Friday, January 29, 2010

Away for a bit but...


Hello all!

As you read this Mark and I should be in the wilds of Africa, under the blazing sun...or rather, we should be safely somewhere in Johannesburg visiting my family, visiting, talking, eating, reading, sleeping, shopping...you get the idea!

We've decided that after a very long period of not visiting South Africa that we really should do something to remedy that. So we're taking 2 weeks to do just that - we're visiting my family (and friends like Dave Brendon of Dave Brendon's Fantasy Reviews), going on safari for realz, flying down to Cape Town (maybe on private charter, we'll see if we can pull that one off, but I doubt it) and visiting Mark's family and moar of our friends. I am also hooking up with Lauren Beukes who wrote Moxyland (published by Angry Robot) as I should have a book to hand over to her from Adam Christopher....that is if Royal Mail actually plays along! We're planning to drive all over the Cape province and being real tourists (and hopefully not get mugged) and taking loads of pictures. It will also be my birthday whilst we're over there. I expect a LOT of wishes for the 5th of Feb, people! Make it so! *imperious gesture of making it so*

I've got several reviews set to go live in our absence. Stick around for those. Please do still comment, I've arranged with a friend to check them and set them to go live. We'll be back before you know it and will probably bore everyone to tears with our holiday snaps.

Totsiens, ons gesels later! (That's Afrikaans for: goodbye, we'll chat again soon!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to get into...



(Or, How Mark failed to curb his enthusiasm)

One of the great aspects of being involved in a blog like MFB is the outlet for sharing the things that make you go ‘wow’. One such thing, for me, is the spin off fiction from the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40K; I think it’s a crying shame that their market seems limited to gamers - there’s so much good stuff out there, and in the pipeline, and I think a lot of people would have their socks blown off if they gave it a go.

The more I thought about it, the more it puzzled me. Now, I know that ‘different strokes for different folks” applies to almost everything, including reading preferences, and it’s easy to be annoying when you’re trying to make somebody like / try something they don’t want to, but what I can’t swallow is people shortchanging themselves because of a literary gag reflex whose roots lie in an insidious, outdated and misplaced idea that science fiction & fantasy are the fiction equivalent of junk food.

Even assuming that someone is already partial to fantasy and/or science fiction, there generally seem to a couple of recurring misconceptions holding them back from picking up a Black Library novel- 1) “it’s a tie-in novel or the novelisation of game I’ve never played” and 2) “there’s so much in print already, I know nothing about it and will never catch up”.

I chewed all this over for a few days, trying to figure out how to get around these preconceptions, and trying to put a finger on why I’m such an ardent fan of heroic fiction, particularly the brand of military sci-fi that the 40K universe offers in the first place. But that leads to trying to understand the nature of fandom, and that’s a dissertation rather than a blog post (and a flame war waiting to happen). Judging from the jam packed halls at Games Day, the umpteen million sales of the books, and the thriving online community, I’m certainly not alone.

The first thing I’d say is that yes, these are undeniably tied in to the games, but it’s important to realise that it makes absolutely no difference if you’ve never played a game- they exist side by side but entirely independent of each other: you could quite happily read the entire back catalogue without ever picking up a dice or tape measure.

And yes, the back catalogues (I prefer to think of it as a treasure trove) for both Warhammer and 40K are extensive, and it’s easy to see how it can come across as intimidating to someone who’s unfamiliar with the respective universes, prompting questions like where do you start? Will it make sense if you don’t start at the beginning?

Think of any other book you’ve ever picked up- whoever the characters are, they exist within a world and universe with its own accepted canon and history, and probably involves an element of world building. You’re not expected to be familiar with all of it, and it’s the same here. The authors and their editors have done the hard work; it’s their responsibility to deliver a story that’s both as exciting as the setting demands and compatible with the existing canon - your only job is to be entertained.

As you read more stories set within the same world/ universe, you’ll pick up on more and more references, building up a clearer image of the world that’s opening up to you and how it all fits together. The enjoyment you get from visiting it increases proportionately; it’s addictive in the best possible way.

Something else which bears remembering is that the novels are aimed at the wider market, not just existing gamers.

It’s fair to say that the publishers didn’t do themselves any favours with the more garish covers of years past, which reinforced the notion that they were solely aimed at the stereotypical gamer. You can understand why booksellers consigned them in a corner next to the comics or children’s’ books while promoting inferior stock which fitted the image they had in mind – another reason why the trend for more demure covers (as sported by the Horus Heresy and Time of Legends series) is definitely A Good Thing, something which Bloomsbury cottoned onto early when they re-jacketed Harry Potter to make it more appealing to adult readers.

As I thought about it, I began wondering how those who both feed and encourage my addiction started off, and how they felt about the sheer volume of stuff that’s already out there.

I approached Graham McNeill, CL Werner and Nathan Long, all veterans of the Black Library, who were generous enough to give me some of their time despite their hectic schedules.

MFB: What was your first exposure to Warhammer/ 40K, and how did they move from there to writing for The Black Library? :

GM: I first got involved with the game when 3rd Ed Warhammer came out and 40K first hit the shelves. I’d been playing them religiously for years, writing my own campaigns and army storylines before deciding to link them together in a novel-like fashion. All this was strictly for my gaming group, but then an opportunity came up to work for the Studio as a Staff Writer, and I was lucky enough to get the job. Over time working there, I gradually gravitated to games development, and pitched a number of short stories to Christian Dunn at Black Library. These seemed to go down well, and it wasn’t long before I was asked to write an Ultramarines novel. After that, it went from strength to strength, and now I’m on novel eighteen.

CLW: - For me it dates way way back to high school. I read an ad for a new British fantasy role-playing game in Dragon Magazine. The ad was quite unique in its presentation - a four page fiction piece about a witch hunter who has been arrested by the authorities and his musings on the corrupt state of the world. The tone that piece presented was so dark and grim, absolutely at odds with the way other games at the time presented their settings, that I was immediately interested. I was also intrigued by the horrific ratmen who put in a brief appearance at the end of the story. It was sometime later that my friend Matt introduced me to the tabletop wargame and later had me arming Space Orks for 40k campaigns.

NL: My friend Dave Schow was approached by Black Flame (which was once a division of Black Library) to write a novelization of a movie he had written called Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. He turned down the job, but suggested Black Flame talk to me about doing that and other novelizations. I did some pitches for them, none of which panned out, but when I found out that BF was attached to BL, and that BL was Warhammer, I begged my BF editor to introduce me to the BL folks. I would have been moderately happy writing a novelization or two, but writing for Warhammer? Are you kidding? A fantasy author couldn’t ask for a better job! It was a perfect fit.

MFB: When you approached your first novel for the Black Library, did you find the sheer volume of 'what has gone before' intimidating or inspiring..?

GM: When I wrote my first novel back in 2002, there wasn’t that many novels out there, at least not in an overwhelming way. I was inspired to write to ‘rectify’ the things I thought other authors had gotten wrong or – more accurately – didn’t fit my perception of how the Warhammer and 40K universes should be. In other words, I wrote what I thought the worlds should be like and put my stamp on them. Intimidated? Not really, except by the sheer volume of words I’d need to write, as it was more than I’d ever put on paper before.

CLW: Oh, I think the best answer to that one is a little of both. The immense scope of background material to the worlds of Warhammer is fascinating. There is always some bit of half-forgotten lore waiting to be found. In many ways the background is so extensive that older pieces do become endowed with a sense of being dark eldritch secrets in their own right. At the same time, it can become an enormous task to get your research right. I'm still indebted to my friend Alfred for catching one background error that would have set one of my novels at odds with nothing less than the classic 'Enemy Within' Warhammer Fantasy campaign.

NL: A little bit of both, really. When they sent me all the background material, and it started to pile up on the table, I thought, “I’m going to have to read all that?” But at the same time, the fact that the world was so well thought out, and so deeply realized was very reassuring. It meant that I had to do little world-building, and could concentrate on plot and character. The best thing was that, if I had a question, about almost anything, there was an answer. It might take some digging, or calling over to the design studio, or finding one of the older novels, but there was an answer to almost any silly question I could think of to ask. It’s great writing in so concrete a world.

MFB: What would you recommend as an introductory read to someone looking to take the plunge and pick up a Black Library book for the first time?

GM: Though it feels crass to suggest a book of my own, a newcomer to 40K could do worse than to read the Ultramarines Omnibus, as it delves straight into the core imagery of 40K, with heretics/aliens/Chaos over the course of the three books. Leaving that aside, the Gaunt’s Ghosts books are great, hardcore war stories, with lots to recommend them. They deal with humans, allowing the reader and easy ‘in’ to the universe, which is always essential for hooking readers in. As to Fantasy, I’d say the Slayer books are great places to start (and continue) as Gotrek and Felix travel the length and breadth of the Old World (and kill most of the things they meet), giving a rich flavour of the dark humour of the Warhammer World.

CLW: I always suggest taking a look at the anthologies, particularly the two mega-anthologies: 'Tales of the Old World' and 'Let the Galaxy Burn'. The anthologies give a reader a better chance to get a feel for the settings than any of the novels can. Because there are a variety of short stories, each with their own theme and voice, a reader can get a better cross-section of what is going on in the respective settings. Plus it gives him a chance to sample an array of authors and see whose style he enjoys.

NL: Why, my books of course - the Blackhearts Omnibus and the Gotrek and Felix series. And, if you can wait until June, I have a Warhammer book called Bloodborn coming out, which is about a kick-ass vampire woman named Ulrika Magdova. I’m really excited about this one. I had a great time writing it.

MFB: Thanks guys!

You can’t really get better recommendations than those- personally, I agree with Graham’s suggestion of the Ultramarines Omnibus as an introduction to the Space Marines, without whom 40K just wouldn’t be 40K. The atmosphere and imagery of the 40K setting is unrivalled, and with a movie and a new game in the offing it’s the place to be.

I’m hard pressed to choose which book I’d recommend on the fantasy side of things, which is an indication of the calibre of what’s on offer- but you can’t go wrong with the Gotrek & Felix series.

That’s one of the things that really comes through whenever you talk to any of the guys at BL- their sheer, infectious enthusiasm for what they do. It’s readily apparent at events like Games Day and in the obvious passion that goes into their work; it’s the spark that brings their worlds to life and makes reading them such a pleasure.

Try it. Join us. You won’t be sorry.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cairo by G Willow Wilson, illustrated by MK Perker


Synopsis:

The creative team behind the new monthly series AIR brings together ancient and modern Middle East with a Vertigo twist. A stolen hookah, a spiritual underworld and a genie on the run change the lives of five strangers forever in this modern fable set on the streets of the Middle East's largest metropolis. This magical-realism thriller interweaves the fates of a drug runner, a down-on-his-luck journalist, an American expatriate, a young activist and an Israeli soldier as they race through bustling present-day Cairo to find an artifact of unimaginable power, one protected by a dignified jinn and sought by a wrathful gangster-magician. But the vastness of Africa's legendary City of Victory extends into a spiritual realm – the Undernile – and even darker powers lurk there…

Cairo was my first official purchase from Orbital Comics (the other purchases were done by Mark so they don't count as being purchased by moi) and I couldn't have been happier with it. Beautifully illustrated by MK Perker I was sucked into the story of the various characters as they go around one of my favourite cities I've ever visited.

The story starts off quietly, almost unassumingly, following the five different characters, effortlessly setting them up and giving you a handle on their motivations. We have a drug-smuggler, with a sister who is friends with a journalist experiencing some heavy censorship with the press, who in turn meets an American girl travelling around Egypt on her own. The smuggler sells on a hookah he found in an abandoned shack to a Lebanese boy but the hookah's owner wants it back and takes the reporter and American girl hostages to get it back...and that's because the hookah contains a genie.

It's an involved, interesting story, with glimpses into a culture everyone thinks they know something of or have an opinion about. I enjoyed Cairo and feel that you can read as much as you want into the overall story, or you can check it out because it's an entertaining read that is beautifully drawn by MK Perker and cleverly written by journalist G Willow Wilson.

Cairo is published by Vertigo and should be available in most comic book shops / online.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Nuffin Like a Puffin - Puffin Media Event 18th January 2010



I was very fortunate to have been invited to attend the Puffin Media event earlier this month at Penguin HQ on the Strand.

I met up with Jenny from Wondrous Reads - for support in all thing booky, of course - and we headed to PHQ at twelve for the presentation.

We were met by the very gracious (if nervous) Hannah and Tania of Puffin who welcomed us graciously and ushered us into the board room where loads of chairs and screens were set up for the presentation. As I know how rubbish I am trying to take photos from behind someone's head, I nabbed us seats right at the front, in the centre. A bit forward but hey, we got there early, and we had an unobstructed view of events.

As Francesca Dow welcomed all of us lucky folk, I was struck by how well attended this function was. Then I settled in to take loads of photos and make notes on the handily provided presentation handouts we were all given.

Francesca gave us a brief overview on how well Penguin did overall last year, which is so good to hear in these dire times where everyone seems to be struggling. She praised her colleagues and the support from their authors and customers who came through in 2009 to make it a very memorable year indeed.

Francesca told us that Puffin will be focussing their strategy across three main sections for 2010 and the future: Cross-over books, the creation of recognisable brands and the trotting out of revamped classics.

Next we were given some amazing information: Razorbill which used to be an imprint of Penguin USA is now part of Puffin UK. This means combined buying power for Razorbill when it comes to the YA market...this also means that Puffin will be looking to acquire strong YA from UK authors. (I danced like a crazy thing in my seat when I heard this.)

Next we were shown some slides for the 8 - 12 age group - and they pointed out that there is such a big gap in the market for writing for girls in this age group because everyone seems keen to write YA.

The speakers touched briefly on Puffin Baby and how they are keen to grow this section too, but as usual their standards are very high when it comes to this and picture books, so they can literally skim the best of the crop of those that approach them with ideas.

In May of this year Puffin will be launching a really cool idea: Pocket Money Puffins - smaller books retailing at £3.99 for ages 5 - 12+, suitable for those strapped for cash. Amongst the titles mentioned are books by authors like: Charlie Higson, Meg Rosoff and Cathy Cassidy.

In June Puffin will launch their search for books of the decade - a fantastic concept and I'm pretty sure MFB will be bringing you MORE news about that later on this year. The digital archive website for Puffin will go live this June too - www.puffin.co.uk - and they will be relaunching the We Make Stories website - www.wemakestories.com. There will also be Puffin parties all around the UK in various bookstores, schools and libraries.

Next we got to talk about the vastly cool Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. More and more are being sold, they are good fun, transcending age groups and a movie is underway. -woot- I think we have most of these as Mark's a big fan. I'll make some fire under him and get him to review it for us.

I freaked out a little bit because I'm a big Rick Riordan / Percy Jackson fan and we got to watch an extended clip of the trailer for the upcoming movie: Percy Jackson and The Lighting Thief. It looks simply amazing. My jaw hung open. I really want to see this flick so much! We have some more titles coming from Mr. Riordan in May - The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid and it looks grand. Also new series called Camp Halfblood - more about Greek Gods but not focussing on Percy.

A new Eoin Colfer is coming in July - the new Artemis Fowl - The Atlantis Complex. Eoin did an intro via video for us about it and let me just say: it sounds utterly over the top, hilarious and good fun.


Charlie Higson stepped up the podium, whilst Twittering. If you're on twitter, make sure to follow him! He's @monstroso. Charlie chatted to us about what he's up to and what we can / shouldn't expect from his follow-up novel to The Enemy called The Dead. It sounds intriguing...but then you just never know with Mr. H - full of surprises!


Cathy Cassidy came on to talk to us about her books, her fans and how sad she is that children and adults no longer dream. Society no longer allows us to daydream. The dreamers get ostracised and called bad names. And then they usually conform to the norm and they lose their talents and creativity and I actually felt quite emotional after her talk and sniffled into a tissue because what she was saying struck such a chord. I vow never to stop daydreaming! I also met with her briefly afterwards and got her to sign my autograph book.


The talented and rather dashing Alex Scarrow was up next, chatting about Time Riders (which I've read part of) and what he's planning for the second novel. I can't wait to finish what I've read and hopefully run an interview and competition as not only is what I've read well written, the whole concept is just brilliant. And Alex is a cool guy and I can only imagine chatting to him for an interview.

We were shown some slides featuring the gorgeous Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy which is doing really well in the UK. Richelle will be visiting the UK shortly - squeal! - and I'll make sure to get info onto the blog asap. We also got the chance to ogle the UK cover for Sarwat Chadda's second novel: Dark Goddess, the sequel to Devil's Kiss. Staying with the teen theme we heard about other titles such as Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and Sarah Dessen's newest Along for the Ride.

We got told in depth about Razordbill and some of the launch titles here in the UK: The Summer I turned pretty by Jenny Han and The Other Countess by Eve Edwards. I'm excited about this new imprint for Penguin. They have got a keen eye for talent and it means that we get to read some excellent new authors. It also means that new authors have a new avenue to being printed. It's incredibly exciting and I personally wish Puffin very well with Razorbill.

The talk slowly wound down as various peeps talked about picture books and how they are revamping some older vintage books, updating it to make it more relevant and also looking around for new, funky and fun books.

After the presentation we all got to mingle and chat. I got to say "hey" to Rebecca who looks after character picture books such as Charlie and Lola and the new CBBies Tinga Tinga Tales which I'm excited about - stories from Africa peeps! How can it not be cool?

We got to talk to various editors and marketing people after the presentation and we made sure to thank them and praise them for an excellent event. I loved being part of this and admire Penguin for being forward thinking and so focussed on bringing excellent writing and authors to their readers. Being part of helping them do that is so - well, for a lack of a better word - cool.

Thanks for inviting MFB along, Puffin peeps! We had a blast and we're looking forward to indulging in all the lovely books for 2010!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To Die For by Linda Howard


Here is the blurb from amazon:

After a painful divorce, Blair Mallory follows a dream and opens a health club. But Nicole Goodwin, a troubled member of the club, develops a strange fixation on Blair, imitating her style and dress, even the car she drives. Then Nicole is gunned down in the club's parking lot. And Blair is the only witness to the murder. At first the police investigation concentrates on Nicole and her acquaintances, but then someone tampers with Blair's car, and sabotages her home and business. The police - including Blair's old flame Lieutenant Wyatt Bloodsworth - are baffled because these attempts, while serious, are very different in tone from Nicole's murder. Is Nicole's killer seeking to remove a troublesome witness? Or was Blair the intended victim after all?

'To Die For' is probably one of my favourite Linda Howard books. I LOVE Blair Mallory! She is blonde, an ex-cheerleader and has an amazing body. She is the woman you'd love to hate. And she makes me laugh like few other characters. She totally looks like the dumb little blonde, but she is smart, knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.

When shots are fired at her and her old flame Wyatt Bloodsworth comes back into her life, SPARKS (the capitals are on purpose) start to fly. Wyatt hurt Blair when, after three dates, he just disappeared and never called again, despite their chemistry being blatantly obvious. Now, Blair decided she'll not give him another chance to hurt her, and the way she's giving him the runaround is hilarious. Blair narrates the story and her inner musings and plans on how to make sure Wyatt does what she wants him to do while at the same time having her revenge, put a big grin on my face. And let's not get started on the lists of Wyatt's transgressions...sorry, you'll have to read yourself.

Of course there is also the fact that somebody is trying to kill Blair, so you have a mystery that has everybody running into dead ends, fast-paced, take-your-breath-away action combined with a hot, jump-of-the-page romance.

I don't know how many times I've read 'To Die For' and it still makes me laugh. I'd love to be Blair and, well, I wouldn't kick Wyatt out of the bedroom either;D.

In the UK 'To Die For' is published by Piatkus. Linda doesn't have a website. The sequel is called 'Drop Dead Gorgeous' and continues the theme of hot, sexy romance and fast-paced action in a very satisfying manner.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guest Review: The Dark Horse by Marcus Sedgwick


Synopsis:

A boy destined to lead his clan; a girl raised by wolves; a stranger with a sealed box. These are the elements of this powerful novel, set on a rocky northern coast in a distant time, in a small community who live in dread of the coming of the legendary warrior tribe, the Dark Horse. Told in part by the boy, Sigurd, himself, it is a dark and dangerous story of conflict and betrayal. With its strong sense of time and place and the magic of a primitive people, THE DARK HORSE again confirms the exceptional talent of Marcus Sedgwick.

The Dark Horse by Marcus Sedgwick ought to be read in the glow of a crackling fire whilst listening to the bluster of wind beyond the window. It is a tale that smells of the raw fish and animal skins of pre-history and yet is timeless in the telling; a tale that evokes barren landscapes, crashing waves, and the cruelty of winter. The cold seeps through every page, held at bay only by the light of the campfire and the skill of the storyteller.

Sedgwick’s language is sparse, but always evocative. His characters are three-dimensional, consistent and familiar, despite the far-away feel of the setting. But just like characters of the real world, each of the Storn have secrets and surprises for the reader.

By now you might be getting the hint that I really enjoyed reading this book! I was immediately drawn to the intriguing character of Mouse, with her ability to communicate with hounds and leap into the mind of a bird. And I came to love Sigurad for his bravery and warmth.

The narrative switches between first and third person, a risky strategy for any writer. At first I was only interested in the story as told in first person because it outlined how Mouse came to live with the people of Storn. I was less engaged by the third person. But as the story went on, and the narratives became entwined, I noticed the switch between them less and less, until I hardly noticed the switch at all. There is no doubt about it: Sedgwick is masterful in his handling of language.

As much as I enjoyed this book, my only fear would be is that this is the kind of story that adults’ love, and kids wonder what the fuss is about. The shortness of the chapters kept me turning the pages (a lot of them were only a couple of pages long) and I suspect would keep kids reading too. However, I think what kept me hooked was the beauty of the writing rather than the strength of the story. A week later, I can remember the characters and their world, but struggle to remember how the story ended.

All in all, I really, really enjoyed this book. I liked the fairly predictable twists and turns of the plot that had that had an almost mythic feel, and particularly enjoyed the lyrical beauty of the language. A perfect read for a cold afternoon in winter.


***

The above guest review blog post was brought to you by my friend Sharon Jones (@PoodlePowered on Twitter). Sharon and I met without realising it at the SCBWI Winchester Conference last year - we've been speaking on Twitter before the conference and then attended a few talks together at Winchester but not realised who the other person was till after the fact!
Yes, this happens in real life, not just romcoms from Hollywood.

When I told Sharon that I'll be hosing the Marcus Sedgwick Author Month she came close to being histerical and I roped her in to review something for us. I sensed a fellow fan.

This is one of the MS books that I've not read yet and I'm looking forward to indulging in reading it. I love Sharon's enthusiasm for the uniquely named Mouse who sounds anything but timid. I fully appreciate her remarks that some of the nuances may bypass the age-group it was intended for but then I also think that if one of the younger folk read it and liked it, they would no doubt revisit it when they are older and then fully appreciate the depth and scope of the story. I'll be sure to pop back with my own view(s).

So, thanks Sharon for this fantastic review! Sharon's a writer of YA fiction with a paranormal twist and you can find her website here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Guest Review - The Five Greatest Warriors by Matthew Reilly


Synopsis

Captain West and his small team of elite misfits are on the trail of the six ancient pillars that can prevent the arrival of the 'dark star' a deadly celestial event that could bathe the globe in lethal radiation. But not only have the Ancients have hidden their secrets well, but also the huge potential to whomever locates and uses the pillars has attracted the attentions of the powerful all around the world. Jack West must now fight off crack mercenaries and special forces soldiers whilst preserving his entire team to figure out the secrets of the past...


I have loved Matthew Reilly’s books ever since I first picked up Ice Station almost a decade ago. However, two years ago almost to the day, I was sitting here cursing him. I had just finished The Six Sacred Stones, the second book in the trilogy of books featuring Jack West and I was fuming. I even rang my sister, herself a huge Reilly fan, and warned her about reading said book. Why was I so annoyed? It was because Matt Reilly had pulled a pretty sneaky trick on me (and yes, I was taking it personally!).

Let me explain. At the beginning of 2006 the author released Seven Ancient Wonders. It was a white-knuckle ride of an action-fest, something that came as no surprise to readers of his previous works. However, like many authors following the incredible success of the Da Vinci Code, this time he had thrown historical/archaeological elements into the mix, as well as creating for his protagonists a quest of astronomic proportions. Like all of his other books he also brought Seven Ancient Wonders to a satisfying conclusion – it worked well as a stand-alone novel. Fast-forward to January 2008 and we were presented with the hotly anticipated Six Sacred Stones. Same characters, same breathtaking action sequences, but a different and, if possible, even greater quest – this time to save the human race from total destruction. So far, so good.

However...... two thirds of my way in to the book and I began to frown. I had a growing anxiety. Jack West and his team must locate six ancient stones in order to save the world, yet he had only located a fraction of these. I was becoming increasingly worried that the story was going to run out of pages, with the last third of the story feeling hurried and poorly executed. It was only as I neared the final chapters that it dawned on me what was happening.... for the first time in his career Matthew Reilly had written a book that was going to end with a “To be continued” cliffhanger. Cheap trick sir!

So.... another two years has passed and finally, thanks to Jon Weir at Orion Books who sent me a copy, I have just finished reading The Five Greatest Warriors. And this time I’m smiling, not least because Matthew Reilly has had the decency to provide me with a conclusion this time. No cliffhanger. No “To be continued”. Just two long awaited words: “The End” (and I don’t think I am creating any form of spoiler by telling you this).

Anyway, rant over, is it actually any good? Well I can tell you that although I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, truth be told The Five Greatest Warriors is not Matthew Reilly’s best work (this can be found in his Scarecrow series). In places the action scenes begin to feel a little too repetitive but this is mainly due to there being so many of them. In 2009 movie critics hammered Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for having too much action and this book is similar in this respect. After the first few forays into various Warrior Tombs and Ancient Vertices the outcomes become a little predictable and I began to lose some of the nervous anticipation I had previously been feeling as to the fate of the heroes in earlier scenes. However, having set up the premise with the previous book the author had to stick to the plot and these scenes are a necessity, so in an attempt to ramp up the tension he instead falls back on his oft used plot device of multiple cross and double-cross, completely stripping out any chance the reader has of second guessing what is going to happen next. And when you think you have it sussed – he suddenly introduces his most depraved and malignant villain so far (the way this man treats his captors will send shivers down your spine).

In other, more reproaching reviews the words you will read most often are unrealistic and implausible. To these readers I would say get the rod out of your pretentious ass and at least try to enjoy this for what it is – a pure escapist plot and a good old-fashioned adventure story in the spirit of the old Republic serials. You will see more than a few mentions of the author’s lack of respect for historical facts. To them I would say if you want historical FACT why are you reading a work of FICTION? This is not a school text book and Matt Reilly never pretends to be producing work of a historically accurate nature. Why is it that as a work of fantasy you can accept that there exists a great planet-saving machine developed by an ancient civilisation, yet you leap onto your high horse as soon as an author applies their artistic license to so-called historical fact in order to suit their story? I guess you don’t like steampunk either?!

I remember going to see Stallone’s Cliffhanger with an avid rock climber. After the film he ranted on and on about the implausibility of the scenes, yet I was grinning from ear to ear, feeling fully sated by the 100 minutes of non-stop OTT action I had just witnessed. In fact, I loved all of Stallone’s and Arnie’s action films of that era, despite their often laughable plotlines because of the macho adrenalin rush they gave me. And that’s how I feel about Matt Reilly’s books, The Five Greatest Warriors included despite its weaknesses. I enjoyed it for what it is meant to be which is a non-stop, breathless, white-knuckle ride of an action/adventure story, and nothing more. I use my own blog to promote the wealth of boy-friendly books that are out there, in the hope that it will encourage boys to read for enjoyment, and Matt Reilly’s books are perfect the boys who have grown up reading the Alex Rider books but now want something a little more adult-orientated (and more violent – boy readers just love violence in their stories). Excitingly (for me at least), in his interview at the end of the book Matthew Reilly states that there is more to come from Jack West and his team in the future. In fact, he intends to write four more books, taking us all the way down to The One something or other as well as the possibility of another Scarecrow adventure.

Matthew Reilly has his detractors, and believe me there are many. You only need to read through the multitude of 1 star reviews on Amazon to find out why some readers hate his work so much. In addition to the above, they claim: his action scenes are too formulaic (however well written they are); his characters are not realistic and lack any form of depth; his grammar, punctuation and over-use of italics and exclamation marks is infuriating; his inclusion of childishly simplistic diagrams of his settings which some readers find patronising; the list does go on and on. And if I am perfectly honest I freely acknowledge that many of their criticisms are justified. However, like Matthew Reilly himself, I really do not care. I love these books and feel no shame for this.... as far as I am concerned these literary snobs can keep their tedious, high-brow tomes. I would much rather live off a diet of Matthew Reilly – the fish and chips of the book world compared to their noveau cuisine!

***


A massive thank you to Mr. H from The Book Zone: Books for Boys. If you're on Twitter, follow Mr. H as @BookZone. We bonded in geek-love for all things action adventure and spend many hours chatting about favourite authors like Will Adams, David Gibbins, Paul Sussman to name but a few. I love Mr. H's website because his enthusiasm for his subject matter shows and he tries to concentrate on books for boys, even if they have female main characters. He's also a teacher and VP of his school, so I can urge you enough to drop by his blog and make pals with him.

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingstone


Synopsis:

Kelley Winslow is living her dream. Seventeen years old, she has moved to New York City and started work with a theatre company. Sure, she's an understudy for the Avalon Players, a third-tier repertory company so far off-Broadway it might as well be in Hoboken, but things are looking up—the lead has broken her ankle and Kelley's about to step into the role of Titania the Fairy Queen in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Faeries are far more real than Kelley thinks, though, and a chance encounter in Central Park with a handsome young man will plunge her into an adventure she could never have imagined.

For Sonny Flannery, one of the Janus Guards charged by Auberon, the King of Winter, with watching over the gate into the lands of Faerie that lies within Central Park, the pretty young actress presents an enigma. Strong and willful, she sparks against his senses like a firecracker and he can't get her out of his mind. As Hallowe'en approaches and the Samhain Gate opens, Sonny and Kelley find themselves drawn to each other—and into a terrible plot that could spell disaster for both New York and Faerie alike.

Ever since Holly Black reinvented fairies for me a few years ago in Tithe (and subsequently Valiant and Ironside) I've been a sucker for well written novels with a bit of fae magic thrown in.

Wondrous Strange has more than just a big of fae magic thrown in. The book sizzles with magic. Kelley's character in WS is that of the sweet ingenue who is determined to make something of herself in New York. We identify with Kelley because all of us has wanted something strong enough to move heaven and earth to get it and even if it means putting up with overly dramatic producers and tantrum throwing cast members of a acting troupe, well then, she's up for that too.

When she lands the role of Titania in the production, instead of wowing everyone with her acting ability, Kelley manages to make a complete mess of things and she escapes to the peace and quiet of Central Park to rehearse the role. This is where Sonny hears / sees her for the first time and he's inexplicably drawn to her. But as one of the guards watching the portal between the human and fae worlds, he has other, scarier, clawed and tentacled things to worry about at first. Even if the image of Kelley keeps reappearing in his mind.

Kelley and Sonny's romance is slow in developing and it's very sweet - also quite amusing. Kelley is both fierce and confused as to why this strange boy from the park alternately seems to be stalking her, saving her, scaring the life out of her.

Also, Kelley has a problem: after almost drowning in Central Park, she made it home to the small apartment she shared with her room-mate and unexpectedly finds that the horse she saved followed her home and seems to really like hanging out in their bathroom...and uh, using their toiletries.

Written with great aplomb and with a sense of bubbling humour, Wondrous Strange, is a very fun read and I laughed out loud more than once. Kelley's not what she seems, no one seems to be what they seems and as the story unravels, only to be put back together, we are left with a solidly concluded book that has a few frayed tassles left over to segue neatly into the sequel: Darklight.

I don't mind this as both Kelley and Sonny are characters I'd like to spend my time with and their story is fresh and engaging. Also, those covers - tell me you don't want books that look this gorgeous?

Find Lesley Livingstone's website here. Wondrous Strange has not yet been published here in the UK but it is available on Amazon and through The Book Depository.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Going too far by Jennifer Echols


Synopsis

All Meg has ever wanted is to get away. Away from high school. Away from her backwater town. Away from her parents who seem determined to keep her imprisoned in their dead-end lives. But one crazy evening involving a dare and forbidden railroad tracks, she goes way too far...and almost doesn’t make it back.
John made a choice to stay. To enforce the rules. To serve and protect. He has nothing but contempt for what he sees as childish rebellion, and he wants to teach Meg a lesson she won’t soon forget. But Meg pushes him to the limit by questioning everything he learned at the police academy. And when he pushes back, demanding to know why she won’t be tied down, they will drive each other to the edge—and over...

I bought my copy of Going Too Far because I'm a sucker for being told "go and buy it, it's that cool" by various other bloggers and readers.

And it is a pretty damn cool book. It deals with adult themes and is aimed at the YA crowd but I'm pretty sure some older folk will benefit from reading it.

Meg is an excellent character and someone I liked because I could understand why she acts as wildly as she does. Here's someone who is terrified of being left behind, of being the same as everyone else, as being stuck in a one-horse town and never ever getting out.

Her motivations are clear, her character is crisp, funny, abrasive and cool. She's the kid you notice around town, what with the cyan blue hair and the wild clothes, the bad boyfriends and the rumours about lewd behaviour. She's the girl you think you've sussed out as someone who's going downhill, fast. What you don't see is the student, the girl who works hard at her assignments, the one who will do anything to get out of town, to see the world. She's so busy being loud and scary on the outside very few people notice the anxious girl on the inside.

It's only when she's arrested for tresspassing on the bridge where a group of children had died in the past that Meg realises that there might very well be a different way to get what she wants from life. She's locked in a car with John, the young policeman who arrested her. As Meg's opinion starts changing about John and she realises there's more to him than just the jutting jaw, the gun, the uniform, so John's opinion about Meg changes too. He realises that behind this loud facade is a young girl who is so determined and resolute to make something of herself that she's burning up with it, her spirit seems almost too big for her body.

Wonderfully written with a few utterly amazing tearjerk moments, Going too Far is an excellent read for those of us who want a break from the paranormal and just hang out with a girl and a boy as they slowly but surely fall for one another. At it's heart, Going Too Far is a coming of age story, a story of friendship and falling in love. But it's also about being responsible, clever and wise, even at a young age and how important it is to have goals and how much more important it is to hopefully be able to share that with someone.

I do hope Going too Far gets picked up by UK publishers as it genuinely does deserve an airing here in the UK. Jennifer Echols is popular American author (her site is here) and I've got some of her other books on order from the US to read.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Soulless by Gail Carriger


Here is the synopsis from amazon:
Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

Here’s the most important bit of the review:

GO BUY AND READ THIS BOOK! It is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

And here are a few more details:

I LOVE this book! Yes, I know I keep saying that about most of the books I review, but if I had a ‘Best of 2010’ list “Soulless” would be on it for sure. I cannot remember when I have had such a big, fat grin on my face for the entirety of the book.

After being attacked by a mannerless vampire and, having to defend herself, actually killing him, Miss Alexia Tarabotti is thrown into the middle of the London supernatural world. Rove vampires and packless werewolves are disappearing in London and the surrounding areas, she's invited to meet the Westminster vampire hive queen and who is that pesky creature constantly trying to abduct Alexia?

Alexia is the typical bluestocking, intelligent and outspoken. Her inner musings have made me laugh out loud more than once while reading and her interaction with the brash, overbearing, and, worst of all, Scottish Lord Maccon had me in stitches.

Gail Carriger has created a fabulous Victorian London and her characters are well developed, totally off the wall and still so believable. More than once I sat back amazed at what Gail created. Her dialogue is witty and funny, the whole story has an energy and a pace that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I love this fantastic mixture of mystery, action, romance and steampunk. Everything fits together seamlessly and should you be in the unfortunate situation that you have to stop reading because your lunch break is over, you’ll be waiting with eager anticipation to get back to the book.

Soulless is published by Orbit and Gail’s website is here. The sequel “Changeless” will be out at the beginning of April and I cannot wait!*taps her foot a few times* Is it April yet?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Waterstone's Children's Book Prize Short List


The shortlist was revealed yesterday and I am so pleased to see several authors and books that I "know" through having read / reviewed / received them.

Here's the listing with some information about the books and the nominated authors:

FLYAWAY BY LUCY CHRISTOPHER

In this poignant novel, Lucy Christopher explores the extraordinary attachment between a young girl and a wild bird. 13-year-old Isla doesn’t want to think about the fact that her dad may be dying until she meets Isthmi, a young swan who can’t fly.

About the author

After various attempts at being an actor, a coffee maker, a waitress and a nature guide, Lucy earned a distinction in a Creative Writing MA. In her spare time, Lucy helps run a children’s wildlife group at Newport Wetland.


THE GREAT HAMSTER MASSACRE BY KATIE DAVIES

A natural and honest version of life’s events from the perspective of a young girl – from her suspicions about her neighbours, to her rocky friendship with the girl next door; from the sudden death of her granny to her relentless quest for a pet hamster. The Great Hamster Massacre is a bittersweet but hilariously funny domestic tale.

About the author

Katie is the wife of comedian Alan Davies and recently gave birth to their first child. She is a literary agent who has also written for radio. The Great Hamster Massacre is the first in a charming series of pet-related dilemmas drawn from real-life experiences of friends and family.


THE GIRL WHO COULD FLY BY VICTORIA FORESTER

Piper McCloud can fly, but even at her top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities she’s special, and there are consequences.

About the author

Victoria Forester lives in Los Angeles with her husband. She has spent most of her time writing screenplays; this is her first book.

SEVEN SORCERERS BY CARO KING

Enter the Drift, a land filled with the fabulous and the dreadful; tombfolk, mudmen and the spirits of the seven sorcerers who once ruled the land. Our heroine must cross the Drift to retrieve her brother, stolen by the bogeyman and taken to the terrible House of Strood.

About the author

Caro tackled a series of widely varied jobs before joining the Civil Service, working in the Official Receiver's Office. She now works part-time and lives in Surrey with her husband, writing and restoring their Edwardian house.


LOVE, AUBREY BY SUZANNE LAFLEUR

Something terrible has happened and 11-year-old Aubrey is on her own. She’s determined to hide away and take care of herself, because facing the truth is too much to bear. Love, Aubrey is a must-read with the emotional power of Before I Die, the readability of Gathering Light and the comfort of Little Women.

About the author

Suzanne grew up in Massachusetts, where she used to read her stories out loud to anyone who would listen. She began writing her first novel Love, Aubrey at graduate school and now lives in Manhattan, where she works at The Anderson School, a New York City Public School for gifted children.]


THE TOYMAKER BY JEREMY DE QUIDT

What good is a toy that will wind down? What if you could put a heart in one? A real heart? From the moment Mathias finds a mysterious piece of paper he is entangled in devious plots and pursued by the sinister Dr. Leiter and his devilish toys. The Toymaker is a truly chilling story that will haunt you long after you reach the end.

About the author

The Toymaker was written after the author Jeremy was asked to do some story-telling at a local school. He went in and each week told them a new chapter of a story he had begun writing especially for them – that story became his first published work.


DESPERATE MEASURES BY LAURA SUMMERS

Vicky and Rhianna are twins but they couldn’t be more different. For their fourteenth birthday,

Vicky wants a card from the hottest boy in school. Rhianna, brain-damaged at birth, wants a Furby. Instead they get a nasty shock – their foster parents can’t cope and it looks as if Vicky and Rhianna and their younger brother Jamie will have to be split up. How can they stay together?

Desperate times call for desperate measures …

About the author

Laura Summers grew up in South London and was a teacher before turning to writing full time. She has written extensively for many popular children’s television series and was recently nominated for a children’s BAFTA for one of her scripts for The Little Princess - a pre-school animation series based on the picture books by Tony Ross. Laura now lives in North Devon with her husband and children and when not writing loves to draw and paint.



SUPERHUMAN: METEORITE STRIKE BY A.G. TAYLOR

Introducing mesmerizing heroes with mind-blowing powers, this roller-coaster read of chilling conspiracies and secret organizations is the perfect escape for anyone who’s longed to be just a little bit special.

About the author

Andrew Taylor was born in New Zealand and grew up in England, and has worked as a teacher in England, Poland, South Korea and Australia. He lives with his girlfriend, her whippet and his Italian greyhound. This is his debut novel.


THE CROWFIELD CURSE BY PAT WALSH

What happens when you bury an angel? It’s 1347 and Will, an orphan boy, lives at Crowfield Abbey. When two hooded strangers arrive at Crowfield asking questions about the angel’s grave, Will is drawn into a world of dangerous Old Magic. The Crowfield Curse is a thrilling clash between the forces of old natural magic and new ideas of Christianity.

About the author

Pat spent summers and school holidays working on archaeological digs, took an archaeology degree and spent most of her life since then working as an archaeologist. From the age of twelve she has written short stories based in history and fantasy, and The Crowfield Curse is her first novel for children.

***

I wish all of these authors the best of luck! The winner is announced on February 2010 here in London.

The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt


Synopsis:

What good is a toy that will wind down? What if you could put a heart in one? A real heart. One that beat and beat and didn’t stop. What couldn’t you do if you could make a toy like that?

In The Toymaker we meet someone we should all really like, especially if we are children: the toymaker, Menschenmacher. His creations sound amazing, creations we would all want to play with. Very soon, within a page, we do realise however that the toymaker, the "people maker" is not a cuddly friendly type of elderly uncle whom we can run to with a broken doll to fix. No, here's someone who is part scientist, part explorer, part nightmare maker. His toys are automatons, beautiful creations that the rich and famous strive to own. But there is that element of where he wants to meld the inanimate with the animate that is just shiver-inducing.

The Toymaker is set in an undisclosed European country over a short span of time for the reader - with that comes the bitter cold, the distant almost unfriendly populace and a feeling that really bad things can happen to good people. It's a harsh winter, wolves prowl the woods and people's lives are hard.

We also meet Matthias, a young boy who works as a Conjurer's assistant in a travelling circus. Well, he doesn't really work as anything to be honest. He's more a dog's body, doing things his grandfather, the conjuror wants, and then gets treated abysmally, beaten, starved and shouted at by everyone else in the circus; in other words, Matthias's life is hell. That is until his Grandfather suffers some kind of attack on stage and then dies. Matthias is in shock. A man he doesn't know walks up and starts searching his grandfather for something and Matthias realises that his grandfather may not have been the man he thought he knew. The well-dressed stranger leaves to speak to the owners of the circus and Matthias discovers a crumpled piece of paper in his grandfather's mouth that he was keen to hide...

Matthias and all his grandfather's belongings are "sold" to the mysterious man, Dr. Leiter and Matthias is bundled into a coach and driven through the night to an inn where he's questioned by the doctor and the odious coachman, Valter, a mishappen dwarf with the strength of ten men and a heart blacker than the abyss. One of the girls working at the inn, Katta, realises these two men are hurting Matthias and rescues him after he is thrown out of the window of the inn and together they go on the run.

Soon they throw in their lot with the mysterious and ruthless Koenig who is keen to figure out what Matthias's secret is and ultimately what the strip of torn paper is that he carries with him.

The Toymaker is beautifully written by Jeremy de Quidt. It's deeply dark and disturbing with touches of the macabre that will scintillate younger and older readers alike. The action is vivid and moves the story forward as much as the quest to find out the secret of the scrap of paper. The ending is a twisty turning thing that had me re-reading it because it took me that much by surprise.

I'd recommend The Toymaker to read out loud too - there is a dark magic to the writing that just begs to be heard aloud. And some fantastic news: The Toymaker has been short-listed for the Waterstones Children's Book Award 2010 which is excellent. I am so happy for Mr. de Quidt who clearly had a great time writing this wonderfully evocative and dark piece of literary horror for the younger folk.

The Toymaker is out now in paperback from David Fickling Books.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Soul Hunter - Aaron Dembski-Bowden



Fear these Space Marines.

Betrayed, cast from the Emperor's light and hunted as heretics, they are the rebels of the 41st milenniun. Garbed in symbols of death, the Night Lords are remorseless hunters and killers. They will never repent for the blasphemies that saw them banished, They prey upon the dying Imperium, bringing death from the darkness between worlds.

And terror is their most powerful weapon.


Soul Hunter poses an interesting situation- a Space Marine legion that has sided with the traitorous forces of the chaos Warmaster, not out of allegiance to any warp spawned powers or the Warmaster himself, but on the back of a murderous betrayal by the emperor himself. Insular and fixated on exacting their vengeance, the Night Lords have waged their war against the Imperium since the assault on terra 10,000 years ago. But their insular stance has weakened them; with no world to call home, their infrastructure is steadily collapsing, their numbers dwindling with little or no chance of reinforcement. The attrition of their war against the Imperium spells doom for them, yet what choice do they have?

Soul Hunter follows the events surrounding Talos, the titular Soul Hunter, known as a prophet amongst his peers, as they are drawn into Abaddon’s daring gambit to plunder one of the Mechanicum’s forge worlds.

Aaron takes his time setting the stage for the fireworks which follow, carefully building up the character of Talos and feeding the history of this non mainstream legion through in carefully constructed pieces, so that by the time the combat explodes across the pages, Talos has become a complex character, far more than the first impressions given of him. Similarly, the Night Lords have been given a long overdue shot in the arm, setting them up as an enigma amongst the Warmaster’s cohorts, and while the same attention isn’t lavished on the cast of supporting characters, they’re more than just red shirts, the switches to their perspectives more than mere fuel for the story’s engine.

After his dab handling of the combat in Cadian Blood, I expected nothing less than sheer mayhem from Aaron now that he’d been given Space Marines to play with, and large calibre carnage is what he delivers. There are some great sequences- one that really lit up the pages for me was his handling of the ship to ship combat in the void. Bearing in mind the ponderous nature of void combat, with ships duelling over thousands of kilometres, undertaking complex manoeuvres over a space of hours, the vivid tension and energy he infused these with were exhilarating. And as for the hunt in the basement of the prison complex... awesome.

If this is the calibre of goods we can expect from Aaron, someone needs to chain him to his writing desk! More sir, more!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cover P0rn 2010



Friend of MFB, all round good guy and bloody good writer Sarwat Chadda has just sent out this gorgeous cover for his second novel: Dark Goddess, due out later this year from Penguin/Puffin here in the UK.

And people, you have to admit, this cover is simply stunning. I think uploading it in high res has retained it's quality so do go ahead and click on the image to take you to a larger version of it.

From having chatted to Sarwat about Billi's journey in Dark Goddess I deduce (she says, using her Holmes voice) that we're going to look back at Devil's Kiss and go"that was a cake-walk" compared to what Billi's going to go through in this one.

Is it wrong to want to fast forward time to speed things up so I can read books not yet published? Yeah, I thought so too!

Guest Review: Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Darren from Bart's Bookshelf says:

The quality of Marcus Sedgwickís writing, sort-of crept up on me.

About eighteen months ago, I had read and enjoyed, his first novel, Floodland, and while I had liked it, it hadn't blown me away.

However, by the time I had devoured, The Book of Dead Days and Dark Flight Down, via Witch Hill and The Foreshadowing a few months later, I was as regular visitors to my site can attest, a huge fan.

Only now, I can't tell you exactly when exactly I became one, it seems now that I always have been.

There, are many things that make his writing stand out for me; from his ability to weave a tale so rich in atmosphere it is almost tangible, to his impeccable research, which adds a level of realism to even the strangest of situations.

I can't say enough good things about his depiction of Venice, it is without doubt a brilliant piece of writing, as with very few words, Sedgwick manages to create a richly detailed setting, and I say it, every time I review one of his books, but he is a master at creating atmosphere. You are there, every single step of the way, with the fog lapping around your ankles.


– From my review of, Sedgwick's: The Kiss of Death.

His books are not only vastly enjoyable and always a magical experience to read, but with sophisticated conflicts and relationships expertly woven into the prose they also encourage us, to think, and his latest novel, Revolver, is certainly no exception to this.

Book Cover of Revolver by Marcus SedgwickIt will come as no surprise to most of you, but the book blogging community is filled with many fantastic people and when one of them, the very wonderful Nikki (aka @stormfilled on Twitter) knew she was meeting Mr Sedgwick a couple of months ago, she immediately thought of me, and made sure a signed copy soon arrived through my letterbox. :)

The action in it, begins many miles north of the Arctic Circle in a tiny, little place, called Giron.

The year is 1910, and Sig, a young teenage boy, has been left alone in his family's remote and isolated home.

Along with Sig, is the body of his father, who earlier that morning, had an accident whilst trying to cross the frozen lake their property sits on the edge of, and died out on the exposed surface.

While he is waiting on the return of his sister and step-mother, from the nearby town where the pair have travelled to arrange someone to collect his fatherís corpse; a stranger arrives at their home, asking to see his father.

The story then switches back and forth between showing us bits of his father's life some years previously, and back in Sig's home where there is an ever growing sense of threat and danger as the stranger forces his way in, demanding to settle some outstanding business.

It is revealed that the man has been chasing Sig's family for over 10 years, and now with his fathers corpse lying on the table between the two of them, the stranger insists that as Sig is now the man of the house, the responsibility to settle his fathers debts, now lies with him.

As his desperation grows, Sig comes to the belief that the only means of escape, lies with an old Colt revolver that he knows is hidden in their storeroom

When Sig's father had bought the old second-hand revolver to protect his young family in the remote and desolate wilds of Canadian gold-rush towns, when they were first settling there, he can have had no idea the significance it would have many years later.

I defy anybody to read this and not shiver! And I'm not just referring to the tension, Sedgwick slowly builds towards. No, I'm talking about his perfect descriptions of the cold, harsh, landscapes that lie in the Arctic Circle. You'll want to keep a hot pot of tea or coffee and a blanket nearby whist reading them. :)

At it heart, this is a moral tale about whether it's right to use a gun, and for what purpose, and even in the end, how. Yet, even though it is about Sig's moral choice, Sedgwick never attempts to moralise on either side of the argument.

Impeccably researched and wonderfully written, with this one, Sedgwick continues to be one of my favourite writers of recent years.

***

I met Darren from Bart's Bookshelf through him commenting on MFB. I popped over to his blog after he commented on the previous Marcus Sedgwick posts and immediately fell in love with his blog. Here was a kindred spirit, someone who enjoyed reading and books and chatting to authors and telling the world about it.

I gathered courage and asked him to write something for MFB's Author of the Month and he agreed, responding with the remarkable musing and review above.

Thanks very much Darren - I am so glad to see that there are fanboys and fangirls out there who match my own levels of geekness!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fire by Kristin Cashore


Synopsis

Set in a world of stunningly beautiful, exceptionally dangerous monsters, Fire is one of the most dangerous monsters of all - a human one. Marked out by her vivid red hair, she's more than attractive. Fire is mesmerising.

But with this extraordinary beauty comes influence and power. People who are susceptible to her appeal will do anything for her attention, and for her affection. They will turn away from their families, their work, and their duties for her. They will forget their responsibilities to please her . . . and worse, crush nations, neglect kingdoms and abuse their power.

Aware of her power, and afraid of it, Fire lives in a corner of the world away from people, and away from temptation. Until the day comes when she is needed - a day when, for her king, she has to stand against not only his enemies, but also against herself . . .

I completely missed the Graceling phenomena. I knew of it, I knew of Ms. Cashore and thought that I'd take my own time to catch up on her writing.

And I'm glad I did. As much as I love and enjoy part of a trend, helping grow an author's reputation for her / his work, I like not being rushed, not running blindly with the crowd.

I got two copies of Fire given to me - one by Gollancz UK and one by my friend Sarwat Chadda (Devil's Kiss author) upon his return from BEA in the US. I loved the UK copy so much that it's sitting pristinely on my shelf, next to Graceling (equally pristine) whereas the US copy of Fire has been read and re-read.

Author Kristen Cashore has an incredible talent for characterisation and world creation. Rich in detail and political intrigue, Fire's world feels real very quickly. We learn that the young King Nash hangs precariously onto his throne whilst rebel lords plot to unseat him. War is coming and the royal family are keen to do anything it takes to get the upper hand to ensure that the throne remains stable.

Fire (our main character) is breathtakingly beautiful. She's a freak, a monster. Something so wildly exotic and beautiful that men (and women) lose themselves around her if they don't protect themselves against her mentally and physically. She evokes tempestuous emotions in people unprepared to meet her face to face. Some fall in love immediately, others want to kill and destroy her on the spot. Her monstrous nature acts as a mirror, reflecting hatred, violence and malice that others feel towards her when they see her.

It's a compliment to the author's skill where she manages to pull off Fire as a believable and likeable character. We could so easily not have felt any kind of empathy with a creature so almost unbelievable. And yet we do - her humanity is shown in her compassion to others, her deep care for her friends and even for those who mean to harm her. She strives to be better than her father, who had almost destroyed the kingdom. She fights to be herself and not her father's child but unfortunately for her, these things are linked.

Fire is the only human monster left. Her father, also a monster, had been killed years ago when he walked into the cage of one of his favourite caged feline monsters who promptly tore him apart. He had held a position in the previous king's court as advisor and together with the king drove the kingdom to the edge of ruin. it was now up to the King's current heir and family to protect the kingdom against invaders and war. Fire feels that she should somehow help and she does so by aligning herself with the new King Nash and his family.

The royal family held a bit surprise for me. Here was a group of people utterly dedicated to one another and the kingdom. They pulled together as a team, working hard to make Nash the king he could and should be. I was surprised by this. Too often you read the political machinations of brothers and sisters behind the backs of their siblings and it becomes a bit dull, because it's expected. By giving us a family focussed on fixing what their father and Fire's father had almost destroyed we have a formidable force to be reckoned with. And it works really well within the context of the story.

Fire has to find a way to use her powers without betraying herself, by becoming her father and manipulating others around her against their will. She has to find an inner strength and realise that her battles don't necessarily have to be fought alone single handedly. She has strong friends to stand by her side and at the end of day she has to learn that she can't do everything herself and that she has to rely on their skills and friendship as much as they need to rely on hers.

It's a beautifully written novel by a very talented author. Fire is fresh and exciting, something utterly different that will surprise you no matter what your preconceived ideas. I just wish I had more time at my disposal as I'd like to read it again. Very soon. For a third time.