Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley



Michael Vyner recalls a terrible story, one that happened to him. One that would be unbelievable if it weren't true! Michael's parents are dead and he imagines that he will stay with the kindly lawyer, executor of his parents' will ...Until he is invited to spend Christmas with his guardian in a large and desolate country house. His arrival on the first night suggests something is not quite right when he sees a woman out in the frozen mists, standing alone in the marshes. But little can prepare him for the solitude of the house itself as he is kept from his guardian and finds himself spending the Christmas holiday wandering the silent corridors of the house seeking distraction. But lonely doesn't mean alone, as Michael soon realises that the house and its grounds harbour many secrets, dead and alive, and Michael is set the task of unravelling some of the darkest secrets of all.

Dead of Winter starts with an introduction by the main character, Michael Vyner, as he sits down to record the strange and terrible events that shaped his life. Thereafter it shifts into the past, and we meet Michael as he stands at his mother’s freshly dug grave, his only companion the stiff-backed lawyer handling their meagre estate. There he’s given the news that he is to be taken in by the aged benefactor whose support his mother had reluctantly accepted after Michael’s father gave his life to save in a past conflict.

Michael’s understandably less than enthusiastic, and sets off into the bleak, fog drenched fenlands that surround his new home with a heavy heart and no little foreboding. Matters soon take a turn for the strange in Chris’s distinctly gothic manner, and from thereon in Michael’s world becomes one of disembodied whispers, shadowy apparitions and a growing sense of dread as Hawton Mere begins to relinquish the secrets buried within its walls. Michael is a conflicted character, haunted by the grief of his mother’s recent death, plucked from everything familiar and thrust into a strange new world presided over by his even stranger benefactor, a man he can’t help but resent for what he represents. His loneliness and fear are offset by his awkward but genuine interactions with the staff, and the scenes amidst the warmth and bustle of the kitchen contrast starkly with the subtle malevolence that grips the rest of the house and each is enhanced by the other. It’s cleverly done and very effective.

Dead of Winter is a delightfully dark gem and reaffirms my opinion of Chris as a masterful storyteller. His voice is very distinctive and like his previous works, it begs to be read aloud on a dark and stormy night - an audio version would go on my wishlist in a heartbeat.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Firedrake - Nick Kyme


When Chaplain Elysius of the Salamanders is taken captive by Dark Eldar, he faces a fight for survival at the hands of these cruel aliens. The Firedrakes of 1st Company attempt a daring rescue mission, but much more is at stake than the Chaplain’s life. He holds the key to secrets buried beneath Mount Deathfire, secrets that could reveal the damnation – or salvation – of their home world. The Salamanders must penetrate the Port of Anguish and defeat the xenos threat there if they are to unveil the mysteries within the Tome of Fire. Meanwhile, Dak’ir battles to survive the brutal Librarian training, and in his visions lies an even darker future…

Firedrake is the second book in Nick Kyme’s Tome of Fire trilogy and picks up shortly after the events of Salamander. It kicks off with Chaplain Elysius leading the Salamanders as they prosecute a bloody campaign against the sadistic Dark Eldar who aren’t behaving quite as they should be. . there’s little to prepare Elysius and his squads for the uniquely Dark Eldar ambush that awaits them. While they’re struggling for survival in a nightmarish cityscape riddled with hunting parties, cannibalistic vermin and shifting geography, Dak’ir is coming to grips with his new role as Librarian under the rigorous tutelage of Pyriel, who is realizing the potency of Dak’ir’s gift.. a gift which lies at the centre of an ancient prophecy that could spell either the doom or the salvation of their Chapter.

And that’s just the start of it. There’s so much crammed into it that I’m not going to try covering it all here- you’ll have to take my word that there’s no shortage of blistering action, savagery, heroism and betrayal. Otherwise this piece will be at least 3+ pages long, and neither do I want to give anything away. Nick’s worked hard to infuse the book with a sense of dramatic urgency that translates in frantic page turning and I don’t want to dilute that. He puts his cast of characters, both new and familiar, through hell and offers no assurances that any of them are actually going to make it, but those that do won’t be the same either, and it’s good to see them growing in reaction to their experiences.

He keeps a tight rein on the various threads, weaving them around each other but keeping each distinct, which is no mean feat given the amount of cool stuff crammed between the covers. I’d strongly recommend you read Salamander before approaching Firedrake- once you open it, it won’t let you go until you reach the end.

The picture above doesn’t do Cheoljoo Lee’s awesome artwork justice- you can see a larger version here and read an extract of the book here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

OUP event with Joss Stirling, Rhiannon Lassiter and William Hussey

It was such a treat to be invited to an OUP event.  MFB turned up en masse - Sarah (Essjay) Mark and myself arrived at The House of St Barnabas in Soho and were shown up the grand staircase to where the event was being held.

We immediately zoomed in on old friend of the blog, William Hussey who wore a rather fetching demon familiar on his shoulder.  Or was it a growth?  We ogled the mock-up of his new novel coming out in 2011 called Witchfinder: Gallows at Twilight.  He let spill some info about upcoming books and a new series.  I got shivers.  Sometimes I wish I had a time-machine to go ahead in time, nab the books, read them and then be all smug about it in the present. 


William Hussey, author of Witchfinder

Then I abandoned Mark and Sarah to their own devices and tracked down Joss Stirling for a brief chat.  I finished reading Finding Sky just last week so the story is still pretty fresh in my mind.  Joss knew who I was (!!!) and knew of MFB (YAY!) and before I could even chat to her about her writing she said that she can tell how much fun we have on MFB reviewing books - she could tell that we did it for the sheer love it.  I have to say that this was the coolest thing I've had anyone tell me in a long time. 

I chatted to Joss briefly at first - it was a quick: I really loved Finding Sky and found that I really liked the setting.  I felt that the characters were really rich and different but I also thought that the setting of their town worked well as it gave us UK readers a definite glimpse of small town America.  Joss quickly agreed and mentioned that she fell in love with Colarado during their West to East trip across the States.

We had to separate at this time as more people needed to chat to her.  I discovered that the lovely Mr. Steve Feasey had turned up in the meantime and it was the funniest thing - having been a fan of his for so long, because of his Changeling books, and having emailed him for so many years, suddenly I see him several times within a few days.  That is fate.  Truly a charming guy - we'll be part of his blogtour for his fourth Changeling book! Aroo!


Rhiannon Lassiter reading from the pages of her new novel



A whole group of my bloggery friends turned up too - another Sarah, Lyndsey,  Becky, Sammee, and Caroline but sadly, we had no chance to chat!  Next time, for sure.  I am also really chuffed to have hung out with my good mate Darren from Bookzone for Boys

The lovely Michelle Harrison was there too, looking incredibly glamourous.  I introduced fan-girl Essjay to her and we got to chat to Mich for a bit before we oozed away to go mingle some more.

After the readings, I got to chat to Rhiannon Lassiter (whose mum is the amazing Mary Hoffman) and I confessed that I randomly bought a copy of Bad Blood last weekend.  The eerieness freaked me out.  What a lovely talented young woman (I can say this as I'm older than her) and we spent a good few minutes chin-wagging.  We discovered a shared love for David Gemmell.  Mark and I beamed at her like crazy people! Our estimation of her rose even more and bumped around the ceiling by then.


Joss Stirling showing off Finding Sky
Throughout the evening I got to catch brief chats with Joss.  And here is a bit of an exclusive:  turns out I've read Joss's other books in the past.  She also writes under the name Julia Golding.  Julia Golding of Cat Royal, Wolf Cry fame.  How cool is that?  It turns out that she wanted to write something darker for an older audience and purposefully chose Joss Sterling as a pseudonym.  It also makes life easier for her to wear her different names and keep her two different careers / personas separate.

I loved chatting to Joss.  She is wonderfully charismatic and you can just tell that she's a good storyteller.  You know how some people really just give off the storyteller vibe?  Joss has it in spades.

We were some of the last to leave, as usual and as we were waved farewell, we were handed a goodie bag... 

Here's the deal - we have one copy of Finding Sky to give away, which came from the goodie bag.  Like with Infinite Days competition, I want you guys to enter this competition and tell me names of dark fiction - adult or kids - in both book and film format. I am a seasonal reader and need to get some darker fiction to read.  Sadly, this book is NOT signed (I stupidly didn't think about that!) but it is still a stonking good read.  My review will appear over at WriteAway shortly.

Competition Rules:

UK only.
Enter by leaving comments telling me about darker fiction you've read - horror, urban fantasy, lit-horror, I want to hear it all.
Remember to let me have a twitter / website where I can contact you if you win.
The competition closes next week Friday, 5th November 2010.

GO!


And make sure to visit Jenny from Wondrous Reads to follow Joss's blog tour on the 29th. 

Ash by Malinda Lo

In the world of ASH, fairies are an older race of people who walk the line between life and death, reality and magic. As orphaned Ash grows up, a servant in her stepmother’s home, she begans to realise that her beloved mother, Elinor was very much in tune with these underworld folk, and that she herself has the power to see them too. Against the sheer misery of her stepmother's cruelty, greed and ambition in preparing her two charmless daughters for presentation at court, and hopefully Royal or aristocratic marriage, Ash  befriends one of these fairies–a mysterious, handsome man–who grants her wishes and restores hope to Ash's existence, even though she knows there will be a price to pay. But most important of all, she also meets Kaisa, a huntress employed by the king, and it is Kaisa who truly awakens Ash’s desires for both love and self-respect...Ash escapes a life with her grim and self-serving stepmother and finds her beloved one...

ASH is a fairy tale about possibility and recognizing the opportunities for change. From the deepest grief comes the chance for transformation.
Ash is on first reading a very quiet book.  There are no blazing battles, no in your face moments of shock and horror.  It is as you sit through the story that you realise that what you're reading is far more than what you expected and also more unusual.  
Obviously, reading the above synopsis you will notice that instead of Ash falling in love with the handsome prince, she instead is captivated by the King's huntress.  I loved this!  Such a wonderful spin on the usual tale which really lifts this lovely story into its very own. 
The author, Malindo Lo, has this ability to draw you into the story as it is deeply atmospheric, making use of what is to hand: the forest near Ash's house as well as the weather.  
Ash's character emerges slowly as she comes to realise her own self worth and that she can make her own fate and that, yes, there is a price to be paid. The question is: are you prepared to pay it to gain your heart's desire or are you going to refrain from following your heart and just give in?
As she learns more about who her mother was, Ash gains more knowledge about her own abilities.  Her meetings with the mysterious fae lord becomes very poignant, especially when his story is revealed, later in the novel.  It is one that immediately creates empathy for him, yet it awakens concern in you as the reader for Ash's future. 
The fact that Ash feels attracted to the vibrant and slightly wild Kaisa is never played down.  Kaisa is a rich, roiling character that I immediately felt drawn to.  She is sweet, charming, wild and clever.  She brings to Ash and she brings to the story, another element, the one of change and danger.  She is the catalyst and the one I felt very strongly towards.  
Their relationship is sweet and hesitant and it takes Ash some time to figure out that this can in fact be something she can reach for.  Being the servant in her stepmother's house she is treated with careless negligence and called upon to do awful menial tasks.  I have read some Cinderella reworkings in which the girl's homelike is so over the top bad, you actually stop caring.  Ms. Lo reigns in the excessive mistreatment and allows us a few pertinent glimpses only.  This really works in that we feel deeply for Ash and her situation.  She characterises the stepmother and her daughters with a few bolds strokes through their actions - these are wonderful examples of show not tell moments and really, it moves the story along without a glitch. 
There is much to love about Ash.  The ending is bittersweet and just perfectly fresh and different. It really surprised me and I will definitely recommend this retelling of Cinderella for older teens and adults who are fond of fairytale reworkings.  There are several of them out at the moment but Ash is unique on this front because we have a main character that genuinely does go through the mill and comes out stronger and with a true heart at the end.  
Find Ms. Malinda Lo's very excellent website here.  She has written some amazing pieces about LBGT characters in fiction for YA readers on her blog.  Do stop by her website - she really is an amazing writer.  Also, she is currently showcasing the cover of her new upcoming novel: Huntress.  Ash is out at the moment, available from all good booksellers. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hellboy - Masks & Monsters - Mike Mignola, James Robinson, Scott Benefiel, Jasen Rodriguez



Hellboy joins forces with Batman and Starman in an adventure that takes them from the rooftops of Gotham to the steamy jungles of the Amazon, to rescue the first Starman, Ted Knight, from a secret Nazi organization that plans to use him to resurrect an elder god. Next, Hellboy travels to Arcadia in search of Ghost, a spectral vigilante caught up in a web of intrigue orchestrated by an ancient mask.


How could you not love this - Hellboy.  Batman. Starman. Kicking butt and well, kicking more butt and putting some gods back in their boxes. 


As some of you may know, I am a big Hellboy fan. I love the world, the concepts and think Mr. Magnola is a pretty cool dude.  I also really like Batman and appreciate Bruce Wayne's struggle with his identity and such.  And mixing these guys up, with Starman (and his son) and then throwing in Ghost at the end of the graphic novel, is a fan-girl's dream. 


Some nasty Nazi clones grab hold of Ted Knight, the older Starman and drag him off for some nefarious purpose.  Batman accompanies Hellboy as they puzzle out what's going on exactly, but with the Joker going a bit mental in Gotham, Batman can only send Hellboy on his way with the use of one of his private planes.  Accompanying Hellboy is Starman Jnr.  I liked Starman - his focus was entirely on getting to his dad but he had enough time to try and figure out Hellboy and what the Nazi's wanted.  He was more than the sum of his parts.  I liked that a lot.  Hellboy of course dominated the story as he is the focus in both these stories - with his single focus: find out what the Nazis want with Ted Knight.  And once Hellboy and Starman figure it out (raising of a slumbering god) the good old monster smashing starts.  


Both these stories are fast and furious - the drawings are excellent and I loved the colours used to show the darkness of Gotham and the creepiness of the Amazon as they track down Starman. 


The final story is a bit of an odd one and my least favourite of them all yet it features Ghost who I really do quite like. Ghost is basically completely bamboozled by some nasties to take down Hellboy so that said nasties can secure his Hand in order to unlock the gateway / dimensions.  The action sequences is quite good but honestly, the final story is the one that lets this cool little trilogy of short stories down.   Ghost and Hellboy don't play well together - and I feel that they can be made to appreciate each other more but naturally, it is a more interesting story to have them be conflicted.  


Masks and Monsters is a quick fun read - showcasing some favourite heroes from other writers.  I'd definitely recommend it and to be honest, maybe I'm being a bit harsh on Ghost and on her story.  I'd like to hear what others think of this selection. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You can't eat a princess by Gillian Rogerson and Sarah McIntyre


I got this from the Crystal Palace Children's Festival and I am smitten.

Princess Spaghetti is preparing for her birthday celebrations but oh no! King Cup Cake got himself abducted by a bunch of human-eating aliens.

Being a can-do kind of of princess, Princess Spaghetti takes matters into her own hands to go and find her dad as the Royal Knights are all less than dedicated. She zooms off in the Royal Rocket to track him down.

Princess Spaghetti at the controls
She finds him...as he's being prepared to be eaten by the bunch of scary aliens!  Using some astonishing princess skills and clever thinking, she rescues her dad, King Cupcake and once back home, she introduces the aliens to chocolate and they indeed learn that eating chocolate is by far better than eating humans.

I loved this concept from start to finish - I mean, think about it: aliens decide to kidnap a king to eat him!  Then his daughter goes on a quest to rescue him, in the Royal Rocket!  And as she's a trained and born princess, she manages to out-think those aliens and rescue her dad and she gets to have her party.

I loved it - it is beautifully illustrated by the very talented Sarah McIntyre and the story is quick and snappy thanks to Gillian Rogerson's clever writing.  It is a feel-good picture book for younger readers.  It was published by Scholastic and is available now.  I am getting a copy for my god-daughters as they are both very keen readers.  I love that the princess is so feisty and can-do.  She reminds me a lot of Kirsty and Ash.  I think, Princess Spaghetti is definitely a girl I'd like to know.  I hope that there are more Princess stories in the near future!

Argh!  Now I'm obsessed - just been to Sarah McIntyre's website and found a whole list of things to do - Princess Spaghetti party invites, making a crown of my own just like Princess Spaghetti..so very cool.  This is Sarah's website and this is Gillian Rogerson's.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Infinite Days Competition Winners

Thanks everyone for your enthusiastic entries and for tweeting about this comp.

I've applied a trusty D8 dice and rolled as follows:

4 = Kulsuma
5 = Ailsa
8 = Pagecrawler
2 = PewterWolf
3 = Splendibird

Please let me know via email (myfavouritebooksatblogspot(at)googlemail(dot)com) what your preferred delivery address is which I will then pass onto the publishers.  Also - add your real names so that you don't receive a random passell addressed to your internet name.

Many thanks again - I hope you enjoy reading Infinite Days.  My copy arrived on Saturday and it looks beautiful!  Also, thanks for the sugestions on vampire titles to indulge in!  There will be reviews.  Be scared!

Eva Ibbotson

I was so shocked to hear of Ms. Ibbotson's death last week. I have only just discovered her and have fallen in love with her writing. I know that so many of you guys loved her writing too - I got inudnated with comments on Twitter which made me feel fuzzy and warm when I tweeted about me reading The Journey to the River Sea back in September.

I've contacted her UK publishers, MacMillan and asked them if MFB can perhaps put something up to commemorate this very talented lady. They have sent me the official obit they had drawn up and I copy it below.

**


Eva Ibbotson, the much-loved and celebrated children’s author, died peacefully on the 20th October 2010 at her home in Newcastle. She was 85.

‘Eva Ibbotson weaves a magic like no other. Once enchanted, always enchanted.’ – Michael Morpurgo

Born in Vienna, Austria, which she noted was ‘a very beautiful city ringed by green hills, and a wonderful place for music and the theatre’, Eva Ibbotson came to Britain in 1934 at the age of eight with her family, refugees from Hitler. They were ‘a bedraggled party consisting of my fey, poetic mother, my irascible grandmother and confused aunt (my father – as was customary in my family – was somewhere else)’.

Eva was the author of many magical, rich and evocative adventures – over 20 novels for children and adults. She was especially well-known for her books’ fantastic creatures, outrageous characters, and brilliant storytelling – all the product of her famously lively imagination and astute observation of human foibles. In a career stretching over 35 years, Eva’s novels touched the hearts and souls of generations of children (and their parents). She wrote with immense wit, economy and elegance – and her deceptively funny, engaging books always pack an emotional punch, whether she was writing for eight-year-olds or young teens. Eva’s own fierce intelligence, self-deprecating humour, and wonderful quick wittedness are reflected in and will live on through her books.

Her success over a generation of writing children’s books was well recorded, and she was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal with Which Witch?, the Smarties Prize with The Secret of Platform 13 and the 2001 Blue Peter Book Award in the Book I Couldn't Put Down category with Monster Mission.

Her novel, Journey to the River Sea, was runner-up in the Guardian Children's Fiction Award, shortlisted for the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award, won the Nestle Smarties Prize and has also been selected as a top 20 ‘brilliant book’ to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this award. This extraordinary book will mark its 10th anniversary in 2011.

The Star of Kazan received the silver award in the Nestle Smarties Prize 2004 and was also shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. The Beasts of Clawstone Castle was published in May 2005 alongside the paperback edition of The Star of Kazan followed by A Song for Summer in 2006, The Secret Countess in 2007, A Company of Swans and The Dragonfly Pool in 2008. Eva continued to enjoy critical acclaim for her writing and was delighted when her latest book, The Ogre of Oglefort, published this year, was shortlisted for Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2010. Eva was writing to the end, and her last book One Dog and His Boy will be published in May 2011.

For Eva, writing was a joy, and she especially enjoyed the research she conducted into the Amazon area for her book Journey To The River Sea – ‘For years I researched that part of the world. I learnt about the ‘rubber barons’ who went out at the beginning of the century to harvest the rubber trees which grew wild in the forest, and who became so rich that they could send their shirts back to Europe to be laundered, and wash their carriage horses in champagne. It was they who built Manaus and sent for famous actors and dancers and singers across the sea to perform in their beautiful opera house. Yet all the time the untamed jungle was on the doorstep, waiting to take over if they failed…


Meanwhile I wrote books for children about wizards and witches and harpies and ghosts – and books for adults about all sorts of things.


But my interest in the exotic world of the Amazon never left me. Journey to the River Sea is my attempt to share this world with you.’

**


It really saddens me that she is gone. But then she left behind fantastic stories to discover and read and share with younger folk and older folk, like me. I am sure she will continue to inspire a great many readers and writers alike. Farewell lovely Eva, your fans - old and new - will miss you.

Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books by Francesca Lia Block


Review Contains Some Spoilers!

Synopsis

Love is a dangerous angel. . . .

In five luminous novels, acclaimed writer Francesca Lia Block spins a saga of interwoven lives and beating hearts. These postmodern fairy tales take us to a magical Los Angeles, a place where life is a mystery, pain can lead to poetry, strangers become intertwined souls, and everyone is searching for the most beautiful and dangerous angel of all: love.

I was watching Story Siren's In My Mailbox one Sunday when she mentioned this book. Cassandra Clare had tweeted Kristi that it was these novels that inspired her to write.



As I'm big lover of Cassandra Clare I decided to check them out. This is a re-release of all five novels in one book: Weetzie Bat, Witch Baby, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys, Missing Angel Juan and Baby Be-Bop. The above cover is available on Book Depository or on Kindle for those in the UK.


I'm not sure what I was expecting but the first few pages surprised me. The style took a little getting used to; it's very lyrical yet sparse. Things are, "slinkster-cool," and people are actually called, "My Secret Agent Lover Man." Probably because of this, each page is rich with description. Even if I wasn't sure what the words meant, the meaning was woven in. In the first book Weetzie (a girl) and Dirk (a boy) meet at school and become close friends. What follows is a fast-forward of their lives, partners and children with magic on every page. Their lives are nonconformist and wonderful but underneath the sugary surface is a dark reality. I wasn't quite sure of the era that the books cover but I felt it was from the 1960's to the 1990's. The author hasn't shied away from the realities of life such as HIV/AIDS, homelessness, child abduction, drug abuse and a million other subjects.

I think my favourite of the five books (although it's so hard to choose and ask me on another day and I'll probably say another) is Missing Angel Juan. The character Witch Baby has one thing that she hold as precious - her boyfriend Angel Juan. When he wants to see more of the world and move to New York she follows and tries to find him. She stays in the apartment of Weetzie's dead father. What follows is a gorgeous yet heartbreaking story of her search. She's aided by the ghost of Charlie Bat and I loved the way that he's more of a character in the books after his death. By helping her he starts to understand more about his own life. It takes place over Christmas and New Year which gives it an extra element of the mystical.

Having said that, Baby Be-Bop is the perfect ending story. It's about Dirk before he meets Weetzie which gives the collection a circular feel. It covers the difficulties he has with his sexuality in such a touching way. We, the reader, already know how his life will end and it makes you want to reach out to him. Again, the ugly side of life is never far from the surface but these books also give hope; for every single thing you see which may make you despair there's a treasure waiting to be discovered.

I lost count of all the magical creatures which run through the stories; witches, fairies, ghosts and demons are everywhere. I would recommend reading with some food on hand too as the descriptions of meals are everywhere from tiny snacks to huge celebration dinners. I'm writing this review with some Doritos to make sure.

I actually kept a note of some of my favourite lines and that's not something I do with many books: -

"My heart is like a teacup covered with hairline cracks. I feel like I have to walk real carefully so it won't get shaken and just all shatter and break."

"I lie on the floor listening for the broken sound inside like when you shake your thermos that fell on the cement."
(Both quotes from Book Four: Missing Angel Juan)

Or

"He was smiling, but his eyes were like dark corners."
(Book One: Weetzie Bat)

I love that last one. Simple words but powerfully put together. Dangerous Angels is a beautiful book full of dark corners. I think I'll need to read it again to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crystal Palace Children's Festival - 23rd October


It was pure fluke that I got to go to this event yesterday.  I was meant to be around town with a good friend of mine but she rang me and cried off with the dreaded lurgy.  So Mark and I flung on some clothes and headed up the road (literally 2 minute drive) to hang out with a bunch of utterly amazing guys and girls who brought the whole festival together.

The books I took with to get signed
Naturally I took all the books I could find by attending authors and got them all signed.  I also bought a truckload more - mostly picture books for me and my god-daughters.   Well, mostly for me, to be honest!

The books I bought and had signed

The one display of books for older readers. 

Sarah McIntyre looking very pleased after her talk 

The Stripey Horse and his friends are drawn by creator Karen Wall whilst Jim Helmore chatted to the kids about their books.

Loot bag! I now own one!

The smalls in the audience utterly captivated by the storytellers. 

Guy Bass chatting about Secret Santa - Agent of XMAS

Mark and I sat in on Guy Bass's talk about Christmas and his new book I received from Stripes to review.  I am so glad we did - I was rocking with laughter at his antics.  Incredibly funny, Guy instantly struck a rapport with his young audience.  Now, when I read Secret Santa for review, I know exactly how the voices are supposed to sound so I'll be able to read it in the exact tone.

After Guy's talk, there was a lunch break.  Mark and I had a quick bite to eat and also hung around the nearly Pet Shop and checked out some lovely reptiles. 

So pretty!
Albino reptile whose long name I completely forget but who is exceedingly expensive but very pretty.


We next headed for the library to sit in on the Horror Talk hosted by some members of the Chainsaw Gang: Sarwat Chadda, Alex Bell, Sam Enthoven, Steve Feasey, Jon Mayhew& Alexander Gordon Smith.  






The talk was very informal - everyone introduced themselves and the books they had written, also mentioning the long / short road to their eventual publication.  There was an interesting mix of adults / kids / teens in the audience.  Because things were so informal, it was really like sitting in on a long rambling chat about writing and getting published with some of your mates.  Questions came spontaneously from the audience and the conversation flowed easily.  I think this may have been the first time some of the Chainsaw Gang actually appeared together and I have to say, they all really ran with each other's comments, filling it on and expanding on it with their own insights and things.  The core topics really were: know what you want to write - fill the book with stuff that interests you and remember everything comes back to the characters, but also do your research when you want to send your writing out.  Find out who represents (agents) the books you write and what publishing house accepts unsolicited manuscripts for the genre you're writing in.   It was great seeing some of the coolest people in the industry chatting about something they love so much.  It made a big impact on quite a few of the audience. 





Alexander Gordon Smith showing off some props from his Lockdown novels. 

Sam Enthoven chatting about his novels Crawlers, The Black Tattoo and Tim: Defender of the Earth. 

Jon Mayhew giving us some lip about Mortlock, his debut novel from Bloomsbury

Steve Feasey striking a thoughtful post during the proceedings. 

Sarwat Chadda contemplating how to make the Chainsaw Gang even scarier.  


Final picture - Alex Millway signing one of his Yeti books whilst his daughter looks on.

This is my second Crystal Palace Children's Festival I attended and I have to say that the event has grown.  Alex Millway, the owners of Bookseller Crow on the Hill, and all the other authors and attendees and helpers, including South Norwood Public Library, deserve a massive thank you for hosting these fantastic events.  There were comic book workshops and Manga workshops which I didn't get the chance to attend but all I can say is, from the attendance and the enthusiasm of those taking part, the day was a great success.  I am incredibly proud of this small festival as it has so many legs it will no doubt grow into a larger festival quite soon.  I had a wonderful time, getting to listen to some great storytellers read from their books.  It was also so much fun watching the smalls get involved with the storytelling.  The parents too, seemed to have a great time.  Their patience was commendable and I really do hope that yesterday created a whole new batch of eager readers and storytellers.

A big thank you to all the organisers and I can't wait for the 2011 event.  Or is that too soon to talk about it?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver



Synopsis:

'What is it? What does it want? Why is it angry with me?'



January 1937.


Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he's offered the chance to be the wireless operator on an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it.


Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken.


But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice. Stay or go.


Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return - when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.


And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone.

Something walks there in the dark.

This was my first ever Michelle Paver book.  I read it in one sitting.  Cover to cover.  Then I went to the Orion's Children's Party, met the author and felt like I should declare my love to her.  In fact, I think I did. Sorry, Michelle!

Michelle Paver is well known for her award winning children's series: The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.  I felt a complete idiot for not reading her before, but have to say, that on the one hand I'm not sorry because I went into Dark Matter with no idea what to expect - both in story / narrative and writing style.

Jack's story is one of an outsider trying to fit in with a crowd of ambitious wealthy young men who are occasionally so wrapped in their lofty ideals that they sort-of forget that not everyone had the opportunities offered to them in the same way they did.  So, although they take to Jack, there is evidence of the social gap between the group and Jack. Jack being a serious and studious type of person, internalises this quite a bit and it is through the intimacy of his diary entries really give us the opportunity to get to know Jack very well indeed.

We realise he is at heart a good guy and not as stiff and socially awkward as he may seem.

What I really enjoyed about Ms. Paver's writing is how finely plotted Dark Matter is.  Every bit of information revealed, every bit of foreshadowing we are handed, is plotted just so, for maximum effect.  As one incident leads to another, until we are left with only Jack at the remote outpost, we never ever doubt the validity and credibility of the story.  It is all real.  It feels real.

Ms. Paver excels at scene setting and I can only imagine what it must have been like for her writing so deeply from her character's perspective.  I know that as a reader I struggled returning to my real world when I had to put the book aside to get up and make tea to continue reading.  It is very unique for me to be able to sink into a novel and feel totally immersed, so that it feels as if you are there.

As Jack's life at the outpost becomes more and more insular, he finds himself bonding with the pack of dogs they brought as part of the expedition.  We know how lonely he is, so that when anything happens, our thoughts are immediately drawn to him and we worry about the dogs - will they survive the storm and the creature that lurks in the snow and darkness?

I can go on and on about this book.  It resonated with me and made me feel deeply uncomfortable - I will never be able to go out after dark in the snow, without feeling something watching me.  This is creepy horror given a new breath of air and by doing so, giving us a brand new amazing author in the genre, lifting the genre from the splatter-gore to something darker, meaner, and far more scary.

And, to be fair, before you ask, the ending is just right.  There is resolution and it is done well and you don't end up thinking that you've been cheated out of something that could have been so much more.

I'm not the only one who has enjoyed Dark Matter - I've noticed people mentioning their reviews and praises for this all over the review-o-sphere.  I am incredibly pleased that this is the case as I really do feel that Dark Matter is something very unique.  This is the perfect present to yourself now that we're going into winter and the need arises for darker, scarier reads.  Trust me: you won't be sorry.

Dark Matter is out now!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

**Infinite Days Competition**

All the UK seems to be waiting on today's spending cuts announcements but here at MFB we've decided to be rebellious and fly in the face of the anxiety and concern and be a bit wild and spendy.

We're offering copies of the beautiful Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel.  There are FIVE copies to be won. 

Some info about Infinite Days to see if you may perhaps be interested in reading it:

**

For 500 years Lenah Beaudonte has been a vampire. 500 years of seduction, blood and destruction. But she is sickened by her dark powers – and longs to feel the sun on her skin, grass under her bare feet, and share the breath of a human kiss. She wants to be mortal again. But is she really capable of being human, after her long years of darkness? Waking up as a sixteen-year-old girl brings Lenah many things – the life she has missed, taste, touch, love. But a vampire soul is not easily shed. And her coven – the four vampires she led in decadence and thrilling destruction – want their queen back . . .

About the author:

Rebecca Maizel lives in Rhode Island, a fact which will become significant to readers of this book! She is currently studying for an MFA in writing for young adults in Vermont. INFINITE DAYS is her first book.

**

I love the sound of this.  I've not read Infinite Days yet but I've done some research and found Jenny's interview with Rebecca which is just ace and then this review over at Fantasy Book Review.

The competition is spit-easy: merely comment below (make sure to link your website / twitter name so I can find you!) and tell me what vampire books and movies you love - be as commercial / recent / old or obscure as you like.  I'm actually looking for recommends so would love to hear what you have to say! 

The Rules:

1.  UK entrants only, please, for this one.
2.  One entry per person! 

And....go!

Edited to add: I'll let the competition run to Monday, 25th October.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Entice - Carrie Jones


Just heard from Bloomsbury that one of MFB's fave writers Carrie Jones has her new book out VERY soon.

The new novel is called Entice and it is the third in her series featuring her main character, Zara.

This is from the PR document:

Zara and Nick are soul-mates – they’re meant to be together forever. But that’s not quite how things have worked out. For starters, Nick is dead, and has been taken to Valhalla, a mystical resting place for warriors. If they can find the way there, Zara and her friends will try to get him back. But even if they do, Zara has turned pixie – and now she’s Astley’s queen. Will Nick still feel the same way about her?

Meanwhile, more teenagers go missing as a group of evil pixies devastates the town of Bedford. An all-out war seems imminent and Zara and her friends need all the warriors they can find . . .

Ever gripping, Carrie Jones takes the suspense up a notch with Entice. Full of romance, tension and ass-kicking adventure, readers will be hungry for more!  

Keep up to date here with the main website.

This will take you to a sneak peak of Entice that is being published in Jan 2011 and do pop by Facebook if you want to be kept up to date with Zara and her world.  And just in case you don't know WHO Carrie Jones is...this is her website.

And of course, here are the MFB reviews for Carrie's books that we've read and loved. Notice that we loved Need so much, we reviewed it twice.


Stay tuned for an upcoming review.  Essjay and I will be thumbwrestling for this one, I think!

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh



Synopsis



And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
-- from "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe

At once an homage to one of America's greatest writers and a page-turning psychological mystery that is equal parts horror, humor, and romance, NEVERMORE is the story of Varen -- a Poe-fan and goth -- and Isobel -- a cheerleader and unlikely heroine. When a Lit. project pairs the two together, Isobel finds herself steadily swept into Varen's world, one that he has created in his notebook and in his mind, one where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life. Isobel slowly learns that dreams can be much more powerful than she'd ever expected, and that pain and despair come in all sorts of shades. As labels of "goth" and "cheerleader" fade away, she sees more in Varen than a tall, pale outcast, and a consuming romance is braced against the ever-clearer horror that the most terrifying realities are those within our own minds.

When Isobel has a single chance to rescue Varen from the shadows of his own nightmares, will she be able to save him -- and herself?

I don't know a great deal about Poe, never studied him at college or knew a much, if anything about his life. It didn't affect my enjoyment of this book one bit except that I've vowed to start reading some of his work. This will probably be quite a gushy review, be warned!

Isobel is a cheerleader, Varen is a goth and their forced pairing for a literature paper horrifies both of them. Isobel needs a good grade though, to ensure that her place on the cheerleader squad isn't at risk. He writes his number on her hand - an action that kick-starts a sequence of events that leads them both into terrifying nightmares that become reality. Isobel's "friends" react badly to the pairing, if they hadn't have done so the part of Isobel that stands up for what's right may not have been awakened. They're horrified that she is working with him and are merciless of what they believe to be her lack of loyalty to them.

I thought that the dark edge in this story would come from the alternate, dreamlike Poe world that Varen had created and whilst this is true Isobel's friends provided a great deal of sinister moments. The mechanics of high school cliques is shown at its ugliest and Isobel suffers simply because she's not prepared to ridicule Varen in a way that the majority thinks is appropriate. She sees beyond his surly exterior and starts to notice little things about him: his graceful hands, intense gaze and intriguing writing in his notebook. Varen is a fascinating and complex character, I have to admit to having a crush on him. I found myself willing them to get together as everyone around them turn against them.

I say everyone, but this brings me to the secondary characters. Gwen is Isobel's only supporter. Prior to meeting Varen, Isobel's only interaction with Gwen was that they shared neighbouring lockers. Isobel realises that Gwen is a pretty cool and individual girl. Isobel's parents play a big part in Nevermore. I found it refreshing that she has a good relationship with them and that it's portrayed so positively. Awful boyfriend, Brad, is suitably hateful and I found myself wanting to shake Isobel's dad for not seeing him for what he is.

As the story unfolds the world of Poe and reality start to mix with disturbing results. One of the many things I loved about it was that Isobel stayed true to herself throughout. She loves being a cheerleader and I would have been disappointed if she'd decided to leave it behind. Varen and Isobel are completely different but neither of them compromise themselves to be together. I found Nevermore to be brilliantly written, haunting and beautiful. It's my favourite book of the year so far and I can't imagine anything topping it. Excuse me while I head off to hunt out some Poe.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

Synopsis:

Ned Marriner, fifteen years old, has accompanied his photographer father to Provence for a six-week "shoot" of images for a glossy coffee-table book. Gradually, Ned discovers a very old story playing itself out in this modern world of iPods, cellphones, and seven-seater vans whipping along roads walked by Celtic tribes and Roman legions. On one holy, haunted night of the ancient year, when the borders between the living and the dead are down and fires are lit upon the hills, Ned, his family, and his friends are shockingly drawn into this tale, as dangerous, mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, claiming and changing lives.

I have been aware of Guy Gavriel Kay - obviously - for a long time but have never actually read any of his books.  Until I wandered into Waterstone's recently and spotted the paperback of Ysabel.  That cover wooed me and I tucked it under my arm and started reading it when I got home. 

I took it with me to the Dordogne and the one thing I regret is not being able to read in a car.  I would have been able to finish it in one long sitting, during those long hours of drive.  However, it gave me the chance to read it in France, not in Provence, mind you, but pretty damn close.

Ysabel really surprised me.  I did not expect the comfortable home life the author created for Ned, his father and his father's various assistants as they go about their various location shoots in Provence.  There was a lot of banter within this group and the way Ysabel's been written, from Ned's perspective (third person point of view really, but with Ned as the main character) the reader is drawn into these people's lives.  The people you meet on the page are the people you meet on the page - little back story to be had but it really made the story immediate and also intimate. 

Personally, I do struggle with books that have a large cast because I sometimes forget who is who and what each is supposed to do / be about and I think a lot of other readers feel the same.  However, the cast in Ysabel is around eight people, with two more "supernaturals" thrown in, yet all of them have very distinct personalities and I found it no difficulty at all, keeping track of everyone, even when I wasn't reading it, merely thinking about it.

Ned's friendship with Kate (a fantastically nerdy girl who I grew to like a lot) is a new thing keeps them both fresh in the reader's mind.  Ned is a cool kid - very much aware of the outside world, technology and he is an okay student but an excellent athlete.  The nerdy Kate forms a great companion and foil for him. 

Ned is accompanying his father, Edward Marriner, on a photographic trip to compile a coffee table book.  With them is Melanie, Marriner Snr's very competent assistant and two others, who form the rest of his road crew.

Ned is left to his own devices and wanders through a cathedral when he meets Kate.  There is an instant connection between the two young people and I smiled several times as their chat.  It is here that they meet a mysterious man coming up from below the cathedral which itself had been built over some ancient Roman ruins.  Something goes "click" in Ned and it is as if he has a peculiar connection to the cathedral and the stranger.  The stranger refuses to tell them what he's been doing there, save to say that he's on the trail of an enemy.  Ned and Kate refuse to take the stranger at face value.  He's acting just that bit too weird for his own good and add to that Ned's peculiar feelings about him and the area.  As Kate is there when it happens, she is drawn into Ned's determined quest to figure out what is going on. 

**minor spoilers**

But briefly, to explain: two male characters from 2600 years ago have been warring through time to gain access to the enigmatic Ysabel.  The two, Phelan and Cadell have been rivals for her affection through all this time - they are reborn / awakened to fight their battles over and over, having started when Ysabel's original incarnation chose Phelan, a stranger / foreigner, over Cadell as her new partner, back in ancient times. Ysabel never returns in her original form - she takes over the body of a young woman of the time the "game" starts anew, basically enslaving someone else whilst she inhabits her body. And now, Ned is somehow involved as he can sense both Phelan and Cadell and Ysabel.

**minor spoilers over**


Throughout the weirdness we are aware of Ned's mum being abroad, working for an aid programme in war torn countries. And it is only when Ned's aunt turns up, and she explains to Ned that like him she can sense and know things that others can't begin to feel or understand that matters kick up a higher notch.  His aunt and mum no longer speak, having had a massive falling out when they were much younger (here we have some back story, but it is kept vague still) as his mum always thought her sister was putting on a"show" of being psychic and all New Age.  And because of the way things are turning out for Ned, being attacked by wild wolves at a local viewing point and becoming ill the nearer they go to an ancient field of battle, he urges his mum to please come and be with them as things seem to be going downhill fast. 

I've revealed far too much and I feel that I haven't quite managed to pull of putting the plot together for you even after all of that!  It's just, to me, Ysabel was a great holiday read - intricate, with a wonderful setting and interesting characters.  It surprised me that it was actually in the adult sci fi / fantasy section in my local Waterstone's because Ned, as the main character, is a mere fifteen, going on sixteen years old.  So a lot of his story will resonate with teen readers too, especially if they are looking for something contemporary with a historical twist, but still a bit supernatural.  But, I hasten to add, before this puts off any adult readers - the narrative is compelling and has enough body to its bones to satisfy adult scrutiny.  

This is the authorised Guy Gavriel Kay website.  Ysabel is out to be find in all good bookshops and online - especially in this very lovely cover.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Foyles: Video Book Awards & Foyles: Demons & Angels 31st October

Friday evening I was lucky enough to attend the Video Book Awards hosted at Foyles in conjunction with Random House, The Bookseller and The National Film and TV School.  There were four winning videos for the following books:

Blood's A Rover by James Ellroy
Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
Blood Harvest by SJ Bolton
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

The evening was a celebration for the four film makers and their crew who had come this far and it was also to hear who was the overall winner out of the four.

We viewed all four book trailers (watch them here) and then the winner was announced:

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo.  A massive congrats to the two talented film makers and their hard working crew:  Chris Moon and Yasmine al Naib.

Yasmine al Naib accepting the prize, whilst her colleague Chris Moon looks on.


I am very pleased to have been invited to this event, so thank you, Lynsey from Transworld for putting my name forward.  I had a lovely time and it was really interesting to attend this event, to see more of the marketing side of the publishing industry.  If you've not had the chance to do so, do check out the four winning book trailers.  Personally, I was all for Hypothermia or Blood Harvest to win.  And honestly, I still think one of those two should have won.  However, be that as it may, a massive congrats to two worthy winners and I look forward to seeing more of their work in the near future.

**

I also got the chance to chat to Neil and Jenny, two of the hardest working booksellers I know, before the event, downstairs in the kids and teens department.  Neil and Jenny, along with Sam, run the kids' department at Foyles.  Later this month, on the 31st October, they are hosting a Demons & Angels event starting at 2pm.

Authors in attendance will be:

Sarwat Chadda
Sam Enthoven 
William Hussey 
Cliff McNish 
LA Weatherley 

I got a sneak peak of the goodie bags that the audience stand the chance to win.  Sadly, my photo does not do the pretty shinies any justice but take my word for it: they are exceedingly pretty.



What I love about going into kids department at Foyles is how well they know their department and are always so keen to recommend books.  And not just the obvious choices, but really the slightly more obscure books that you may walk past without looking at them twice.

I will be attending the event on the 31st along with some other bloggy reviewers and geeky readers.  And of course, I will report back with pictures of any loot I may acquire along the way.  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, enjoy the piccies below.

The official window display outside of Foyles

Another view of the Foyles window

I love how all these books give the perfect flavour for October!

Their display in store - and I apologise for the stupid glare in this photo! I'll do better. 

I couldn't resist a photo of the white covers for the Twilight saga.  Say what you will, they look pretty!