to his travelling companion Eleyna. He is a very haunted and internally conflicted character and I think the author had good fun writing him. Although, in part, he is a hero in this novel, he is also to an extent the anti-hero because the characteristics of a hero, that of being brave, solid, trustworthy, honest, is taken that one uncomfortable step further in Va's case, turning him into a truly dangerous person, someone who has no regard for his own safety or for those around him. Va represents the old ways, the unswerving ways and is as stubborn as an ox. His faith guides him. A true paladin. He forges ahead, no matter what.

Benzamir on the other hand is the Renaissance man - a wanderer, seeker, a scholar and a fighter, but a thinker at the same time, puzzling out the story of his enemies and that which is currently happening on the planet his tribe once called home, all those many years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed travelling with Benzamir and his friends in their quest to find the lost books and piecing the story together. The author writes his set pieces with a vivid style - you can taste the dust and sand of the markets near the pyramids, you can feel the unrelenting heat beating down on you. In this instance you cannot fault the storytelling.

The Lost Art is a good solid read - an unexpected pleasure (as I'm not good with steam punk or sci-fi but I'm amending that this year!) and a book I would recommend to readers, but with a caution: although it is cited being for kids, it is not a childish book. So its intended audience may struggle to come to grips with some parts of it, but, if like me they persevere they will be rewarded with a thrilling ride.

The Lost Art was released in the UK July 08 by Corgi. You can find Simon Morden's website here.