Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld



Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.


Initially seduced by the cover art and Keith Thompson’s evocative sketches, I was firmly hooked by the premise of an alternate history that has the lines drawn not only along national boundaries but by two starkly different technological ideologies.

On one side stands the Clankers, whose war machines are armoured, mechanical contraptions, bristling with cannons and machine guns and striding across the battlefield with their engines and cogs whirring, their exhausts belching black smoke.

On the other, the Darwinists, who breed living weapons and war machines to do their bidding, from message carrying lizards to biplane hunting hawks and sentient zeppelins.

Leviathan is wonderfully easy to get into; the characters are quirky, intelligent and immediately likeable, and Scott rapidly immerses you in their world. It’s a cleverly constructed world, one that is both familiar and alien; it’s a tricky balance to maintain, but it’s one that he nonetheless achieves, making the suspension of disbelief a no brainer.

While Aleksander and Deryn’s stories are destined to collide, by the time they do you have a very clear picture of their individual characters, each of whom stands out in their own right. It’s during that collision that Scott shines, letting the gulf in their upbringing and culture colour their relationship and their reactions, while subtly adding depth to world around them.


Leviathan is fresh, exciting and eminently readable. Plus it’s got divebombing bats that vomit steel darts and steampunky Mechwarriors clomping across the landscape! Awesome in anyone's book. Plus it's the first of a trilogy, so we have another 2 instalments to look forward to, with the next being Behemoth (due October 2010!).

Don’t be fooled by the 'young adult' label, this should be on everyone’s reading list, regardless of age.

You can read an excerpt here and watch the trailer here.

**Competiton Winners** Hush Hush AND Troubadour



Ach, friends of MFB, we have to apologise for slipping up and not announcing the winners for the Hush Hush competition on Monday past. A bug crept into the system (read Liz was too busy writing to pay attention to her bookbabies) and the announcement is a bit late.



So without further ado - the winner of a shiny new paperback copy of Hush Hush by Becca Fitzgerald is: Alexandra G...please check your email and let us have an address!


And the winner for a hard back copy of Mary Hoffman's amazing Troubadour is: Carole C from Blackburn.


Massive congrats to the two winners and best of luck to the other entrants the next time around. More competitions soon - stick around! Also huge nod to Random.org for taking the choice of winners out of our grubby little paws.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater


Synopsis

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf–her wolf–is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human–or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Grace got attacked as a small child by a pack of wolves and almost died as result. One wolf came to her rescue, saving her from being torn to shreds. As she grew older, she grew to have an affinity with the wolves roaming the forest outside her home in the small town of Mercy Falls but one particular wolf, her wolf, the one with the yellow eyes, is the one she keeps an eye out for most.

When a local boy is attacked and killed by the wolves, hunters enter the forest to kill as many of these as they can. Grace is terrified and does her best to stop them, thinking only of her wolf. She fails however and as she gets back to her house, she discovers a wounded boy on her porch, bleeding profusely. He has enigmatic yellow eyes and without thinking about things twice, Grace sets about helping him. She cleans him up and takes him to hospital where they think he, the boy, Sam, tried to commit suicide by shooting himself. They indicate the cut marks on his arms and Grace is stunned by this thought.

They run from the hospital and as Grace and Sam grow closer over a period of weeks, living for a part of that time together in her room, without her flighty parents being aware of it, Grace learns Sam's story. And he tells it without vitriol, without anger. It is soon evident that Sam is not the macho alpha-male a lot of urban fantasy novelists come to rely on, even the ones aimed at the teen audience. He is a different type of hero - the soft-spoken, artistic one who can do silly lyrics in his head, the one who has his nose in books reading about everything. Sam makes an interesting foil in his creativity and expressions to Grace's almost stoic nature in which she just forges ahead, doing her thing, taking care of the household her flaky parents couldn't care about, taking herself off to school, studying, getting good grades. It is also interesting to see how Sam sees Grace - he calls her his Summer girl but to be honest, I think she suits winter a lot me, because of her nature and her ways.

The novel is written from both Sam and Grace's perspectives, in alternating chapters, each chapter indicating the temperature in Mercy Falls at the time. As the weather grows colder, so too does the risk of Sam changing back into a creature that only lives in myths.

The author has worked up a fantastical myth around the werewolves and it works very well in this instance, given the location and the time of year the novel is set in. Because she almost exclusively focusses on Sam and Grace you start feeling a bit claustrophobic and it is reflected in the bad weather which is encroaching, bit by bit, on them as they huddle in their warm cocoon of first love.

There are elements that disturb - the nature of their relationship is very intense and it's not healthy, by any stretch of the imagination, but it works because everything the author has created in this novel, spotlights Sam and Grace's relationship. By islolating these two characters from the rest of the world in such a way, she creates something that is on the cusp of being a wonderful dream and nightmare at the same time.

The secondary characters in the book weave in and out of the story, their own storylines not developed to its full capacity as they are genuinely only there to reflect Sam and Grace's concerns and to give small interludes of reality into this dream world they have created for themselves. I know this may annoy some readers but honestly, it does not detract from Ms. Stiefvater's writing.

And I'd like to mention here that there are parts of this novel that made me think of A Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney - no, not storyline or whatever, but the sheer beauty of her writing. It verges on being a literary novel in some places with a paranormal slant and I'd recommend you read Shiver - if not for the story - then definitely for the quality of writing. Am I allowed to say that?!


It is inevitable that Shiver will get itself likened to Twilight. No doubt about it. Yes, there are similarities, but for me, Shiver is more akin to Holly Black's three novels, Tithe, Ironside and Valiant. It also reminds me strongly of Need by Carrie Jones. All these novels are worth their weight in gold and has forged a new market for teens and adults who like YA. I'm happy to count Shiver amongst these titles as something different enough to be given a chance.

I can write more about Shiver - a lot more - but then the author has done that herself and to be honest, if you are a fan of this genre, and you are a teen, you are going to enjoy it. It mixes favourite genres and keeps it fresh: a little bit of paranormal romance, a little bit of magic...oh, and wolves.


I've been snooping and have found a few extra bits to Shiver. This is the book trailer Ms. Stiefvater made for Shiver herself and the one below that is the official book trailer from the States.







Find Maggie Stiefvater's website here. Shiver is published by Scholastic UK on 5th October 09.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Games Day 2009




My Games Day started very early on Sunday. The last two Games Days I’ve been to, I’d travelled up with the coach organised by the local Games Workshop store; while we’d arrived on time on both occasions, we’d also been late enough to have to take up residence at the back of the queue to get in.

This year my friend Dom & I decided to avoid that particular problem.

The alarm drew me stumbling and cursing from bed at the ungodly hour of 02h20. Fortunately I’d laid out everything earlier was out of the door, fed, clothed and with my satchel in hand within 25 minutes. I charged through the empty streets of London picked Dom up en route and we eased onto the all but deserted M40, popping Heart of Rage into the CD player to set the mood for the day.

With no traffic, we pulled into the grounds of the NEC a couple of hours later. After a bit of searching, we managed to find one of the security/parking guys who directed us towards a parking lot where we could pay on the way out. We strolled down past the giant pond and towards the main entrance as the first faint blush of dawn brushed the horizon. There were a handful of other hardy souls/ fanatics there, all in good spirits, and after finding out that the Subway was already open, we grabbed the first of many coffees and sat down to leaf through the new Space Wolves codex that one of the other fan(atics) had lent us.

Soon after we were ushered to an empty hall the size of a B52 hangar, where we were settled in as the head of the queue. All we had to do now was occupy ourselves for 4 hours. The amazing thing is, the time went quickly as conversation jumped from the Space Wolves to various books, gaming anecdotes, stories from previous Games Days, hobby tips, and more. Soon enough the trickle of attendees turned into a steady stream as the coaches began arriving. The stewards were unobtrusive but effective, funnelling the new arrivals to the end of the queue (and past our increasingly smug faces) and keeping everything under control, although their job was made easier by the almost festive atmosphere.

Seeing the faces of the later arrivals as they entered the hall and saw the queue, which snaked up and down the length of over half the ‘hangar’, was almost enough to make the early start worthwhile all in its itself.

Eventually though it was time for the Day to officially start and we were escorted to the main entrance and let loose in the main hall- it was exhilarating to be there first ones across the threshold, with not another queue in sight! We raced to the Black Library stand, where I picked up two copies of Sandy Mitchell’s Ciaphas Cain chapbook and a copy of Brothers of the Snake, which I’d been thinking about doing for a while. Dom’s conviction that it was the best Space Marine novel ever and Dan’s presence tipped the balance and it was straight to the tills while those behind me made a beeline for copies of Blood Pact, Dan’s new Gaunt’s Ghosts novel (and one which would be sold out before midday!)

And here’s a tip for next year- bring cash! You can pay by card, but the connections are always painfully slow- this is what causes the bottleneck at the stand later in the day. It’s been the same story for the last few years. Fortunately, I had learned this lesson and was soon in already snaking queue for the joint Dan Abnett/ Graham McNeill signing table.

I was pleased to see that they’d separated the tables- there’s always a significant (i.e ‘huge’) demand for Dan & Graham at Games Day and splitting the signings makes everything more manageable.


Graham and I had a good chat about Empire & Heldenhammer as he signed the books for me and I really can’t wait for the third instalment now! I did a sneaky sidestep and popped up in front of Dan, who was looking well and as enthusiastic as ever. After he drew parallels between Brothers of the Snake and the Spartan ethos I was sorely tempted to simply move across to the large café in the hall and sit and read it, but fought the temptation- there was still too much to see!

I met up with Mark Newton, who was on photo duty (inter alia) and we chatted as I waited for Dom to have his books signed by Dan- it was good to see that Mark was as excited about the day as any of the fans I’d spoken to so far and we made our way over to the other signing tables where he kindly introduced me to Nick Kyme, author of Salamander. Nick who was happy to sign the copy I’d brought along in my tardis like satchel and I reckon we cold have been there for a while chatting about the next two instalments in the trilogy if it wasn’t for the dozen or so people behind me getting a bit finty eyed. I spied a gap and defected to Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s table, who was also quite happy to sign both my copies of Cadian Blood. Dom and I then besieged Sandy Mitchell, and were chuffed to hear that not only is he elbows deep in a new Ciaphas Cain novel, it’s going to be a new series featuring the eponymous hero!

I have to say that the authors and artists who were there were uniformly generous with their time, happily signing books, posters, our autograph book and, for some lucky souls, doing impromptu sketches (next year I’m camping next to Clint Langley’s table!).

Dom and I went with the flow, worming our way through the throng, gazing with naked avarice at the treasures in the Forge World displays and the ‘Eavy Metal showcases. There was something happening everywhere you looked- Bloodbowl previews, playable Dawn of War II demos for The Last Stand and Chaos Rising, dozens of games dotted with stupendously large titans, mountains of shiny new merchandise of all varieties, video previews of the awesome looking Space Marine game, bargain sales -including ‘lucky dip’ boxes, art displays, demonstrations of 3D modelling and more. It was exhausting but gooood- fortunately Subway and the cafes were there to keep everyone fuelled for the day and did a roaring trade. And yes, there are plenty of loo’s - and they’re in pretty good condition!

As the day drew to a close I drifted back to the Dan & Graham signing as I realised I’d forgotten to get Mechanicum signed, and despite the announcements that the winners of the Golden Demon were about to be announced, the queue was still quite substantial, but both Dan & Graham were still there, signing and chatting. I bumped into Mark again and we chatted about upcoming titles for the Black Library- including the intriguing Warhammer Heroes series (this giant banner is a ‘glimpse’ of the artwork for Sword of Justice), sci-fi, blogging, books, and life in general. It was gratifying to discover that he’s as much of a fanboy as anyone else and that yes, working for B.L sounds as cool I thought it would be!
By the sounds of things, next year's going to be see some awesome titles from the Black Library. I'm quite excited about Prospero Burns, the next instalment of the Horus Heresy being penned by Dan Abnett (I've heard that he & Graham have been collaborating on aspects of it..).

The cover for the second Heresy novel planned for 2010..

After toying with the idea of trying to fit one of the banners in the car, I figured it was time to make tracks and, having said our farewells we made our way back to the car park for the anticlimatic drive home.


*P.S* - gods, how did I forget to mention the new Space Marine Battles series?! Steve Parker's Rynn's World will be the first in Feb 2010..

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gollancz Party

Dear readers and fellow bloggers from the sphere, Mark and I got to attend the very swanky Gollancz party this year. We were joined by Ana from The Booksmugglers and Gav from Nextread. Needless to say there was a lot of squealing and "ohmygodwhatamIgoingtowear" before the time because you know, the nearer we got to the date of the party, realisation dawned: a truckload of authors are going to be there whom we are all slavish fans of. (And we all had to look purty). Then we realised they will be joined by editors, reviewers, publicity people, journalists, other publishers and their media teams. It was going to be HUGE.

And it was - there were hundreds of people. The venue was the Oktober Galleries in Bloomsbury which were a series of rooms and a lovely outdoors garden. We mingled our way around and to be honest, the amount of people I recognised by name alone was staggering. The worst part was being unable to talk to all of them.

A definite highlight for me was catching up with James Lovegrove whose novel, Age of Ra, taught me not to turn my nose up at military sci fi! I owe James a long email and he in turn owes us a blogpost (hurrah!).


Further along we got to meet up with the luscious Alex Bell who seems set on outshining everyone because not only is she tall, very pretty and sexy, she has the dress-sense of fashionista. Check out this amazing shirt! Isn't it gorgeous? And angel wings, as we all know are very topical right now.

We got to hang around with one of my favourite people of all time - Saxon Bullock - who looked extremely suave in a velvet jacket and goatee. Saxon has this infectious air and a personality that hinges on the hysterical that has everyone falling around laughing. I think I may need eyecream for all the laughing wrinkles I got on Thursday night.


It would be bad of me not to mention the talented Ms. Suzanne McLeod who looked rock 'n roll. We didn't get a chance to chat loads, but I got to whisper some confidences to her very briefly before she shot off home. When we saw the tiny group of authors arrive I also spotted this tall chap in a purple shirt who looked a bit out, a little bit like Leonardo Di Caprio if Leonardo was actually six foot tall and had broad shoulders. I asked Alex who he was and it turns out he's a new author signed by Gollancz, called Sam Sykes. I've failed to find a website for Sykes. We did however corner him at the party - yes, me, Mark, Ana and Gav - to have him tell us about his upcoming book and people, all I can say is...2010 is going to be an awesome year.

Ana and I are particularly excited about the upcoming books from Gollancz - we are going to see authors like Nailini Singh and Caitlin Kittredge come to the UK as part of their urban fantasy / paranormal romance lines they are establishing. This, needless to say, had us fanning ourselves in utter joy.

We got to spend some time with the girls from Orbit: Sam, Rose, Coreen and Ana - who, all by the way, can take Paris by storm with their fashion sense! We were enticed about Blue Blood by Melissa de la Cruz and I for one cannot WAIT to read this series. Rose and I also discovered a shared passion for Kelley Armstrong, Dean from Supernatural and a variety of other things I'm not allowed to mention on here because it could be held against us in a court of law.

I got to chat to John Berlyne who runs the Zeno Agency - I also review for John over at http://www.sfrevu.com/ where he is the UK editor. They've had some amazing authors sign with them lately and sold books most recently to both Gollancz and Angry Robot. *sparkly eyes* More pretty books to read!

I also - yay! - got to chat with another legendary John - John Jarrold of the John Jarrold Literary Agency. It was brief only but after chatting to John on and off for about 2 years now, it was fantastic to actually get to meet him in person.

Ana and Gav met the amazing Robert Holdstock for the first time. A nicer, kinder and gentlemanly man is hard to find. I still do fan-girl squealing about him though - my autograph I got from him at the Gemmell Award is still a favourite treasure.

We got to meet some of the girls over at Voyager too - we've all been twittering incessantly for ages now so it was good to be able to put faces to Twitter names. Also a shoutout to the tallest guy at the party, 6ft 6inches Niall Harrison who is not only a cool guy but also a new friend.

Mark managed to get hold of Joe Abercrombie for part of the evening at the after party and coerced him into posing for a picture or two. I think Mark and Joe are a very dangerous combination and I'm a bit relieved that they managed to break away from one another. I had visions of some kind of creative collaboration in which more bloodshed and zombies would abound than you could shake your boomstick at.
My one regret of the evening is not being able to talk to MD Lachlan, a new author signed by Gollancz. His book is called Wolfsangel and we've met up and chatted on Twitter a few times. I really wanted to congratulate him in person but sadly, not this time around.
There is loads more to say about the party but to be honest, I'm still recovering. It was an amazing evening and we all had a tremendous time. Thank you to Jon and everyone at Gollancz for inviting us around. We all had a fantastic time!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Troubadour by Mary Hoffman


Synopsis:


A story of persecution and poetry, love and war set in 13th-century Southern France. A troubadour, Bertran, witnesses the brutal murder of the Pope’s legate, and risks his life to warn others of the war that he knows is certain to follow this act. The lands of the peaceable Cathars – deemed heretics – are now forfeit and under threat from crusaders who have been given authority by the Pope to take the Cathar domains by force. But the Pope is trying to track Bertran down and so is somebody else: Elinor, a young noblewoman, in love with Bertran but facing a loveless arranged marriage, flees her family and becomes a minstrel herself. Soon both Bertran and Elinor find themselves enveloped in a rising tide of bloodshed that threatens the very fabric of their society.

There is such a fine line between writing a successful novel (adult or children's) in which the political machinations are prominent, almost a character of their own. Politics can throw the book into either "so dull I'd rather stab myself" or "wow, this stuff seriously happened, I need to know more" category.


Because of her impressive skill, Troubadour by Mary Hoffman, falls in this latter category. Set against the very tumultuous background of the crusade against the Cathars (known as the Albigensian Crusade) the story sweeps us up and carries us several years past the truly horrific main events of the crusade.


Splitting the narrative between Betran and the lovely Elinor is a very clever well to produce a comprehensive plot and story. Through Betran, whom I have to admit is a tragically beautiful figure embodying the quintesencial Romance figure from medieval times, we come to see the horrors of war. He is the bringer of bad tidings, as a troubadour and Cathar he foresees the terrible events coming and knows he has to do something about it. He rides all over the South of France to warn others of the religion to be be aware of the Pope's fury at the death of his Legate. Few listen, most do not believe that war will come, even fewer still believe that the north will invade the south.


In Elinor we have a lovely awkward, highly intelligent and amusing heroine. She is bitterly young but her parents want to see her married off - firstly, because it is how things are done and secondly, they suspect she would be safer away from the region. But Elinor has other plans. Disguising herself as a boy and taking up the mantle as a minstrel, she leaves her parent's keep to travel the countryside as part of a travelling group of minstrels. For most of this journey Elinor sees the world through rose tinted eyes. We see the people, the countryside and the politics as it once was - not perfect, but definitely not too bad either.


She is also deeply in love with Betran and although her affections aren't returned immediately, he is the type to be considerate and sweet about it. She has the idea that one day in the far future, they would meet up and become married perhaps. I loved the very slender strands of romance throughout the novel. It never felt forced and it never overshadowed the true story - those of the survivors of this awful genocide committed by their own people.


I'm inclined to say from an aspiring writer's point of view, the plotting left me speechless, as did the overall story, packing a tremendous punch. She's managed to tackle a tangled plot of politics and history during an awful time in the world's history and she keeps it all together, turning it into an engaging story that you wish you had the skill and power to write.


As a reviewer I can only applaud Ms. Hoffman's skill as a writer. Your attention never drifts. Her writing is tight and you genuinely irrevocably like the characters and in your heart of hearts you wish them well, you wish Elinor and Bertran a happily ever after.


As a reader I appreciated Troubadour as a well written engaging story which I definitely will be rereading in the near future. I would love to see this as a movie - it would film so well. It is understated, beautiful, remarkable and haunting. Take my word for this: novels written with this type of attention to detail is a rarity.


Just a note: this has been published by Bloomsbury as one of their children's novels BUT I would love to point out that adults would love this too. It will definitely be going onto the upcoming MFB Christmas Presents Suggestion List.

Now, a mini-competition: I'm keeping hold of my slightly mangled proof of Troubadour, but I am prepared to give away the hardback I received - in a competition open to UK residents only. Email us to the usual address with "Troubadour" in the subject line and I'll draw a winner next week, 30th September.

The Enemy - Uncut

Remember when I said I freaked out when I saw The Enemy by Charlie Higson promoted on Kerrang TV? That promo for the book and the one found elsewhere on this blog, has just been eclipsed by the longer uncut and freakier version. (tries not to look a bit obsessed)

Checkit:



How much do we love the coolness that is Charlie Higson?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick - an interview with a difference


Last week, during some of the most vile weather London has ever seen, the amazing marketing team from Simon & Schuster pulled a marketing stunt which made several newspapers and industry publications.

Naturally Mark and I turned up for this, along with Kaz Mahoney and Tiffany Trent. We got drenched but it was worth it - there was a good turnout at Trafalgar Square eventhough we had to canoe there. The Editorial Assistant, Lydia got herself up onto the fourth plynth at 8pm for a reading of Hush Hush. She wore feathery wings and looked wet but determined. We loved her for it. This is the direct link to the entire event.

In the spirit of this amazing event, I decided I had to get more information about Hush Hush from Simon & Schuster's marketing team. So I sent them a stack of interview questions and they kindly answered them.

Here we go:

What makes Hush Hush stand out from the other urban fantasy young adult novels you’ve seen recently?

Hush, Hush, simply put, is a brilliant read. It stands out because it is well written, well plotted and has strong characters that are engaging, likeable and intriguing – it’s a breath of fresh air in a genre that has become oversaturated and stale.

Who would play Patch in your ultimate (no expenses spared) movie of Hush
Hush?

Having thought long and hard about it, we’ve decided that Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) has the dark hair, dark eyes and dark moods to fulfil the role! We know he can pull off an American accent, too…

When thinking of the characters, your own reactions and the story in Hush Hush, do you think there is a song which could be used as the theme song?

I think we’d have to look to Becca Fitzpatrick for the final say - she has a playlist on her website, www.beccafitzpatrick.com. Her playlist has a really cool 70s and 80s focus, so if we had to pick a modern theme song, perhaps Muse could offer something suitably atmospheric!

How on earth did you manage to get space on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square? Was it difficult?

It wasn’t difficult, as anyone could enter – you just had to register your name in the lottery at www.oneandother.co.uk, and they picked 2400 people to take part out of the 34,000 or so who entered. So not too difficult to enter, but very surprising to be picked!

What did you do whilst you were up there?

I read the first two chapters of Hush, Hush aloud – yelling most of them as the rain got in the megaphone! And I gave everyone a shout out to the author, watching from the states. I did that for the first 45 minutes, and then moved on to my own agenda, which was mostly saying hi to all my friends watching from overseas, and telling some really bad jokes!

What was the event like as it turned out to be a rather awful wet day?

It was great! Very exhilarating, but as it poured rain the whole time the logistics were a lot trickier than we thought – towards the end I didn’t use my umbrella as I was already soaked through, and my poor copy of the book is now one big wet lump of paper. And people still turned up to support which was really encouraging, so we gave away lots of free books to those who made it. I wouldn’t change it really as it was a great experience, but I can’t lie - it would have been nice to do it in the dry!

I was one of the lucky people who received the card extract and feather to promote Hush Hush – I loved it! Who came up with this excellent idea?

This idea was thought up by all of us in the children’s publicity team – everybody likes a teaser! The book lends itself perfectly to feathers as part of the package, so a black feather to represent Patch was perfect.

Will we be seeing Becca visiting the UK at all in the near future?

There are no plans as yet for Becca to visit the UK.

What has been the reaction to Hush Hush in the teen market?

So far, there seems to have been a brilliant response. All the bloggers I have seen are very excited about the book, and those that have read it have loved it. There seems to be a real buzz surrounding anything Hush Hush – which can only be a good sign! The book is still over a month away from its UK publication, but the sense of excitement is very apparent.

Who do we think will win in a fight between Edward and Patch?

Patch!!!

Have we got any idea what will be happening on the follow-up novel? Maybe even just the tiniest of hints?

Not a clue! I wish I did! There is a title, Crescendo, but no further info yet…

Why do you think we love bad boys in literature so much?

I think there is more than one answer to this question, but generally I would say that bad boys are well loved because they pose a challenge. In literature, a big enjoyment of reading is the mystery of what is going to happen at the end; that’s essentially what keeps you hanging on to any plotline. When the mystery inevitably becomes wrapped around the resident bad boy of the novel, we are dragged not only into the plot and the intrigue – but the character surrounding it.

I think another strong element of this is usually see the bad boy through the eyes of the female protagonist, and our connection to them puts us in the perfect position to be drawn to the bad guy too…

Not to mention they are usually blessed with shockingly good looks and a tendency to get rain soaked!

Who would play Nora in the movie?

We’ve wracked our brains on this one… Nora is a toughie to cast! But we’ve cast Selena Gomez – she’s dark, gorgeous and the perfect age for Nora!

When can we expect Becca’s new novel?

Exact dates are TBC, but hopefully the new novel will drop in the UK for autumn 2010.
Thanks so much to Team S&S for this fab fun interview. Now for the good stuff!
Competition Time:
We have one paperback copy of Hush Hush - slightly wrinkled from the rain - to give away. This is open to residents in the UK only, I'm afraid - purely because I have to fund the postage myself. So, email us to our usual address with your name. We'll let the comp run till next week Monday, 27th September.
Good luck!

Monday, September 21, 2009

**Winner - Charlie Higson's The Enemy**

A big congrats to entrant number 7, as chosen by Random.org, one Alan W from Cardiff who won a signed copy of Charlie Higson's The Enemy. I did actually forget to mention that something extra will be coming with the book - no, not either Liz or myself appearing live in your lounge - but some proper stick-on wounds, just in time for Halloween!

We really hope you have a brilliant time reading it - do let us know what you think!

To everyone else who entered - thank you so very much. This has been one of our most successful comps yet.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dark Slayer by Christine Feehan


We know already that I’m a big fan of Christine Feehan and I love her Carpathian series. I think we can all agree that if a series has been going for as long as this (16 books so far, I think) some books will be better than others. I am very happy to announce that, in my opinion, “Dark Slayer” is one of the best books in the series. I won't give you a summary of what's happened so far, otherwise I would be here for ages. If you haven't read the series before start with "Dark Prince".

Here is the blurb for "Dark Slayer":

A rumour has persisted in the vampire world of a dark slayer - mysterious, elusive and seemingly impossible to kill, she is the one hunter who strikes terror into the hearts of the undead. She is Ivory Malinov. Her only brethren, the wolves. Long ago betrayed by her people, abandoned by her family, Ivory has lived centuries without companionship or love. She has sustained her sanity by preparing for one purpose- to destroy her greatest enemy. Until the night she picks up the scent of a man, her unexpected salvation. Her lifemate. The curse of all Carpathian women. He is Razvan. Branded a criminal, detested and feared, he is a Dragonseeker borne of one of the greatest Carpathian lineages, only to be raised as its most despised- and captive- enemy. Fleeing from his lifetime of imprisonment, Razvan now seeks the dawn to end his terrible existence. Instead he has found his deliverance in the Dark Slayer. In spirit, in flesh and blood, in love, and in war, Ivory and Razvan are made for each other. For as long as they dare to live.

Wow! Ivory and Razvan are two of the most well developed flawed characters I have read about in a long time. Both have overcome horrendous torture and pain and developed into amazing people, very much shaped by what they've been through.

Ivory has had no contact with the Carpathians in centuries. She does not trust them and lives only for one goal: to kill Xavier the high mage. She has trained and prepared herself, gathering intel with a single-minded thoroughness that is unbelievable. Razvan gave up his body and his soul to protect his sister and later his daughter. He has been the captive of Xavier for centuries and suffered unbelievable atrocities at the mage’s hands. Somehow he managed to stay sane despite the knowledge that his people think of him as a traitor and pure evil. On the day he’s finally escaped and seeks to end his life, Ivory finds and rescues him.

Neither of them are quite sure what to do with the other. Unlike “normal” Carpathians Razvan does not speak the binding words as soon as he sees Ivory, but gives her a choice. When it becomes obvious that Razvan has valuable information on Xavier, they decide to work together to defeat the enemy. But will they be able to defeat the high mage who has been working on the destruction of the Carpathians for centuries? Will they be able to persuade the Prince and his people that they are on their side? Or will Xavier’s “experiment” succeed in the end?

I LOVED this book! Ivory and Razvan are well developed and believable (well as believable as vampires and mages can be;D). Ivory in particular breaks the mold because she’s a lone Carpathian woman who slays vampires. I love the way she tricks the Ancients and shows them her skills and capabilities. Her and Razvan’s relationship develops slowly, in a way that shows how they’re trying to overcome their demons and work towards being able to have a loving union. It is beautiful to read and draws you right into the core of the story.

I really enjoyed reading about Ivory and Razvan interacting with characters from other books. You see story arcs that have been going on for a number of books coming to an end (anybody want to know if they manage to finally find a cure for the infertility and infant death or a way to overcome the vampires fighting together? Hah, you’ll have to read the book!) and new developments taking you into a different direction.

I did feel the end was a little rushed. To me the whole book was in preparation of that final battle and then it was over within a few pages. I also got a little bit annoyed with all the Carpathian language thrown in, for example Razvan calls Ivory “keeper of my heart” and every time he does so you have four unpronounceable words in italics. It wouldn’t bother me so much if it was once or twice, but every time? I’m sure a lot of effort has gone into creating the language and I am sure other readers will enjoy the detail, but I found it a little jarring.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed “Dark Slayer” and I know I will read and re-read it over and over again. Christine Feehan introduces a number of new characters as well as renews our acquaintance with some old friends. I cannot wait to read Skyler’s story and I hope I won’t have to wait too long.

Here is Christine’s website http://www.christinefeehan.com/. Dark Slayer is published by Piatkus and out now.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kell's Legend - Andy Remic



They came from the north, and the city fell.
It is a time for warriors, a time for heroes.
Kell’s axe howls out for blood.


I was quite looking forward to Kell’s, given that to date my only experience of Andy has been via the SF platform. I had made sure I didn’t hear or see anything that could colour the experience and dived straight in, emerging a couple of days later- with a grin on my face.

Kell’s starts with a flurry of violence, presaging the bodycount to follow, the lion’s share of which belong to the titular hero and his thirsting axe. Kell’s a surly, complex character whose dark, whisky tainted history is hinted at throughout but only revealed in tantalising morsels. But he’s ably assisted by a cast of supporting characters who are equally engaging and interesting -and almost as deadly.

And they need to be- the array of enemies that populate their world certainly are. Between the army of black clad albinos, fey killers, the bestial mutants and a race of clockwork vampires whose undeniably feral and bloodthirsty nature lurks beneath a thin veneer of civilisation they'll need every ounce of ferocity they can muster.

Let’s face it, in a world where your primary line of defense is a sword or axe, things are going to get messy in short order. Andy’s acknowledged this and has delivered an engaging, fast paced cocktail of violence and intrigue that grabs you right from the outset and doesn’t let go until you run out of pages.

Kell's Legend is the first book of the Vampire Chronicles and is out now.

Dan who? The Lost what? Nevermind all that. Buy this instead!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

**Invite: an evening with Dacre Stoker*

At last week's Mike "the god of word-skillz" Carey's signing at Forbidden Planet, our little group of writers and bloggers got the chance to meet the amazingly talented and handsome Tony Lee at The Angel and we fell into conversation with him. He told us many things, stories about unicorns, adoring and stalkery fans and about his own upcoming graphic novel, Harker (released in November). He also - importantly - told us about an upcoming signing at Waterstones/Hatchards at Piccadilly by a chap called Dacre Stoker, who is the many times great nephew of the one and only genius Bram Stoker, author of the original Dracula novel.

Dacre has written the official sequel to Dracula and the novel is to be launched on Monday, 23rd September.

Here is a bit of blurb I got from the publishers, Harper Collins:

Venue:

WATERSTONE'S PICCADILLY - London

Monday, 28 September 2009, 7:00PM

Tickets £3 redeemable against purchase of the book on the night

The Great Grand Nephew of Bram Stoker, will be discussing his new novel 'Dracula: The Un-Dead', the official sequel to 'Dracula' and first story to enjoy the full support of the Stoker estate since the original. Dacre was also able to access Bram Stoker's handwritten notes and has included in the story characters and plot threads from the original manuscript.

I, personally, am very chuffed with this and will definitely be going along. I am a long-standing fan of the novel, having lived with it for quite a few years during my angst-ridden gothick years as a teen.

I popped over to the HC website and found some more info on the book.

The official sequel to Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, written by his direct descendent and endorsed by the Stoker family.

The story begins in 1912, twenty-five years after the events described in the original novel. Dr. Jack Seward, now a disgraced morphine addict, hunts vampires across Europe with the help of a mysterious benefactor.

Meanwhile, Quincey Harker, the grown son of Jonathan and Mina, leaves law school to pursue a career in stage at London's famous Lyceum Theatre. The production of Dracula at the Lyceum, directed and produced by Bram Stoker, has recently lost its star.

Luckily, Quincey knows how to contact the famed Hungarian actor Basarab, who agrees to take the lead role. Quincey soon discovers that the play features his parents and their former friends as characters, and seems to reveal much about the terrible secrets he's always suspected them of harbouring. But, before he can confront them, Jonathan Harker is found murdered.


**drum roll**

The writers were able to access Bram Stoker's hand-written notes and have included in their story characters and plot threads that had been excised by the publisher from the original printing over a century ago. Dracula is one of the most recognized fictional characters in the world, having spawned dozens of multi-media spin-offs. The Un-Dead is the first Dracula story to enjoy the full support of the Stoker estate since the original 1931 movie starring Bela Lugosi.

I utterly love love love all of this - imagine having access to notes by one of the top writers of an era which has made such an impact on future writers and artists and film makers? I am so looking forward to attending this and reading the book. I may have to go and buy myself a new copy of Dracula as I've not read it in ages, ten years or so. Just, you know, to make sure I've not lost any of the story...

If any of you are in London for this, please do come along! It looks like it's going to be blast.

Monday, September 14, 2009

**Competition - The Enemy by Charlie Higson**


On Saturday, 5th September, Mark and I went to Bluewater to meet Charlie Higson, author of the Young Bond books.

Until I read The Enemy by Charlie I had not read the Young Bond books (but that will now change). I also didn't know that Charlie was an actor. In fact, I knew nothing about Charlie.

So I did some research and found out probably too much about this amazing author. And now you have to do some too in order to win a copy of his newest novel, The Enemy. It's the hard back, signed by Mr. H himself.


Insert Evil Manical Laughter

The Question:

On which TV show did Charlie Higson appear as a panelist?

Email the answer to our email address with "The Enemy Competition" in the subject line. This is open to UK entrants only. The competition will run for one week, until Monday, 21st September.
Get researching!


This is the link to the review I did for another site on The Enemy. There are no spoilers so feel free to check it out. Also - has anyone else seen the advert for The Enemy on Kerrang TV the other day? I totally freaked out. Much to Mark and our little dog's shock.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher



Synopsis


Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker--his classmate and crush--who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay's dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

Short review:

Punch in the face powerful, sad, poignant and thought provoking. Warning: not for the faint hearted (not for gruesomeness but for punch-in-face-honesty-factor)

Longer review:

Wow.

I expected something from this very well received and talked about novel by Jay Asher but I did not expect this. It's taken me since the bank holiday weekend to attempt to write this review because everything I've thought of saying will sound trite and done before.

I felt ill after reading it. Ill in my soul because this is what the story does to you. It makes you examine your own actions directed at other people. It makes you wonder if you've even been part of someone's Thirteen Reasons Why they did anything other in their lives.

I loved and hated the novel in equal measure - I felt deeply for Clay as he went through the tapes listening to Hannah's voice telling him the reasons behind her suicide. Hannah is a tough guide, she doesn't pull punches. She tells it like she saw it, brutally honest and direct.

No one escapes her examination and she cuts no one slack, not even Clay. He follows the map she had dropped into his locker days before her death. Each item on the map is linked to an incident on the tapes. Hannah's dialogue, which we would have read as internal dialogue had it been written in first person point of view, is mesmerising. It's a car crash, you have to continue reading to make sense of it all - what would drive someone to do the unspeakable.

I found Hannah's voice unrelenting. I didn't like her. I could appreciate where she was coming from and understood motivations et al, but I didn't like hear meanness to Clay. He could have been seen as an innocent bystander who had been dragged into something dirty and unpleasant. I didn't like the emotional impact it had on Clay. I loved the novel. I hated it. I liked Clay but I didn't like Hannah's selfish and self-indulgent payback and the way she went about giving up her secrets and unhappiness as it pertained to each person on the tape. And this is why the novel works - it creates within the reader a reaction: empathy, anger, shock, disbelief.

The self-examination and the attention to detail in Hannah's narrative is insanely minute and works breathtakingly well. I felt emotionally drained after reading this, which is why it's taken me so long to actually write the review. So many conflicting emotions! I could probably write an entire twenty page essay about it, given half a chance.

More than anything, the novel forces you to consider your own actions towards others, even those you hardly know. How does what you say and what you do influence people's actions? It's a bit chaos theory, it's a bit of a Consequences game.

I would highly recommend this very intelligent, draining, beautifully dark and shocking novel exploring one girl's descent into a depression harsh enough to take her own life ontly to those mature teens and adult who would be able to cope with it. Thirteen Reasons Why disturbed me more than Tender Morsels did. I think it's because of its immediacy and the non-dreamlike quality of Hannah's voice and Clay's reaction to her revelations that do it for me.

A highly recommended read but just, you know, be careful. There is no HEA but there is room for redemption and we leave Clay in a place where he can make a difference in someone else's life. I hope he does.

This is the US site for Thirteen Reasons Why and this is Jay Asher's website and blog. Thirteen Reasons Why is published by Puffin in the UK.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Hollow by Jessica Verday


Synopsis

When Abbey’s best friend, Kristen, vanishes at the bridge near Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, everyone else is all too quick to accept that Kristen is dead and rumors fly that her death was no accident. Abbey goes through the motions of mourning her best friend, but privately, she refuses to believe that Kristen is really gone. Then she meets Caspian, the gorgeous and mysterious boy who shows up out of nowhere at Kristen’s funeral, and keeps reappearing in Abbey’s life. Caspian clearly has secrets of his own, but he’s the only person who makes Abbey feel normal again…but also special.

Just when Abbey starts to feel that she might survive all this, she learns a secret that makes her question everything she thought she knew about her best friend. How could Kristen have kept silent about so much? And could this secret have led to her death? As Abbey struggles to understand Kristen’s betrayal, she uncovers a frightening truth that nearly unravels her—one that will challenge her emerging love for Caspian, as well as her own sanity.


Reading The Hollow is like taking a giant bite out of a slice of toast topped with Marmite - you are either going to love it or dislike it.

There are sections in The Hollow which is beautiful, evocative, insightful and almost poetically descriptive and emotive. Then there are sections which I felt strongly jarring because it dampened your expectation of the story.

I came away loving Abbey's voice - she is struggling with feelings of guilt, remorse and betrayal at the death of her friend. They were close, spending a lot of their time together, the type of intimate friendship very young girls can have that means more than family.

I think the author excells in showing Abbey's emotional state and reaction to Kristen's funeral - at first there is no confirmation that she is dead. She's just gone. A tremendous amount of internal dialogue and hidden feelings are dealt with after the funeral. We are shown that Abbey throws herself straight into her hobby, perfume making, and how she plots her future, wanting to open her own perfume business in the town of Sleepy Hollow. We follow her on her visits to the cemetary and to Washington Irving's grave. She is deliciously macabre, tidying graves and talking to the unseen. Her voice works well here and you get to know Abbey very well through her actions and reactions to school and those around her. For all her sadness she comes across as a very together and realistic dreamer you root for. She keeps her sense of humour and she's aware of her surroundings, perhaps hyper-aware. I cheered this courageous girl and read on with gusto, not having a single clue where the book was going to lead but thinking that it's going to be a very cool book indeed.

Then we suddenly get stuck in this mire of very inane minute by minute examinations of what she did every single moment of every single day for an extended period of time. I understand the author could be doing this to create a deeper bond with the character, letting us know her every thought and action, but it doesn't work. I skipped loads here as it geniunely failed to move the story forward and I wanted more conflict and action and get to the kernel of the story to find out what was really going on.

She meets Caspian, the mysterious boy she briefly spoke with at Kristen's house, in the basement, after the funeral. Their relationship is an odd one and becomes one of fascination and apparent love. But Caspian is never fully realised and it becomes a frustrating game of cat and mouse between Abbey and Caspian - will she see him, won't she see him during the course of the day somewhere? I genuinely didn't like the collapsing of Abbey's firm character as soon as Caspian appears. I don't like to call myself feminist I felt that she folded too quickly into a pliable murmurring lovesick creature, obsessing about a boy she knows next to nothing about. It didn't ring true. Caspian was off, she sensed it herself but she fell for him regardless, showing no sign of self-preservation at all. One good thing Caspian brings to her life is the suggestion that there was something odd about Kristen's disappearance and her subsequent death.

Abbey grabs at this with both hands and starts investigating her friend's motives and discovers that the girl she thought she loved as a best friend, witheld secrets from her. Hurt and angry she goes on a rampage to find out more and her investigations reveal that not everything is as they seem. But although there are only mentions of what's going on, the ending of the novel comes as a slap in the face - yes there is a twist in the tale, there had to be, but dammit, there had to be more because so very many questions are left unanswered. I appreciate that this is part of a series, and to be honest, I don't mind waiting to have questions answered but I don't like - as a reader - being led up one path, only to have the main character turn around and do something completely different to expectations. It makes for a wow-factor and I'll be honest, I liked the book more for it, but it still left me feeling a bit flat.

As I said, definitely a Marmite book. There is a lot of win in The Hollow but there is also a lot of lose. There are readers who are going to irrevocably love The Hollow and I can see why, but I won't be one of them in this instance. I will however be reading the next books because I want to know what happens to Abbey and what the mysteries revealed really mean. Jessica Verday has a lot of talent, it definitely shows, and I think we've got the makings of a very good YA author here, we've just got to be patient as I think the rest of the series will be ratcheting up the stakes.

Find Jessica Verday's website here. The Hollow is released on 1st October by Simon & Schuster here in the UK.

**Winners of copies of Girl from Mars by Julie Cohen**

A huge congratulations goes to our two winners of one of my favourite books of 2009, Girl from Mars by Julie Cohen:

1. Carol S


and


2. Lorraine P


I've contacted you both by email, so please do let me have your address details so I can forward it onto the peeps at Little Black Dress Books.

We had a lovely reaction to this competition - so thanks to everyone who entered! So glad to see fun romantic novels with a twist is such a hot favourite. I will do my best to bring you more! And as usual, thanks to Random.org for being utterly impartial in our selection of winners. And an even bigger thanks to the peeps at Little Black Dress books for allowing us to run this comp!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cadian Blood - Aaron Dembski-Bowden



When the Imperial shrine world of Kathur is blighted by Chaos, the brave Guardsmen of Cadia are sent to reclaim it. The plague of Nurgle has set in deeply on the planet, forcing the Cadians into battle with an innumerable legion of the infected. In the midst of battle, Captain Parmenion Thade is thrust into an unlikely commanding role. Yet, he cannot imagine what lies ahead on Kathur, and just how important it will be to ensure victory there…

Cadians. Commissars. A dark secret. A planet full of shambling plague victims.

What’s not to like?

And the best part is, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Right from the start, there’s a feeling of ‘this is going to get ugly’, and it soon does, in a blissful chorus of las guns and tumbling plague victims.

Stepping aside from the corpse shredding action sequences, Cadian Blood is lifted by the enigma of what lies at the epicentre of the apocalyptic plague that has reduced a thriving shrine world to an infected nest of violence and death. There’s a palpable escalation in the tension, and the taut pace never slackens as Captain Thade and his men inch closer to the horror at the centre of the web, their new Commissar’s watchful eye and trigger finger a threat as real as the enemies who seek to despoil their flesh.

Aaron’s served up a generous portion of 40K action, with an unashamedly bulging side order of bloody fun. These are Imperial Guard –infantry, not Space Marines, and their determination to stand by Thade and not let their brothers down in the face of the insanity that confronts them is nothing short of heroic, and Aaron does this esprit de corps justice.

It’s well paced, thoroughly entertaining and sitting neatly on my shelf, it’s new home.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth - Carrie Ryan




In Mary's world there are simple truths.

The Sisterhood always knows best.

The Guardians will protect and serve.

The Unconsecrated will never relent.

And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future-between the one she loves and the one who loves her.

And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?


Liz read this little gem a while back, and it had been winking at me from the shelf for far too long, so when I found myself sans book in hand and in need of a fix of Z, it fell into my hand..

In Forest we meet Mary, a young girl just reaching marrying age in the Village. The village lies behind guarded fences, fences that protect them from the zombie horde beyond, a horde they call the Unconsecrated.

The Sisterhood, self appointed guardians of the village, are a secretive order of nuns who manipulate and bully their charges to maintain the status quo of the village for the sake of the greater good. Their influence stains the pages with a quietly menacing claustrophobia, creating a distinct and memorable feel for the village and an immediate empathy for Mary.

The expected pattern of Mary’s life is turned upside down early on when her mother succumbs to a moment of madness and is infected. With the blame shifted to her, Mary finds herself with little choice but to entertain the possibility of a life within the sisterhood, relinquishing her unrequited love for Travis, something her inquisitive and impetuous nature chafes against.

Hints of the sisterhood’s secrets and life beyond the village vie for her attention as she cares for the injured Travis. However, zombies are an implacable enemy and when the inevitable happens, it’s the start of a desperate flight for survival.

While the threat posed by the zombies is constant and well described, Mary’s warring emotions, stoked by their ever-present threat and the proximity of Travis, are the predominant theme and, while she remained a sympathetic character, it did chafe at times. But maybe that's just me.

All in though, I enjoyed it. It’s a well written, engaging and fresh perspective on the increasingly popular Zombie Apocalypse scenario, with the characters fully immersed in an enigmatic and unravelling world, plenty of gnashing zombies (who remain threatening throughout) and a fair sprinkling of pleasing decapitations, the sudden violence surrounding them all the more shocking for the interludes of relative quiet and introspection.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Chicken, Pig, Cow - On the Move by Ruth Ohi



This is our three friends' second adventure.

Chicken, Pig and Cow love their barn and their best friend Dog, but sometimes their barn feels a little small. One day they decide to look for a new home and after a few false starts, what a home it turns out to be. But despite all the room the dolls house has to offer, in the end the three friends end up cuddled up together in the bathtub of all places. Turns out the barn is still the best place for them

This is another wonderful book that will keep children and parents entertained with detailed pictures and wonderful text. I love the fact that Cow is a little hesitant about leaving their popsicle barn behind and ends up taking a popsicle stick with her wherever she goes.

I just wish I could sew, then I could make my very own Cow.

Both books are published by Annick Press and available from amazon.

Chicken, Pig, Cow by Ruth Ohi - or the cutest picture books I've seen in ages

A few weeks back I was lucky enough to meet Susan from Annick Press. Annick Press is an independant children's publisher based in Toronto, Canada (check out their website here http://www.annickpress.com/). After our meeting Susan gave me a bit of a goody bag of books, among them two of the most wonderful picture books I've seen in ages.

Chicken, Pig and Cow are the bestest of friends and live in a Popsicle-stick barn that Girl made. They love their home but one day decided they would like to got Outside and explore. Unfortunately their barn had no door, so Pig climbed on Cow and Chicken climbed on Pig and Chicken and Pig made it outside, but cow couldn't jump that high and decided to stay home. Well, until drooly Dog joined the adventure. Let's just say the barn ends up with a door and Chicken, Pig and Cow find a new friend.

I loved this book! The illustrations are wonderful (so cute), the story is funny enough to keep parents entertained even if they have to read it fifty times, while at the same time being a fabulous adventure for all the kids. Now I only wished there were cuddly toys shaped like those three friends, they would be so amazing.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles - Mini Review


Brief Synopsis


At Fairfield High, everyone knows that south siders and north siders aren’t exactly compatible elements. So when cheerleader Brittany Ellis and gang member Alex Fuentes are forced to be lab partners, the results are bound to be explosive.

Neither teen is prepared for the most surprising chemical reaction of all – love. Can they break through the stereotypes and misconceptions that threaten to keep them apart?


I'm not going to spend a lot of time gushing about this simply excellent, very mature, deeply sexy and unique YA novel which I picked up last week Saturday from Waterstones. All I'll say is it has to be one of the most amazing books I've read aimed at the YA age group for ages.


The characters are wonderfully defined and although there is no urban fantasy element in this, I am sure that Twilight fans will enjoy it. Make of that what you will. A cautionary note: risk ignoring this very cool book at your own peril.


Characterisation is done vividly and you get to know both Alex and Brittany pretty well. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start but soon they feel drawn to one another but still the sparks fly.


The author succeeds in illuminating the hard life Alex leads as a gangbanger - she shows us through the reaction of the people at school and those he interacts with whilst going around as an enforcer for the Latin Bloods. Regardless of his bad boy image, you come to genuinely like Alex as he's so well portrayed and to be honest, he sounds imply divine.


Brittany is the one I was fully prepared to have a problem with - she sounded too perfect, too cool. But that image is rapidly altered as we inspect her anything but perfect home-life and her dedication to her disabled sister.


It's a deeply romantic, beautiful and harsh book. I've discovered the website too - the video is hilarious and to be honest, the guy rapping is SO NOT ALEX!

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Nostradamus Prophecies by Mario Reading


Synopsis

Nostradamus wrote a thousand prophecies. Only 942 have survived. What happened to the missing quatrains? And what secrets did they contain to make it necessary for them to remain hidden? And why did Nostradamus leave his daughter a sealed container in his will? This mystery drives two men with very different desires. Adam Sabir is a writer desperate to revive his flagging career; Achor Bale is a member of an ancient secret society that has dedicated itself to the protection and support of the ‘Three Antichrists’ foretold in Nostradamus’s verses – Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, and the ‘one still to come’… The pair embark on a terrifying chase through the ancient Romany encampments of France in a quest to locate the missing verses.

The action starts practically immediately in Mario Reading's second fiction novel. We are introduced to Achor Bale, the antagonist in the novel and within a few passages we know that this man is genuinely not a nice guy. He is a stone cold trained killer and will do anything to get his way.

We are then introduced to Adam Sabir who is a very likeable guy, if utterly unaware of the amount of trouble he's getting himself into when he meets up with Babel Samana, a gypsy with something to sell - the supposed location of the lost prophecies of Nostradamus.

Samana realises that Bale is following him to meet with Sabir. He enacts a gypsy bonding, cutting his hand and then Sabir's, mixing their blood, making him family. Before he runs from the restaurant, he tells Sabir two words. (read the book to find out what they are)

Sabir is bemused - he was expecting to hear a fable from Samana, wondering why the man would have taken out an advert in the newspaper, selling information about the prophecies. He's torn between wanting to believe he's getting the genuine article. Instead he's attacked by the man he's come to meet, his hand is cut by shattered glass, the gypsy acts deranged and then flees the restaurant.

I'm not giving away any of the story-line, I promise. You can read this section on the website, as an extract from the novel.

What makes The Nostradamus Prophecies unique is the characters and the execution of the novel. I genuinely enjoyed meeting Sabir - he is a nice, intelligent guy, slightly taken aback by becoming, through the mixing of blood, part of a group of gypsies. He becomes the brother to Yola, Samana's sister. With Alexi, a newly inherited gypsy cousin, the three of them follow the clues left centuries before by Nostradamus himself with Samana's female family.

It is a rare thriller / quest novel that takes me by surprise. Superficially, the novel ticks all the right boxes - ancient prophecies, the quest to locate them, a hero, a difficult situation. What makes it different is the inclusion of a completely different locale - France - and the inclusion of gypsy lore, customs and the genuine "feel" of these enigmatic people - all of which is impeccably researched and well told. The two main gypsy characters, Yola and Alexi are vividly portrayed and ingeniously described. Through them we are introduced to their world, we follow Sabir as he stumbles around their odd world, trying not to make a hash of it. The three characters work together very well - they appear quite genuine.

The two policemen who follow Sabir and the gypsies are very together and on the ball. Also, very likeable - maybe Macron less so than Calque (whom you suspect is wasted as a policeman as he is too intelligent, too cultured and too nice) who is very old school and very amusing. Our antagonist, Achor Bale is a deeply flawed character but one you like to dislike because he's not a cardboard cut-out. He has his motivations, he has a good background which comes to the fore during the investigation and more importantly, like the Terminator, he just does not give up. In other words, there are no easy outs.
The story moves forward at a clipping pace as we follow the two gypsies, Sabir and the two policeman as they unravel the clues left by Nostradamus. The focus is on characterisation and the interesting relationship between the gypsies with Sabir. The legends of Nostradamus are touched on, so lightly, during the course of the novel that it never gets dull or boring and over-told, which makes all the difference. You aren't bombarded by the incessant explanations and conjecture. This is however a very clever ploy by the author - and I loved falling for it.

The novel is a very rapid read, it twists and turns and is a fascinating and wild read. It is definitely a very worthy addition to any the thriller / adventure reader's bookshelf, I can assure you.
Find Mario Reading's website here, the dedicated The Nostradamus Prophecies page can be found here with an extract from the novel and a video by the author talking about The Man himself. The Nostradamus Prophecies is published by Atlantic Books and is available now. Go buy a copy! Actually, to be honest: if you're not really someone to read these "types" of books, The Nostradamus Prophecy is a very good place to start as it just works so well.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why Geeks Rock by Julie Cohen, author of Girl from Mars

I am so flattered to have Julie Cohen pop by MFB to do a guest blog on writing one of my favourite books of 2009 - Girl From Mars. I cannot urge you enough - if you are a geek in any shape or form - to pick up a copy of this very sweet, very poignant and very true little book. Yes, even the boys will get a kick reading this. Challenge yourself - it is light on romance and chock full of real situations and characters who are fantastic geeky peeps, just like us. Plus, the cover is a must-have for any genre fan's bookshelf.




Thanks for inviting me to guest on your blog, Liz. I’m so glad you enjoyed Girl from Mars! (Review here)

As an author, your books are supposed to be like your children, so it’s probably unfair to have favourites, but I have to say that Girl from Mars is probably the book that’s closest to myself and my own experiences. See, in school I was a geek. I grew up in a small town in the mountains of western Maine, and I was most definitely an oddball there. Like my geeky heroine Fil, I liked dying my hair strange colours and I do believe I was the first kid in my school in the 80s to have pink hair. I was unlike my heroine Fil in that I had quite a few friends, and while she’s an artist, I was geeky about more showoffy things like being in plays and singing and wearing weird clothes that I’d found in secondhand shops. But like Fil, I loved science fiction, and playing Dungeons and Dragons, and reading comics. Because of these interests, I had a lot of male friends. I drew on a lot of this when I was writing the book.

It’s interesting how many people I’ve encountered who say that they were geeks in school, too. Promoting this book has introduced me to lots and lots of fellow comics fans, male and female, and also a lot of people who love role playing games and Star Trek and Dr Who. I’ve had more comments about my photo of me with a Dalek than any other picture on my website, except for the one of a bare-chested Ryan Reynolds carrying an axe. Go figure.

But the sci-fi and the comics and the dyed hair and the D&D are all only the outward signs of being an outsider. And in fact, all of these little fandoms have their own communities and their own lingo and their own codes of conduct.

I think the more important feeling of being an outsider is when you stand in a room and you feel that everyone else knows something you don’t. They know how to dress, and how to act. They don’t have to worry about fitting in. It’s like everyone except for you has been given a rule book, but you never got one because you were in the bathroom or whatever when they were being handed out.


Julie with friend

I remember feeling that quite vividly in high school. I still feel it now. (Actually, these days I feel it more than ever, because being an author requires you to sit in a room with nothing but a computer and your own imagination for long stretches of time, and when you emerge you tend to have forgotten the most basic of social skills.) And—here’s an interesting thing—I’m coming to believe that, in this way, almost everybody has felt, one time or another, like they’re an outsider.
The easiest way of dealing with feeling like a freak is to make yourself a safe little world with people you trust, people who won’t look down on you. That’s what my heroine Fil does. Excluded from girls’ friendships at school, she befriends a bullied nerd named James Lousder (aka “Loser”). Later on, they make friends with quiet giant Digger and timid war-comic artist Stevo. When the four of them are together, they can do just as they like. It’s safe.

There are down sides to this safety, though. For one thing, small intense friendship groups can isolate themselves from reality. Groups are more conservative than individuals. They have their own internal pressures, too—even when they’ve been formed to escape the pressure of other people’s expectations. And they have difficulty adapting to new things, like when one of the group’s members starts a relationship with someone else. I really enjoyed exploring the dynamic of the friendship between Fil and Jim and Digger and Stevo, and though the book is a romance, it’s no mistake that it begins and ends with the friendships.

I think the thing that was the most pure fun about writing Girl from Mars, though, was making up the story for “Girl from Mars”, the comic book that Fil and Dan are working on together. They do six issues, and I outlined every one of them. I made up a backstory for the character Girl from Mars, researched similar comics and how comics in general are created, and basically let my imagination go wild. It’s not often, as an author of contemporary romance, that you get to write about time machines, space stations, Arcturan electricity, and former-lab-assistants-turned-evil-geniuses called Glypto.

Awesome. Especially for a geek like me.
*Competition News*
Julie's truly generous publishers, Little Black Dress Books, have agreed to let us have two copies of this excellent feast of geek and romance to give away - UK entrants only, I'm afraid! So, all you have to do is email us: myfavouritebooksatblogspot(at)gmail(dot)com and put "GIRL FROM MARS" in your subject line. The winner will be decided via Random.org in one week's time - i.e. 9th September. We will then contact you to let you know that you've won and if you could then forward your details to us to send onto LBD Books.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld Book Trailer



I've got the proof of this, the artwork is amazing and the story starts with a tangle and adventure. Make sure to check out Scott's main website - it too got a steampunk make-over and it looks genuinely cool. Find it here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Death Wore White by Jim Kelly (Guest Review)


I met the amazing Fiona J Mackenzie online on Twitter and after much chatting to and fro, offered her a book to read as she was at a bit of a impasse on what to read. I had a bit of an excess and sent her a copy of one of the newly published book by Jim Kelly (Penguin), Death Wore White. And then she went and surprised me with a review which I am hugely grateful for!

I am hoping, like Tina and Amber that Fi will be able to make regular guest appearances on MFB blog as a) it's always nice to have someone new stopping by and b) she's an author and therefore her reviews are a lot more techinical and concise than mine, for instance, so it is a tremendous learning curve for me to indulge in reading her work.

Without further mutterings from me, the review for Jim Kelly's Death Wore White:


Synopsis

At 5.15 p.m. Harvey Ellis was trapped – stranded in a line of eight cars by a blizzard on a Norfolk coast road.

At 8.15 p.m. Harvey Ellis was dead – viciously stabbed at the wheel of his truck.

And his killer has achieved the impossible: striking without being seen, and without leaving a single footprint in the snow . . .

For DI Peter Shaw and DS George Valentine it’s only the start of an infuriating investigation. The crime scene is melting, the murderer has vanished, the witnesses are dropping like flies. And the body count is on the rise . . .


A blizzard rages on the Norfolk coast and eight cars are trapped in deep snow on a country road. In the lead vehicle the driver has been brutally murdered, there are no footprints in the snow and at the same time within half a mile of the stranded vehicles another dead man is washed ashore.

It is bitter cold, but that’s not the only bitterness in the air. Detective Inspector Peter Shaw, a ‘whiz-kid with the fancy degree’ and veteran copper Detective Sergeant George Valentine are ‘West Norfolk Constabulary’s latest investigative duo’. They have been paired up for just one week by ‘some joker in admin. …who knew the past and didn’t care about the future.’

Trouble is, Shaw and Valentine share a history; there’s a ten-year-old cold case that resulted in the disgrace of Shaw’s father and the demotion of Valentine ‘a man whose career trajectory looked like a brick falling to earth.’ Now Valentine has to come to terms with the younger man giving the orders.

Many questions arise from the two deaths, not least of all is whether there is a link between the two victims, and Shaw and Valentine have to battle against more than the Norfolk winter to find the answers. There is a complex cast of characters, each with their own agenda. Subtle clues are thrown up in a steady and accomplished way as the ingenious plot unfolds and all the while the cold case festers in the background.

Death Wore White is a traditional ‘whodunnit’ but with a contemporary update to the ‘locked room mystery’. The crime scene of the trapped cars means that the murder has been committed under apparently impossible circumstances and the murderer seems to have vanished into thin air. Suspects, motives and opportunities ebb and flow throughout the narrative like the Norfolk tides.

Written with a keen eye for detail the central characters are well defined, as is the bleak backdrop of an icy winter in Kings Lynn. The plot has plenty of twists and turns, not to mention more bodies, along the way. Unlike many fast and furious mystery novels, the style of writing has more depth and breadth and flickers with descriptive passages, similes and metaphors, occasionally at a slight cost of pace.

It is thoroughly researched, well written and with enough puzzles to demand the attention of the reader.

Jim Kelly’s earlier Philip Dryden series was awarded the 2006 CWA Dagger in the Library Award for producing a body of work greatly enjoyed by fans of the genre.

Death Wore White, about which Kelly says ‘I hope that I have captured the genuine spirit of detection,’ is the first in a new series featuring DI Peter Shaw (who was first introduced in Kelly’s previous Dryden book ‘The Skeleton Man’) and DS George Valentine. Fear not, with writers like Jim Kelly around the ‘spirit of detection’ is in safe hands.

Find author Jim Kelly's website here. And find our lovely reviewer, talented author and inspiration, Fiona McKenzie's website here. Can I just say how much I love this paragraph from her bio:
My default mode is shallow and frivolous, happily distracted by anything girlie; fashion, handbags, shoes, perfume, cosmetics and fresh flowers. I have elements of OCD but my desk is a mess. Go figure. Traces of geek manifest in my adoration of all things Apple. Did I mention shoes?