Thursday, March 31, 2011

Scorpia is here!

How pretty is this?

Today is the day Scorpia Rising is published by Walker Books. Now, I've personally seen 3 posters at Tottenham Court Road underground station and did a tiny squee of happiness when I did.

Having met Anthony Horowitz via an event that Bookzone (Darren) dragged me to, it would be REMISS of me not to add the photo of my signed copy to the blog. And yes, I am bragging.




Please do pop over to the official Alex Rider website and also check out the very cool range of movie-style trailers Walker had come up with for this, the final Alex Rider novel. The first chapter of Scorpia Rising will also soon be up to read on the official website.  What are you waiting for?  Go!

Oh, but wait - there is more.

Mr. Horowitz will be appearing to do signings for Scorpia Rising at:

Thursday 31st March, 5pm

WHSmith, The Mall, Cribbs Causeway, Bristol


Saturday 2nd April, 1pm
Waterstones Oxford, William Baker House, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3AF


Saturday 9th April
11am, Muswell Hill Children’s Bookshop, 29 Fortis Green Road , Muswell Hill, London, N10 3HP
3pm, Lion and Unicorn Bookshop, 9 King Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1ND

Just seen that Bookzone has his review of Scorpia Rising up on the blog.  Okay, now go.

Eternal Rider by Larissa Ione


The prophecies were there but no one listened. Until now. They are the Lords of Deliverance and they have the power to usher in Doomsday . . . or prevent it.



His name is Ares, and the fate of mankind rests on his powerful shoulders. If he falls to the forces of evil, the world falls too. As one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, he is far stronger than any mortal, but even he cannot fight his destiny forever. Not when his own brother plots against him.


Yet there is one last hope. Gifted in a way other humans can't - or won't - understand, Cara Thornhart is the key to both this Horseman's safety and his doom. But involving Cara will prove treacherous, even beyond the maddening, dangerous desire that seizes them the moment they meet. For staving off eternal darkness could have a staggering cost: Cara's life.

I have not read paranormal romance for the longest time but I knew of the author, as I follow her on twitter (@larissaione) and I know she has a lot of dedicated fans. Also, I am very much missing Supernatural (tv show) and subsequently thought I'd give Eternal Rider a whirl and boyo, what an incredibly ride it was.

Firstly, what is apparent right from the start is the amount (and quality) of world building that Ms. Ione had done for her series.  The Lords of Deliverance is her second series, her first being the Demonica series.  So she already has this intricate world that she's already built up for her characters.  The rules have been set and the mythologies and boundaries have been drawn. 

The reader (me in this instance, having no previous knowledge of her Demonica books) is thrown in to the heat of things, right from the start of the novel.  We meet Ares, one of the soon to be Four Horsemen of the apocalypse.  As the product of a union between Lilith (a demon) and an angel, at the dawn of time, Ares and his siblings are cursed (after wreaking havoc on earth) to usher in the Apocalypse once their Seals are broken.

And each of their Seals happens to be different. And in Ares's instance, his seal through various machinations, becomes closely tied with a modern day young mortal woman, Cara's, life.  The book is populated with a strong secondary cast, characters whom I suspect are from the Demonica books.  It didn't bother me in the slightest - I felt that my reading experience was uncluttered and as I was new to the world, I had no preconceived ideas and found finding out about Ares, his brother Thanatos (Death) and his sister Limos (Famine) and the other one, Reseph (Pestilence) was great fun.  (There is a reason why Respeh/Pestilence is the "other one").  But you'll have to read Eternal Rider to find out why.

I felt - this is going to sound weird - cushioned by all the back story what had gone before.  I found myself completely suspending my disbelief as I had confidence in the author to spin me a great yarn.  And that she does by the bucket load.  The relationships she describe between these immortal beings and how they fit in in the scheme of things left me keen to read the next novel in the series.

There is no info dumping - or if there was, I honestly can say I didn't notice it.  Everything remained tight and within the context of the story.  Ares's character is so serious and so deeply brooding, as it befits the lord of War, that when Cara occasionally gets the better of him, you can't help but applaud her.  He is a wonderful alpha male character and I loved how Ms. Ione portrayed him as this wild unpredictable force who has this internal compass of right and wrong that guides him.  He knows his strengths and his weaknesses and as all good war leaders, he adapts and strengthens his battle plans as things go awry.

There are some knee-melting love scenes between Cara and Ares so this is definitely not for younger readers.  And whilst the love scenes are great, they don't go on for pages and pages and pages, until you want to skip them.  Instead, they are written with even more control than the rest of the narrative and the writing goes a bit...lyrical and poetic and I loved it.  It honestly fitted the context of the storyline and I liked that both Cara and Ares had the strength and capacity to be moved by this intense relationship that sprung up between them.

There are several strands to the plot and honestly, by tugging on one in the review, more will be given away that I feel is fair.  So, trust me when I say that the synopsis above, taken from the Piatkus site, covers maybe  the tiniest bit of what happens in Eternal Rider. 

And if, like me, you've not read a paranormal romance for a long time, and you feel in the mood to get your toes wet, give Eternal Rider a try.  Or, if you've never tried one, and you wonder what they're about, this is a good place to start.  A lot of what Ms. Ione does with her scene setting, characterisation, background and plot is far superior to what I've read in the past and I won't hesitate recommending this.  It's sexy, hot blooded, clever and funny, with great big lashings of supernatural beings and a larger than life cast that is more than up to the high concept of the series.

Eternal Rider is out in the UK on the 7th April 2011 from Piatkus.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hate List by Jennifer Brown


it was just a list. nobody was supposed to die...


Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saves the life of a classmate, but is implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things they hated. The list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.


Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

Every once in a while, a book comes along to shake you out of your apathy. Sherman Alexie's Part Time Indian was a big one for me. Another has been Hate List by Jennifer Brown.

Published in the US some time ago now, Hate List on its surface is about a shooting at an American School.  It must be one of the most horrible things that can happen to any community, but especially to a group of young people, in this instance at Garvin High. What goes on behind the eyes of the killer? What led to this awful act? Who were the victims? And those who survived, how do they survive and go on with their lives, after the fact?

What I loved about Hate List is that Val, our main character, is as confused and torn about everything as everyone else.  She loved Nick, the boy turned killer.  They were good friends as well as boyfriend and girlfriend.  And in any relationship, we like to think that we know our partners.  People look to us for explanation if our husband, boyfriend, lover does something odd or picks a fight with someone.  Exactly the same thing happens here.

People want to know what went so very wrong with Nick that morning when he walked into the Commons and opened fire on various students.  And everyone expects Val to know.  Admittedly, there was the Hate List, that Val started shortly after she came to know Nick.  She wrote down the names of people who annoyed them, slighted them, bullied them.  To Val it was a way to catergorise people in her life.  For Nick, it was clearly something far worse.  It was a genuine Hate List turned into Hit List.

After the attack and during Val's recovery the police questioned her, fully expecting her to fess up that she had something to do with the shooting.  But someone intervenes and explains to the police that in fact, Val was trying to help the victims, she stopped the killings afterall, by tackling Nick.

But honestly, what is done is done and no one is able to see past the fact that Nick and Val were a unit.  Hardly anyone, crucially including her parents, actually believe that she had nothing to do with it.  Take the Hate List for instance - surely anyone who could create something like that was guilty of something.

Val has to face going back to school and all those people in her class as well as the teachers.  She has to put on this incredibly brave front.  She has the semi-support of her mom whom I really came to like.  Wonderfully flawed and fallible, Val's mom really brought the trust issues home to me.  Val's dad just literally disappears in the background (for reasons later revealed) and is a giant ass, basically.  So with this shaky support, Val has to face the scorn, anger and bile from her school mates.  She has one steady rock by her side, that of her psychiatrist, Dr. Hieler.  Charming, genuinely funny and far more clever than Val gives him credit for (initially at least) he manages to get under Val's skin and really shake her into thinking carefully and deeply about everything that transpired.

The story is really, for me, about Val's growth as this tremendous character.  She goes from quiet girl with issues, to victim, to hero, to devastated girlfriend to someone no one is sure of, including herself.  But once she finds herself, her courage, her voice, she's still too much of the Old Val to notice.  And I liked that - I liked that there is indecision, and awfulness and confrontation and not just in verbal confrontation but physical threats and violence, because it parodies real life so much.

This was Jennifer Brown's debut novel.  I am in awe.  The plotting is tightly done.  The characters are wonderfully vivid and felt very real.  Including Nick who we meet in various flash-backs with Val.  We can sort of see what it was that pushed him over the edge, but we are never quite sure because Val is never quite sure.  Nick remains the enigma, but we like him for who is before the shooting.  He is kind, sweet, generous and it looks like he honestly loved Val.   Which makes the shooting even harder to comprehend.

Hate List is a very difficult book to read and not become emotionally involved.  I cried several times - I cried for the awful acts done, I cried because of the lives lost and mostly I cried for Val, having to go through it all.  I cried for the other survivors and for the unfairness of it all.  But I also laughed and felt uplifted towards the end of the book.

The book ends really well - not everything is sunshine and roses, but it ends perfectly for what it is, regardless.  We leave Val and her school friends poised to take steps into their futures.  And who knows what would happen next?

I honestly can say that Hate List blew me away.  Superb writing by a very talented writer who tackled such an awful subject and yet made it about the survivors without bringing sappiness into it.  I'd highly recommend this as one of the best contemporary YA novels I'd ever read.

Find Jennifer Brown's website here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver


Synopsis

There was a time when love was the most important thing in the world. People would go to the end of the earth to find it. They would tell lies for it. Even kill for it.

Then, at last, they found the cure.

Now, everything is different. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Haloway has always looked forward to the day when she'll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But then, with only ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable ...



I think I mentioned in my review for Matched by Ally Condie that I found dystopian novels uncomfortable reading (they make me feel a bit breathless and claustrophobic) ever since I read Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaid's Tale. However, I loved Matched so buoyed up by this success I couldn't wait to read Delirium. The first thing I thought was what a brilliant idea, love as a disease. Lena Haloway is counting down the days until she gets her cure. Until then she lives within the confines of the rules of her community afraid that she may get infected. She's witnessed people screaming and struggling as they are dragged to be cured and even remembers a day when a girl threw herself from the laboratory roof so she wouldn't have to go through with it. In the opening chapters of Delirium Lena is content with her life and accepting of her future.

Lena's best friend is Hana and she's wild and vivacious, determined to make fun of everything and enjoy life. Whilst Lena loves this about her she also fears Hana's wild streak. After all, we know from the opening chapters that there was something wild and different about Lena's own mother which didn't serve her well. At the edge of town there's the perimeter fences beyond which lies the Wilds where the Invalids live - a place to fear. Everywhere Lena looks are cautionary tales about what could happen if she doesn't toe the line. Almost everyone else that surrounds Lena has been cured and she yearns to join them. However, one day she meets security guard Alex who shows her that there's another way of thinking, of living, despite the constraints that society is attempting to force upon them.

I realised something about myself whilst reading Delirium. Lena is initially so concerned with protecting herself that she prevents herself from living. The very thing she fears becomes her whole reason for being and enables her to see her surroundings for what they are and question everything she's been told. I felt a range of emotions whilst reading this book and yes, I did feel fearful for Lena (and scared that I may cry at the end) but it's a beautiful book and I'm grateful to have read it. I discovered that it's important for me to read things that I feel I may not enjoy or, god forbidden, might upset me. If I hadn't read Delirium I would have missed out on a brilliant, thought-provoking and well-written book. I wouldn't have read passages that have stayed with me long after I closed the cover. So, thank you Lauren Oliver for a wonderful reading experience.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

PBS #3 - Bridget Fidget Hold on Tight! by Joe Berger





Bridget Fidget is in a FIX. She forgot to hold on tight to her beloved toy, Captain Cat, and lost him in a shop - disaster! Luckily, her friend Billy is there to save the day AND Captain Cat with his brand-new Superzoom 500 car. Quick, everyone, hold on tight!

With overtones of Shirley Hughes's classic Dogger, this is a hilarious comic caper from Joe Berger, World Book Day Illustrator 2010.


With lovely bright artwork and larger than life drawings, Joe Berger's Bridget Fidget is a great little picture book full of humour and a quest. Quests are 100% my favourite things.

When Bridget Fidget dashes through the Absolutely Best Shop in the World for Spending Shiny Coins (can someone please make a shop called this for real!?) clutching her backpack and shiny coin from the tooth fairy, she pays far less attention to Captain Cat and he bounces straight out of her backpack into the basket of another little girl strolling past.

When her friend Billy points out that Captain Cat is gone, poor Bridget Fidget goes into serious panic mode. She starts hunting for him everywhere but there is no sign of her special one and only. Fortunately Billy comes to the rescue but in the end it is Bridget Fidget who ends up saving the day overall in a great turn of generosity and kindness.

I enjoyed this - it's a very subtle way to teach younger folk (3 - 5 y/o) the value of sharing with those who may not have as much. Also, the language use was a bit reminiscent of Charlie and Lola, so for readers who are starting out, this is a great primer. And, as I said, wonderfully illustrated with Bridget Fidget being a very cute character whom I really liked. I too want to have a Captain Cat and fully expect that mine would be arriving from Dingle Bang's Universe of Toys at any moment.

Bridget Fidget Hold on Tight is has been since 2010 from Puffin.  Find Joe Berger's website here. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jane by April Lindner


Synopsis

Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?

An irresistible romance interwoven with a darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.

I was mooching around the YA shelves of Foyles recently with Liz when I saw this book with its gorgeous cover and those lovely deckle page edges that you sometimes see. Curious, I snatched it up to find out more. It's a modern take on Jane Eyre which I was initially a little dubious about. It's not that I don't think there's room for this kind of adaptation but that it isn't my favourite of the Bronte sister's work. However, after a little more mooching about I found I couldn't put this book down so read the first page or so to get a feel for it. Lindner's writing is quite hypnotic, written in the first person I found I was instantly drawn to the voice of this modern-day Jane.

I was curious to see how the character of the self-contained Jane would translate into the body of a girl in 2011. Would it be believable? Would her choices work? How would the author manage to make Jane modern? Our heroine describes herself as detached and finds it difficult to show her emotions. She's instantly passed over by her mother for her prettier, more outgoing sister. Although her father shows her some affection it's easy to see how she could become so withdrawn. Once she's orphaned she finds that both her sister and brother care little about her welfare so she resorts to finding work as a nanny as she can no-longer afford her college fees. Jane loves classical music and isn't interested in gossip magazines or (I'm guessing) E! News. For this very reason she's picked to be a nanny to rock star Nico's daughter and finds herself heading off to his mansion in Connecticut.

From this point on, although the story was familiar to me I found myself drawn in to Jane's world. Although she is quite withdrawn there's a warmth to her personality that reaches beyond her self-deprecation and lack of experience. She's blunt and forthright with her views and this cuts through all of Nico's ego. Nico is the perfect male lead; a bad boy turned good with a massive secret. He's so used to everyone agreeing with his every word that I could easily believe that he'd be attracted to Jane's simple honesty. Even the age difference between them doesn't feel inappropriate. Jane never drinks as she's only nineteen and she's so level headed that I never questioned her choices.

I loved reading Jane. Everything about it was massively satisfying. As the book progresses she gradually learns more about herself, her siblings and her feelings for Nico. Although Jane hasn't been published in the UK yet it's freely available online so get hold of a copy of the gorgeous hardback whilst you can.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

US vs UK Covers

Totally nabbed from Jenny at Wondrous, as we all know.  But some items are just too good to be passed up.  I happened across this quite by accident and thought to put it up here as a bit of fun.  But also because the US cover is so pretty.


UK Cover

vs



US Cover
I really do like the US cover.  I am fond of the UK one out of loyalty but I like the slightly brooding Holmes on the US cover more.  Also with the Houses of Parliament in the background. 

But am horrified as I tweeted this cover, that someone pointed out that he looked like the Bieber.  I will however be brave and stand my by my (young) man and say: he suits the character very well, indeed.

Savage Scars by Andy Hoare


Dal’yth. The forces of the Greater Good have established a stranglehold on the planet, and the time has come for the Imperium to move against them. The White Scars lead the ground assault against the tau, launching into combat with speed and fury, shedding blood as they gain ground against their enemies. Meanwhile, the members of the Crusade Council are determined to pursue their own agendas, and their politicking and back-stabbing will place the entire war effort in jeopardy. But little do they know that Inquisitor Grand has more extreme measures in mind, and the White Scars must achieve victory quickly or the cost to Dal’yth will be devastating.

--

I had been meaning to read something else when I wandered over to our long suffering bookshelves, but then I glimpsed that cover, and suddenly I was reading Savage Scars instead. Of course, a cool cover only goes so far. If the writing’s not up to scratch the shiniest cover in the world isn’t worth feth all.

So young Mr Hoare is twice blessed- a cool cover, and the ability to put a damn fine book together. ‘Scars has a very down to earth feel about. The characters are still larger than life, but the action feels nice and gritty, and suitably deadly. Firefights aren’t entered into for the hell of it; they’re treated like the military operations they’re supposed to be, each side testing for the other's weaknesses, and exploiting them. The Tau feel like the Tau: their tactics and weapons are consistent with the background, and they’re not just there as something for the Marines to kill. The contrast between their mentality approach and the inexorable ferocity that typifies the Space Marines is starkly and evocatively portrayed.

The lead character, Sarik of the White Scars, is a pragmatic and cunning veteran, and by slowly fleshing his character out Andy also builds up the image of the Chapter as a whole without having to be too obvious about it. Likewise, his treatment of the Crusade Council and their internecine squabbling is done in a series of broad brushstrokes that fills in the gaps without detracting from the thrill of the action, building up a real sense of the political maneuvering and bureaucracy that threatens everything the men on the ground have risked, or given, their lives for.

There are various threads which run through the novel, pulling the three main components together, and these are nicely balanced out and work together to engender a sense of urgency and tension. My only gripe would be about the Inquisitor- I won’t give any spoilers away here but it would have been nice if his motivations and background were fleshed out a bit more, so that you had a better grip on the question of why. Still, it’s a minor whinge and it certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment of ‘Scars.

Job’s a good ‘un! I demand more!You can read an excerpt here and watch the trailer here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Katniss and Ellie - Dystopic Heroines


I don't do this often.  Well, not at all on the blog anyway, but I felt the need to just put this out there for a change. Malinda Lo whom I adore, wrote a great blog about the controversy about who the directors chose to play Katniss in the upcoming Hunger Games movie.  See her blogpost here. My little blogpost is about something altogether different. But it is the same.  A bit.

I am a big fan of the Hunger Games and much has been made of the casting of the very pretty and very talented Jennifer Lawrence as the main character, Katniss Everdeen in the HG trilogy.
   
Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone

Personally, I'm not too fussed about her being blonde or what the majority of readers expect her to look like.  All I want is someone to do this fantastic female character justice and if anyone can, Jennifer Lawrence will do that.  She has an amazing screen presence and with the right training, will be able to live up to Katniss's agility and prowess as hunter / gatherer and fighter.

However, I submit to you someone else who has completely blown my socks off in the movies recently. And I think she would have rocked our world as Katniss.

I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of Tomorrow, When the War Began here in London with some Quercus people, some press/media folk and also, the lovely Bookette.

I am not a watcher of daytime TV and cannot remember the last time I watched a soap of any sort.  So I was completely unaware who the actress was who takes the lead in Tomorrow - Caitlin Stasey - a seasoned actress from a variety of shows in her native Australia.


Caitlin Stasey in Tomorrow When the War Began

Caitlin represented to me what Katniss Everdeen should a) look like and b) act like where you are taken from "ordinary" circumstances and forced into extraordinary circumstances. Wonderfully underplayed and full of pathos, we are with Ellie and her friends as things escalate from a normal life into something practically unthinkable and some very uncomfortable questions about war are asked.

If you have not heard about Tomorrow when the War Began (books by John Marsden and movie out in the UK shortly) I will urge you to read / watch it.  As for the movie, It is not a dystopian movie.  It is a pre-dystopian movie about an unexpected invasion by coalition forces into a plentiful Australia. Before the invasion in the movie, it is a normal world and our characters lead normal if slightly tougher lives than many of us may know.  This gives them the resilience to become the lone fighters they evolve into during the course of the movie.

So, back to Caitlin/Ellie - this is who I would have loved to see in the role of Katniss Everdeen.  She proves that you can be tough, thoughtful, strong, individual and courageous without having to act like a mini-male.** Also, she knows how to handle herself in a fight.  She's pragmatic, a tactical thinker and kicks butt but she is also sensitive and strong and caring.  A great combination for any kind of heroine to have in any kind of action movie.  

And I think that as much as I'd love to see Caitlin in the role of Katniss, we should be grateful that the producers and director chose Ms. Lawrence because boyo, the girl can act.  And if it's a toss-up between looking "right" as the fans perceived Katniss to look, and for the actress to give a creditable performance in the role (everyone can train to be proficient in weaponry and fighting, look at Saoirse Ronan in Hanna who is a tiny slip of a thing) then I'm completely for the pretty blonde chick who can actually act, especially as she can be tanned up a bit and her hair dyed. Who knew that old Legolas in LoRT was actually a buff tanned boy from Canterbury with dark hair and eyes? Although...let's not talking about acting skillz in this instance.

Orlando who can rock blonde locks and blue eyes
In the meantime, for everyone waiting impatiently for THG to start filming and obsess about, hunt down the books for Tomorrow when the War Began and watch the movie when it comes out.

Links to:


**Mini-male clarification from my point of view: Thanks to Anonymous who commented on this: what I meant by mini-male was, a lot of writers tend to create heroines with no femininity, basically using a male hero as a template and just placking on girl-bits and some emo-emotions.  This of course, is very wrong and reprehensible! Both Katniss and Ellie are great rolemodels, super lovely and very feminine yet tough and strong and independent.  True heroines in my eyes.

Awakened by PC and Kristen Cast (Audiobook)


Exonerated by the Vampyre High Council and returned to her position of High Priestess at Tulsa's House of Night, Neferet has sworn vengeance on Zoey. But Zoey has found sanctuary on the Isle of Skye and is being groomed by Queen Sgiach to take over for her there. Being Queen would be cool, wouldn't it?


And what about Stevie Rae and Rephraim? The Raven Mocker refuses to be used against Stevie Rae, but what choice does he have when no one in the entire world, including Zoey, would be ok with their relationship? Does he betray his father or his heart?

I received this in some time ago in Feb and as I personally do not get along with audiobooks I asked on twitter if anyone would like this and a friend of mine, Kenneth immediately said yes! I grilled him to find out if he even knew that this was a teen novel and in the paranormal romance catergory.  I totally got slapped down by Kenneth as he was an avid fan of the books.  That will teach me to pigeon hole my mates!

Subsequently I thought: hey, let's get Kenneth to review this one, and he has.  In his own words:

**minor spoilers alert**

It's been a few years now since I stumbled upon the house of night books by P.C. Cast & Kristen Cast and I am glad that I did!

Here is why:

I was looking for something that wasn’t Twilight! I had read the first of those books and I didn’t like the depressing angst feel that Stephanie Meyer does when she writes and I was between Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris so I was looking for something to fill the gap as it were.

So there I was going through the Audible UK website having credits to use and I stumbled upon the first and second books in the “House Of Night” books and I was hooked.

The way the characters are written realistically and unpretentiously was a breath of fresh air to me, the way that these characters may not like each other and in some case hate each other whilst still being grounded in a world that is recognisable as our own was inspired in my opinion.

(I am an avid tweeter (@kennethwilsonuk if you wish to follow I would love to hear from you.)

Anyway I was on twitter a few weeks back and the Blog-Mistress of Doom (Liz: this is now my official title, people!) aka ( @Lizuk ) {whom is lovely!} ran a competition to her followers with a the first to tweet back who wants to win a copy of the new (HON) audiobook so I tweeted back I did and was lucky to be the first.... though not the only one and with some chuckling on my part I had to prove that I knew about the world of Zoe Redbird & Nyx & Aphrodite; which I did and I was sent the latest book as the prize.

AWAKENED is the 8th book in the House of night series and picks up like all but the first one immediately after events of the previous book BURNED.

We find Zoe and Stark are on Skye recuperating after their epic adventures of Burned and while Zoe is trying to feel whole again after having her soul fragmented and then put back together again, Neferet is up to her no good deeds as always and delves further and further into the darkness that’s been consuming her since the beginning of the series and this descent forms a big part of Awakened!

The said name of the book is multi layered as well and throughout the book these Awakenings become apparent: some are balls out obvious and some are very metaphysical in nature. I was also impressed by the writers and their commitment to their mystical aspects of the world they set up for the series, where pagan and Native American cultures and beliefs combine to be something believable. Thus far, in the whole series I have never questioned what is and what isn’t real in this world - as an agnostic myself that’s an impressive feat I think.

Also, the writers deserve applause for not shying away from issues of sexuality and death, especially the lengths that Neferet goes to, to lure Zoe back from Scotland to Tulsa. What Neferet does to Jack is awful but the way it backfires on her is great - it was a powerful bit of writing.

The way that the book continues the ever more important Stevie Rae branch of the House of Night part of the tale is more and more enjoyable with every book and I look forward to what happens with her and the red vampires and Rephraim in the future.

If there are any negatives about the book it’s that at times there is some story telling problems with the back and fro of the characters but this has been the case since the beginning and doesn’t really take away from the book(s) in general.

The other issue I had was with the narrators “attempt” at Scottish brogue was terrible and each time I heard it was pulled out of the story as I was laughing my ass off. Sadly I don’t think this was intended by the authors as the dialog is perfectly realistic Scottish and if you get this as the audio book be prepared to laugh at those bits but as they are mainly kept to the first quarter of the book then it’s forgivable.

All things said and done this was one of my fave entries of the series to date and I give it

8 out of 10

***

Thanks Kenneth for an awesome and honest review.  Awakened, both the actual physical novel and the audiobook, is out now to buy online / real life shops.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Indigo - A New YA imprint from Orion (Press Release)

Orion Kids have been a force of good in my life, introducing me to a great many top quality authors since I started haunting the kids books section in Piccadilly Waterstone's about eight years ago.

It's been great getting to know Nina and her team of dedicated editors and writers through working on MFB so I am very pleased to be part of the blogging crew who have been asked to let the world know about Orion's brand new YA initiative called INDIGO.



Here is the press release:

The Orion Publishing Group announces INDIGO
A new imprint for young adults with stand-out fiction from new and established voices from the bestcontemporary writers The Orion Publishing Group is delighted to share the exciting news of the launch of INDIGO, the new imprint that will publish a wide variety of genres for teens and young adults by established authors and rising stars.

Launching in September 2011 INDIGO will publish four titles per month.

Fiona Kennedy will be the publisher of INDIGO alongside her role as publisher of Orion Children’s Books, with commissioning editors Gillian Redfearn (also Gollancz) and Amber Caraveo (also Orion Children's Books).

INDIGO will publish fiction for older teen readers focussing on the strengths of the publishing that currently sit on the popular and successful Gollancz and Orion Children's Books imprints.

A stellar list of authors will launch the new venture, becoming our first INDIGO authors:

Mia James, Cinda Williams Chima, Harlan Coben, Kate Harrison, Holly Black, Marcus Sedgwick, Sara Grant, Sally Gardner, Chris Wooding, Anna Kendall, Cliff McNish, Sarah Silverwood, Alan Gibbons, James Dawson, Chloe Neill and Annabel Pitcher.

Fiona Kennedy, Publisher, INDIGO says of the launch:

INDIGO will publish teen fiction with style and poise, as the clutch of starry authors on the list shows. It will give our teen titles an identity and status as a whole, and each book more profile individually. A number of our authors have been writing older novels and INDIGO will give them the support and freedom to develop their work for this readership, as well as giving us the perfect opportunity to extend the range of titles we publish. As always, our list will be one of hand-picked titles that we feel passionate about.

Lisa Milton, Trade MD of the Orion Publishing Group says of the new venture:

Finding growth in this challenging market is difficult, and encouraging children to continue as readers as they become young adults and are faced with myriad distractions is vital to the future health of our industry. INDIGO will publish books for teenagers that challenge, entertain, question and delight. Harnessing the potential of social networking sites we will create a community of Fierce Fiction readers. We are thrilled to launch with such amazing authors, and look forward to attracting even more to our lists.

 
INDIGO will be launched with a comprehensive marketing and publicity campaign that plays on the strengths of the authors and books, and the list itself. A full and wide ranging digital PR and marketing campaign will reach our audience through the medium they most inhabit and value: online, in addition to more traditional routes.

Further details will be released on the list and promotion at an upcoming event.

INDIGO LAUNCH TITLES

SEPTEMBER 2011:


 
DARKNESS FALLS by MIA JAMES
1st September 2011/ Hardback

First they killed her father. Now they're trying to kill her . . .
There are vampires at April Dunne’s school. Not Goths, or Emos in fancy dress. Dangerous, bloodsucking semi-immortals. They run the school. And they're using their influence to recruit smart,rich students - aka 'bleeders' - to their cause.

What is that cause? April isn't sure. But she knows they killed a rock star for it, and innocents who got too close to the truth. One of them almost killed her. But that's nothing to what's coming next.

Gabriel, her kinda-boyfriend, is dying and unless April can find a cure then not only is she going to be boyfriendless, she's also going to lose one of her major allies in the school. And she really needs allies.



SOUL BEACH by KATE HARRISON
1st September 2011/Trade Paperback

An email from her murdered sister sets Alice Forster on a chilling path - to solve the mystery of Megan's death, and the even greater mystery of her life AFTER death.

When Alice Forster receives an email from her dead sister she assumes it must be a sick practical joke. Then an invitation arrives to the virtual world of Soul Beach, an idyllic online paradise of sun, sea and sand where Alice can finally talk to her sister again - and discover a new world of friendships, secrets and maybe even love . . . .

But why is Soul Beach only inhabited by the young, the beautiful and the dead?
Who really murdered Megan Forster? And could Alice be next?


SHELTER by HARLAN COBEN
15th September 2011/ Hardback

The first in an exciting series of young adult thrillers from the master of the hook-and-twist.
Harlan Coben's very first young adult project will link in with the storylines in his up-and-coming adult thrillers as Myron Bolitar discovers that his mysterious tearaway younger brother, Brad, has a son – who is now a teenager.

When our series hero's father, Brad, dies in a mysterious accident in South America, Myron is his closest, albeit estranged, relative left and is assigned to be his legal guardian. Will uncle and nephew be able to live with one another? And will our hero be able to resist getting involved in solving a mystery disappearance at his new high school?

Sadly, the photo of The Warrior Heir will not load.  However, this is a link to Cinda Williams Chima's site.

THE WARRIOR HEIR by CINDA WILLIAMS CHIMA
1st September 2011/ Paperback

An epic battle between good and evil...with Jack Swift caught in the middle.
Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high-schoolers. Until one day Jack forgets his 'medicine'. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great - right up to the moment when he loses control and almost kills another player during the soccer team tryouts.

Jack is about to learn that he is Weirlind; part of an underground society of magical people who live among us. At the head of this magical society sit the feuding houses of the Red and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game - a magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death.

OCTOBER 2011:


MIDWINTERBLOOD by MARCUS SEDGWICK
6TH October 2011/ Hardback

What would you sacrifice for someone you’ve loved for ever?
Have you ever had the feeling that you've lived another life?

In a novel comprising seven short stories each of them influenced by a moon - flower moon,harvest moon, hunter's moon, blood moon - and travelling from 2073 back in time to the dark of the moon and the days of Viking saga, this is the story of Eric and Merle who have loved and lost one another and who have been searching for each other ever since. In the
different stories the two appear as lovers, mother and son, brother and sister, artist and child as they come close to finding each other before facing the ultimate sacrifice.

Beautifully imagined, intricately and cleverly structured this is a heart-wrenching and breathtaking love story, but it also has the hallmark Sedgwick gothic touch with plenty of blood-spilling, a vampire and sacrifice.


DARK PARTIES by SARA GRANT
20th October 2011/ Trade paperback

Sixteen-year-old Neva plots to escape her world where everyone looks the same and no one is allowed to leave in this compelling thriller about identity, trust and freedom.

Neva keeps a list of The Missing - the people like her grandmother who were part of her life but who have now vanished. The people that everyone else pretends never existed.

In a nation isolated beneath the dome of the Protectosphere - which is supposed to protect, but also imprisons - Neva and her friends dream of freedom.

But life is becoming complicated for Neva. She's falling for her best friend's boyfriend - and she's learning more than she ever wanted to know about what might be happening to The Missing...


WHITE CAT by HOLLY BLACK
16 October 2011/ Paperback

The extraordinary new adult fantasy of magic in our world and the price we pay for it
by the author of THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES.

Cassel is cursed. Cursed by the memory of the fourteen year old girl he murdered. Life at school is a constant trial. Life at home even worse. No-one at home is ever going to forget that Cassel is a killer. No-one at home is ever going to forget that he isn't a magic worker.

Cassel's family are one of the big five crime families in America. Ever since magic was prohibited in 1929 magic workers have been driven underground and into crime. And while people still need their touch, their curses, their magical killings, their transformations, times have been hard. White Cat is a stunning novel of a world changed by magic.



THE WIZARD HEIR by CINDA WILLIAMS CHIMA
16TH October 2011/ Paperback

War is coming, and magic is spiralling out of control . . .
Seph McCauley has spent the past three years getting kicked out of one exclusive private school after another. And it's not his attitude that's the problem: it's the trail of magical accidents - lately, disasters - that follow in his wake. Seph is a wizard, orphaned and untrained, and his powers are escalating.

Worse still, Seph makes a discovery: the stories he's been told about his parents' life and death are fabrications. The people he most trusted have been lying to him. Who can he trust, when everyone around him is keeping secrets?

NOVEMBER 2011:



THE DOUBLE SHADOW by SALLY GARDNER
3RD November 2011/ Hardback

A girl tries to free herself from the terrifying double shadow of her childhood and forge her own future, but she is trapped in a memory machine created by her father.

Arnold Ruben has created a memory machine, a utopia housed in a picture palace, where the happiest memories replay forever; a haven in which he and his precious daughter can shelter from the war-clouds gathering over 1937 Britain. But on the day of her seventeenth birthday Amaryllis leaves Warlock Hall and the world she has known and wakes to find herself in a desolate and disturbing place. Something has gone terribly wrong with her father's plan.

Against the tense backdrop of the second World War Sally Gardner explores families and what binds them, fathers and daughters, past histories, passions and cruelty, love and devastation in a novel rich in character and beautifully crafted.




THE DRAGON HEIR by CINDA WILLIAMS CHIMA
3RD November 2011/ Paperback

The final battle is coming . . .
For centuries, wizards have avoided making war on each other for fear of waking the legendary dragon that sleeps at Raven's Ghyll. But it is a new age. The Wizard Houses of the Red and White Rose have united against the Master of Games and keeper of the Dragonhold, and a moment when he and his sadistic son seem poised to seize control of all of the magical guilds. But then everything changes . . .

The final battle is coming, and the magical community of Trinity is about to risk the destruction of everything they care about in order to remain free. The outcome is balanced on a knife edge…

Please note that all final publication dates and jackets are subject to change, and information on ISBNs and price and individual images of jackets and authors will be available on request.

All launch authors may be available for interview and comment: please contact Nina Douglas for further information (020 7520 4318/ 07879 47 66 58 or email: nina.douglas@orionbooks.co.uk or @ninadouglas)

JANUARY 2012:
THE HUNTING GROUND by CLIFF MCNISH
RETRIBUTION FALLS by CHRIS WOODING
CROSSING OVER by ANNA KENDALL
THE DOUBLE EDGED SWORD by SARAH SILVERWOOD

FEBRUARY 2012:
HOLLOW PIKE by JAMES DAWSON
AN ACT OF LOVE by ALAN GIBBONS
DARK MIST RISING by ANNA KENDALL

MARCH 2012:
FIRESPELL by CHLOE NEILL
DARKNESS FALLS by MIA JAMES
RAINING FIRE by ALAN GIBBONS
THE TRAITOR’S GATE by SARAH SILVERWOOD

APRIL 2012:
MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE by ANNABEL PITCHER
A BRIGHT AND TERRIBLE SWORD by ANNA KENDALL

With further titles to follow.

***

*dabs delicately at mouth with napkin after drooling a tad too much*

These titles look so great - am really looking forward to reading some of them and sharing them on MFB.  And also, of course, running competitions in order to spread the word and share the love.

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler

If you could see into the future - would you look? Jenni Green doesn't have a choice. On her way to visit her best friend, Autumn, Jenni suddenly finds she's been transported exactly one year forward in time. Now she discovers that in the year that's gone by, tragedy has struck and her friendship with Autumn will never be the same again. But what caused the tragedy? How did Jenni skip a year? And can she find her way back to the past to try to change what lies ahead? With humour - and her customary light touch - the author of the EMILY WINDSNAP books plays a fascinating game with time, and explores the changes that take place in friendships and families in the aftermath of a disaster.

I received a copy of A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler a little while ago and picked it up on a whim as I've not read a time-slip novel for the longest time.

What struck me immediately was Jenni's voice.  It was fresh, funny, vibrant and real.  Even if she comes across as not the most forceful of people there was a quality to her that really appealed to me as a reader.  She's the side-kick character, really.  The one who follows, not the one who leads.  And yet, Ms. Kessler has really worked hard to create a character that all of her readers could identify with.  We experience her relationship with the far more vivid and vibrant Autumn first hand - here is a girl meant for bigger things, you think to yourself, of Autumn.  She's going places and combined with her equally glamorous and arty parents, we know we're going to see Autumn as the next fashion designer or artist du jour when she is older.

But then, unexpectedly, things change horribly.  On the day Jenni and Autumn are set to go horse riding whilst on holiday, Jenni takes the old rickety lift up to Autumn's apartment and somehow falls between time.  Things are very different when she steps out.  It is a year later and things are awful.  Some terrible event had happened in their personal lives and for the longest time, we follow Jenni around as she desperately scrabbles to make sense of what's gone wrong.

There is a wild change in Autumn and the relationship between the girls has changed too - Jenni is now in the role as carer for Autumn, or rather, that is what is implied by everyone else. 

Jenni feels like she is going mad, trapped in this alternative reality where Autumn and her parents' lives have changed so awfully.  And what's happened to them also affected Jenni and her own parents. 

It is difficult to explain the rest of the plot as it will give too much away, but I can honestly say that Ms. Kessler keeps such a tight reign on the storyline that you can't help but suspend your disbelief and be swept up in the story.  There were some instances where I was very sure Jenni was losing her mind and that she had become this unreliable narrator. 

Jenni's character goes through this tremendous character development from the quiet, shy, reticent one to the girl who takes charge of a situation and almost through sheer will of character and inner strength, reforms what has gone before, to fashion something far better.

I was in tears, at the end of the novel.  Because I was so relieved the way things turned out.  It worked well and the ending made sense and it was great to see how the various strands actually came together through an author's great manipulation.  I'd recommend this for younger readers of say 9+ but I'd also recommend it to aspiring writers who would like to read an intricately plotted novel that promises a great deal but then also actually delivers.

A Year Without Autumn is my first ever Liz Kessler book.  It will not be my last.

Find Liz's excellent blog here.  A Year Without Autumn will be released on 7th April in the UK through Orion.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Embedded by Dan Abnett


 
The colony planet of Eighty-Six looks as dull as all its fellow new worlds to veteran journalist Lex Falk, but when a local squabble starts to turn violent, and the media start getting the runaround from the military high command, his interest is seriously piqued.

Forbidden from approaching the battlezone, he gets himself chipped inside the head of a combat veteran – and uncovers the story of a lifetime. When the soldier is killed, however, Falk must use all his resourcefulness to get back home again… and blow the lid off the whole damn thing.
--
It was always going to be interesting to see what direction Dan went in when he slipped off the Black Library reservation, and I was very pleased to see that he was staying firmly in military sci-fi territory.

Embedded is set on a newly colonized world designated ‘Eighty Six’, and set in a future that’s not so far off as to feel remote, and a bit worn around the edges. There’s no obvious info dump waiting in the shadows, which is nice for a sci-fi. But then the concept of colonization of new planets has been out there for a while, so it’s easy enough to get on board with the basic idea about what’s going on. The finer details are gradually eased in along the way as Falk starts nosing around, the scent of a major story lifting him from the bone-deep fatigue that has become as much a part of him as his cynicism.

What gives Embedded that essential air of authenticity is that Dan understands that whatever gadgets and impressively destructive weapons the soldiers on the ground have available, at the end of the day those are just tools, and it all comes back to the men who wield them. It’s their ability to work as a team that makes the difference between success and failure, life and death. The same is true for the story- it’s the characters that make it work, not the geegaws they’re playing with. And again, this is something he keeps in mind throughout; the main characters are sympathetic, well defined individuals you want to care about, more so when the shit inevitably hits the fan. It’s what makes Falk’s unexpected stint in the veteran’s head work so well.

Having said all that, the weapons and equipment are cool. Many of the weapons are almost familiar (in the way a house cat resembles a sabretooth), likely extrapolated from existing weapons systems, but far nastier than anything you’ve seen before. But there are also some new toys, particularly beam weapons that make Star Wars’ blasters look like nerf guns. There’s no such thing as a flesh wound here- the action is furious and hard hitting. The tech isn’t overwhelming, and is as integrated into the character’s day to day lives as mobile phones are in ours; there’s nothing flashy on offer to draw the spotlight away from the characters or the story.

And it’s a great story, a dangerously more-ish mix of corporate engineering and boneshaking action. It feels fresh, it’s accessible to everyone and permeated with the vivid and immersive action that's become Dan's trademark. I devoured it in a couple of days and my only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it! Lovely stuff.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

(PPS #2) Tobias and the Super Spooky Ghost Book by Tom Percival

Tobias and the Super Spooky Ghost Book by Tom Percival is our second Picture Book Saturday feature.  Check out the review below!





Night after night, Tobias the lonely ghost hangs around his empty house, longing for fun - but nothing ever happens.  Until one day a little girl moves in...Tobias can't wait to play some spooky tricks, but he might just be in for a few surprises himself!

Tobias is only small and he lives in this giant ramshackle home with a variety of far older ghosts.  He's lonely and he's bored. Until a little girl called Eliza moves in with her parents (they are alive).  Tobias sees this as the perfect chance to play various spooky tricks on Eliza.  And he wastes no time doing it.

Eliza is of course, as all little girls called Lizzie or Eliza, not that easy to scare and she very soon sees Tobias off with the very book of scary ghostly spells he used on her.  The tables are turned and Tobias runs off scared, until Eliza realises that the creatures she unleashed aren't going back into the book of spells.

All ends well though, thanks to a quick thinking Uncle.  And after extracting a promise from both young people to behave themselves things turn out okay.  Tobias and Eliza are initially tentative of each other but become friends quite quickly and get up to all sorts of mischief.

A great little picture book with truly wonderful illustrations by Tom Percival (whom I met and my copy is signed!) I really loved the wonderful illustrations and would quite happily frame some of the pictures for the wall.  They are bright and vivid and encourages young readers to look further than just what you can initially see on the surface.  I also loved that Tobias has the chance to make a friend his own age, even if there is such a big difference between the two of them (being dead and all) but I also loved that Eliza stood up for herself and gave as good as she got, even if she had to be saved in the end.

This is Tom's great website and find a cool Halloween party pack to download.

Friday, March 18, 2011

MFB spends a Friday with Kath Langrish

I have been a big fan of Ms. Langrish's Seven Miles of Steel Thistles website for some time, especially the series she ran on recently on "Fairytale Reflections" in which she chatted to a variety of amazing authors about fairy tale reimaginings, favourite tales and influences, amongst other things.  I was also very keen to read Kath's novels for younger / teen readers the Troll Fell books.  But I heard a rumour that the books were going to be combined into one book and so I waited.  And waited.  And then unexpectedly Kath asked me if I wanted to be part of the blogtour to celebrate the release of the updated combined 3 Troll Fell novels and I gibbered insanely and of course, I agreed. 

I devoured West of the Moon in a few sittings.  I had been going through my phase of Norse and North European fairy tales at that stage and so this slotted straight in there in what I was reading for my own research and enjoyment.

But here's the thing: the review I'm about to write isn't about the whole book.  I'm keeping that review for later when I run my annual "Viking Week" event later this year.  What I will be reviewing is the first book in West of the Moon, the original Troll Fell novel which, in my humble opinion is one of the best openings to a series for younger readers that I've read in a long old time.

It starts like this:
Original cover, no longer available


The Coming of Uncle Baldur


Peer Ulfsson stood miserably at his father's funeral pyre, watching the sparks whirl up like millions of shining spirits streaking away into the dark.

Dizzily he followed their bright career, unwilling to lower his eyes. The fire gobbled everything like a starving monster, crackling and crunching on bone-dry branches, hissing and spitting on green timber, licking up dribbles of resin from bleeding chunks of pinewood.

The heat struck his face and scorched his clothes. Tears baked on his cheeks. But his back was freezing, and a raw wind fingered the nape of his neck.

Father! thought Peer desperately. Where have you gone?

Suddenly he was sure the whole thing must be a bad dream. If he turned round, his father would be standing close, ready to give him a comforting squeeze. Behind me - just behind me! thought Peer. He turned slowly, stiffly, wanting to see his father's thin, tanned face carved with deep lines of laughter and life. The black wind cut tears from his eyes. The sloping shingle beach ran steep and empty into the sea.

A small body bumped Peer's legs. He reached down. His dog Loki leaned against him, a rough-haired, flea-bitten brown mongrel - all the family Peer had left. Friends and neighbours crowded in a ring around the pyre, patiently watching and waiting. Their faces were curves of light and hollows of darkness: the flames lit up their steaming breath like dragon-smoke; they blew on their fingers and turned up their collars against the piercing wind.

The pyre flung violent shadows up and down the beach. Stones bigger than a man's head blackened and cracked around it. Hidden in its white depths his father's body lay, folded in flames.
I found the opening scene to Troll Fell utterly devastating.  Peer's reaction to his father's death felt very vivid and very clear to me.  I ached for him.  But I was also deeply intrigued.  The funeral flames had not even reached their climax when a large thumping and incredibly brutish character turned up in the shape of Uncle Baldur, not even an uncle Peer knew he had.  It turns out his father had walked away from the life he lead at the mill he grew up at, as he just could not stand being with his step-brothers.  And sadly now with Peer's father's death, the uncles can lay claim to Peer's inheritance and he has to go and live with them in their rundown mill.

Ms. Langrish took great care crafting these odious uncles.  Very little redeemed them.  They were careless ruffians with uncouth manners, being incredibly selfish and they clearly believed the world had done them wrong and therefore everyone (and the world) owed them.  It is not a far stretch of the imagination to figure out the kind of life Peer would lead with them.  He effectively becomes their slave and he has to labour in the mill whilst they go about their business of being scruffy individuals.

Peer makes friends with a vibrant and lovely young girl, Hilde, who lives near the Mill with her parents and younger siblings. Hilde is the type of heroine we want to read about: steadfast, funny, quick to make friends, reliable and competent. She's also a thinker and fast on her feet.  She meets Peer and realises that he is nothing like his vile uncles and of course, the friendship that develops between Peer and Hilde takes some time, but it is a steady one.

In the world of West of the Moon what are supernatural beings to you and I are real dangers to the human  inhabitants.  Trolls, creatures who live in lakes, hobgoblins and creatures from folklore and legend rub shoulders with humans on a daily basis and it is when Hilde's dad decides to go a-Viking, that the trolls start wreaking havoc around their small farmstead. Tie that in with the animosity between the two louts at the mill and Hilde's family, and there is a recipe for conniving and high jinks.


Original Cover
There are times that you read a book and you can tell a writer is a storyteller.  Ms. Langrish is a storyteller - she relishes the stories and the legends of things that go bump in the night, mixed with rich folklore and mythology.  And her characters are all also storytellers.  There are stories within stories here - parents tell stories to children, friends tell stories to each other.  It really enhances Troll Fell making it more than the sum of its parts.  My only complaint would have been, if I had been a first time reader of the series, that the wait between books 1 and 2 and 3 would have seemed far too long.  Although Troll Fell wraps things up quite neatly in itself, you do realise that there is a bigger story being told than just Peer and Hilde's stories. I look forward to sharing with you what happens in books 2 and 3 during my Viking Week later this year.

Enough from me, here is my guest post from Kath Langrish about the craft of writing and the folklore used in West of the Moon.

What is the hardest part of the writing process?


Making a start! You know, in the fairy tales, when the princess has to climb the glass mountain? That’s the way it feels when I set about writing a new book. There’s this ghostly, glassy, perfect pinnacle rising up and up ahead, wreathed in mists and it can be very daunting. It’s so difficult things getting the beginning right, and I can never go on until I’ve got it right, it’s like a launch platform. I generally go over the first few pages anything up to thirty times before I’m happy with them.

What about the folklore in your books – do you do much research?

I do, and I love it. That’s one of the best parts, spending hours wrapped up in old books of folklore and fairy tales. For ‘West of the Moon’ I read widely in the Norse tradition – not myths about gods, but tales of trolls and neckans and water spirits - for example the fearsome draug or draugr (pronounced roughly droirer with a rolled r) who sails the seas in half a boat with a crew of drowned men. His scream foretells storms and doom. And there’s also a Native American element of folkloric personages, mainly from the traditions of the Mi’kmaq of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, including the jenu: a sort of cannibal ice giant. I spent about six months in the Bodliean researching those tales!

How would you finish this sentence: A successful author is someone who…


How do you measure success? Somehow it keeps moving ahead of us, like the horizon you never quite reach. Before I was published, success meant simply that – getting into print. Then, of course, you start to measure success against better sales, or higher profile, or awards. But in fact, I’d say a successful author is someone whose books you want to re-read.

What are you writing next?


I’m about to begin taking the first few slippery steps up the glass mountain. My next book (or two: this may well spill over into a duet or a trilogy) will have a very different kind of setting: a drowned London three hundred years into the future. I have some strong characters I’m getting to know, and there’ll be mythical and folklore references as well as a sci-fi feel. I’m very, very excited about it…

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?


Please take the time to think. Thinking is just as much part of creating a novel as actually setting the words down. Don’t feel pressured to start too early, and don’t feel guilty if you’re not hammering out those two thousand words a day. (Me? I sometimes don’t write more than fifty. Or I end up with fewer words at the end of the day, because I’ve been cutting and unpicking.) Often, if you get stuck, it’s a sign that you’re veering off course with the book – maybe trying to force a character to do something they wouldn’t. Give yourself time out. Go off and do something different and let your subconscious mind come up with the answers.
Original cover
What a great bit of advice in this last section - it is all really very pertinent to my current situation! 

**COMPETITION TIME**

I have ONE copy of West of the Moon to give away and I'm throwing it open iinternationally. Yes, people - world-wide.  In order to be counted as an entry, recommend to us some of your favourite reworkings of mythology/folklore/fairy tales.  I have an insatiable appetite for these and I know a lot of readers on MFB are the same.  So share what you've found and remember, when entering, leave some way for me to get hold of you via email or Twitter.

The competition will run from today, 18th March to next Friday, 25th March.

Be sure to follow Kath and her blog-tour to Girls Without a Bookshelf on Monday, 21st March 2011.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr


Synopsis


The Summer King is missing; the Dark Court is bleeding; and a stranger walks the streets of Huntsdale, his presence signifying the deaths of powerful fey. Torn between his new queen and his old love, Keenan left Huntsdale to wander aimlessly but after centuries of leading his court it was not long before the reality of being Summer King became too pressing. Violence seemed more inevitable by the day and the Summer Court was not yet strong enough to face conflict, so Keenan made a dangerous deal with the water fey. It is a desperate bargain he makes to strengthen his court against the coming war. Aislinn tends the Summer Court, searching for her absent king and yearning for Seth. She knows she must be a powerful queen to hold her court together, while Bananach becomes more and more dangerous, and she is losing faeries to her. Donia longs for fiery passion even as she coolly readies the Winter Court for battle. Her court is still powerful, but she must remain focused on keeping them that way and not get distracted by Keenan when he shows up at her door again. The Dark Court is thrown into chaos when they are rocked by tragedy. And Seth, sworn brother of the Dark King and heir to the High Queen, is about to make a mistake that could cost his life.

They all know what Bananach seeks – the raven-faery is the embodiment of war and discord. She and her growing number of allies want mutiny and murder. Love, despair and betrayal ignite the Faeries Courts, and in the final conflict, some will win… and some will lose everything. The thrilling conclusion to Melissa Marr’s bestselling Wicked Lovely series will leave readers breathless.


I can hardly bear it. Yet another of my favourite series is ending. This one is definitely final - it even says it on the cover which extinguishes all hope of a sneaky extra one turning up. As the lengthy synopsis has explained, chaos rules the fae at the start of Darkest Mercy which is Bananach's dream. The ruling fae are at odds with each other and isolated when they should be drawing together. Everything is set for a grand finale. I think I've loved this series because of its darkness. Marr's fae can be incredibly cruel and self -centered with very little evidence of mercy at all.

I knew that this would obviously be the book to tie up the million threads that began with Wicked Lovely. I wondered if this would be the book to make me like Aislinn again or to stop getting angry with Keenan. Would Leslie appear? What would happen to Seth? All of these questions are answered and, of course, more. Each of the books has concentrated on the story of a single character prior to this but Darkest Mercy involves everyone. Before I read it I did wonder if this would be Bananach's book but in hindsight I think that could have been a bit too dark. Instead we follow each character in turn starting with Niall and Irial. Niall's descent into darkness and what that means for his followers is probably one of the bleakest moments in the series. I, much like some of the characters, made the mistake of humanising Niall and seeing him as sort of a good guy who sometimes does bad things. In Darkest Mercy I was forced to see him for what he was - a cruel fairy before everything else.

I must say that I fell in love with Aislinn all over again in this book. To be fair it wasn't her fault at all that she's been caught between Seth and Keenan but she's tried my patience at points in the series. However, Keenan has gone leaving her to cope alone which she does admirably. She approaches Donia alone and makes difficult decisions - I really was cheering her on throughout. As well as all the old favourites there are some new fae too. Keenan meets up with the water fae who are a brilliant invention being both mysterious and terrifying. I only wish that they had appeared earlier in the series. Also there's Far Dorcha and his sister Ankou whose purpose I won't reveal so as not to spoil the plot.

I found this last instalment really enjoyable. In fact I think there's so much material there that Melissa Marr could quite easily have carried on. I also loved the epilogue, it may not be for everyone but I thought it was the perfect way for to bring the story to a close. I don't want to say more and have tried to give a spoiler-free review for a change. The writing is beautiful too and I'm just glad that, although I'll miss the world of Huntsdale, there's more to come from Melissa Marr this year.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff


The Gale family can change the world with the charms they cast, and they like to keep this in the family. Alysha Gale is tired of having all her aunts try to run her life, both personally and magically. So when the letter from her Gran arrives willing her a "junk" shop in Calgary, Alysha jumps at the chance. It isn't until she gets there that she realizes her customers are fey. And no one told her there's trouble brewing in Calgary-trouble so big that even calling in the family may not save the day...


For some time, this book kept popping up everywhere. In my Amazon recommends, in the various shops I went in to. Eventually I succumbed towards the end of last year and bought it. I can say, with my hand on my heart, that it has become one of my all time favourite urban fantasy novels.

If I could, I’d force Tanya Huff to write more books in this world. Although, having googled it, it looks like we may be in store for another one, a sequel. I am so excited I may faint.

But, before I do, on to the review.

Most of us have families, with aunts and uncles and cousins and whatnot. But no one has family like Allie Gale. Firstly, we aren’t ever entirely sure they are even 100% human. Looking at the family, they are very witchy. There are various rituals and steeped in lore and magical elements. The men are kept close and then there are the aunties who to my mind are very similar to the aunties in Native American folklore – where they are these truly powerful god-like creatures spinning and weaving our skein.

When we meet Allie she is jobless, homeless and pretty much friendless. So she’s moved back in with her family. Allie receives a letter from her Nan who has broken away from the claustrophobic confines of the larger Gale family to do her own thing. The letter is quite short and abrupt stating that if she’s (Allie) reading it, her Nan was dead and that she is inheriting a shop and building in Calgery in Canada. Much is made of this letter as the aunties do not think Allie’s Nan is dead – she is afterall one of the Aunties and they would know such a thing.

Allie travels to Calgary and finds The Enchantment Emporium her Nan’s left her. She has no real clue what to do next. And the story really is about Allie finding her feet in the Emporium, meeting some of the customers and oh, trying to figure out about why she’s been spotting dragons doing a fly-over the emporium since she arrived. What are they doing here in our world and where are they coming from? There is also the question as to why her Nan was running what is basically a junk shop. And why is it so important to the local community? As the story comes together and we watch Allie grow from a slightly depressed, mild-mannered and possibly lost individual, to a powerful, confident young woman and magic user, and we notice how people’s reactions change towards her is so great.

The Gale family is impossible to explain within the review. I know I for one was slightly taken aback by their cavalier attitude towards sex and partners within the family. But then, I reminded myself throughout the novel that I am probably not reading about beings that are entirely human, so they do possibly operate on a different level to us “norms”.

The magic system is complicated and as far as I can tell, based on a combination of nature magic combined with some elements of sex magic and a smattering of intent/sorcerous type stuff. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but if you fully expect a LKH novel, walk away as this is not it. Yes, there are some steamy and some wonderfully vivid implied scenes but there is nothing full on and too overtly in your face. I enjoy a well written sex scene as much as anyone else but do draw the line at gratuitous and over the top for the sake of shock.

So Enchantment Emporium has a lot going on. We are introduced to a great many secondary and tertiary characters but none of them are as strong or well-defined as Allie, which is great. The secondary characters I also quite liked as they all seemed to get on and do their own thing in the background and they weren’t ever static, only coming to life when the main character needed them.

Also, there are a lot of pop references and my favourite has to be straight out of the Supernatural tv show, when Sam Winchester tries to change the channel / 8-track Dean is playing in the car and Dean pipes up with: “House rules, Sammy. Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cake hole.” I loved this. Huff also mentions a great many other things, including the Dresden Files which had me crowing with laughter.

I am deeply intrigued by the Gales and really can’t wait to indulge in more of their world. The Enchantment Emporium was published back in 2009 by DAW Books over in the States. I picked up my copy from Forbidden Planet in London before my book buying ban at the end of last year.

So, I’ve tried not to give too many spoilers in this one, but here, over at this site, is a more in depth review including a great list of other pop culture references.