Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Purging of Kadillus by Gav Thorpe

++ This is Sergeant Aquila of the Ravenwing. We have encountered heavy resistance: Ork infantry in the hundreds and supporting light vehicles, including crude dreadnoughts. All enemy troops are approaching Koth Ridge at speed. If allowed to continue their advance they may be able to link up with Warlord Ghazghkull and his forces in Kadillus Harbour.

We still have no confirmed visual of the ork landing craft, or their drop zone and cannot confirm that this is the final wave of the reinforcements. The foe will pay a high price for our lives, but Koth Ridge cannot hold. ++

The purging of Kadillus starts as it means to go on: elbows deep in greenskin action. And in several places, elbows deep in a greenskin. Warlord Ghazghkull, still on the rampage after the Armageddon conquest, has turned his sights on Kadillus, his numbers bolstered by a large Bad Moon warband and a secret, unexpected technology.

What he hasn’t quite reckoned on is the Dark Angels garrison at Kadillus and their bloody minded tenacity. Grossly outnumbered and wrong-footed by Ghazghkull’s rapid advance and seemingly endless reinforcements, the Dark Angels are pushed to the limit to contain the Ork threat. Utilising every weapon in their arsenal, from daring scout raids, to last-man-standing defensive actions, armoured assaults, orbital bombardments and deep striking terminator assaults, all kinds of mayhem are unleashed and Gav has stuffed Purging with enough exploding vehicles, bodies and melee carnage to make Michael Bay feel grossly inadequate.

As ever though, it’s the interaction between the characters that provides skeleton for everything else to hang on. A small host of characters share the limelight, rather than a single main character, each pertaining to a different aspect of the unfolding conflict. I particularly enjoyed the viewpoint of the scouts and the apothecary – the scouts for their methodical and sensible approach and Sergeant Naaman’s perspective, and the apothecary simply because the unusual choice of character viewpoint, putting a fresh twist on the fighting. What was equally pleasing was that each is distinct and has their thread of the story concluded one way or the other, rather than being left in some kind of literary limbo. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given Gav’s experience, but it’s always good to see.

It’s damn good fun and very more-ish - I rampaged through it in a single, scone fuelled sitting on a lazy Sunday morning. More please.

You can read an excerpt here.



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Alyxandra Harvey is coming to the UK


Fans of Alyxandra Harvey, author of the fantastic Drake Chronicles, watch out - she's coming to the UK! She's here to promote her new stand-alone novel Haunting Violet which I must say sounds brilliant. Check out the gorgeous cover and synopsis.

Violet Willoughby doesn’t believe in ghosts, especially since her mother has worked as a fraudulent medium for a decade. Violet has taken part in enough of her mother’s fake séances to feel more than a little jaded about anything supernatural. That is until she and her mother pay a visit to Rosefield House.

Suddenly Violet is seeing the dead all around her. She is haunted day and night, and one spirit in particular refuses to leave her alone. The ghost of a drowned girl needs Violet’s help to solve her murder. Violet must learn to use her new-found skills before the killer strikes again!


I'm incredibly excited as it's also set in Victorian England so I've got high hopes it'll be my cup of tea.

Here's where you can see her: -

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare


Synopsis

The Mortal War is over, and sixteen-year-old Clary Fray is back home in New York, excited about all the possibilities before her. She's training to become a Shadowhunter and – most importantly of all – she can finally call Jace her boyfriend. But nothing comes without a price. Someone is murdering the Shadowhunters who used to be in Valentine's Circle, provoking tensions between Downworlders and Shadowhunters that could lead to a second, bloody war. And when Jace begins to pull away from her without explaining why, Clary is forced to delve into the heart of a mystery whose solution reveals her worst nightmare: she herself has set in motion a terrible chain of events that could lead to her losing everything she loves. Even Jace.

I must start by saying that there will be spoilers for books one to three in the Mortal Instruments series in this review only because it's impossible not to do otherwise.

I unashamedly love this series. I remember walking into a bookshop one day desperate to find something to read as I'd left my book at home. I picked up City of Bones and was instantly transported to a queue outside a nightclub. Things have moved on for the Shadowhunters since that first book and the characters have been through a harrowing time. This book starts a few months after the events of City of Glass and everyone is adapting to the various changes in their circumstances. Alex is holidaying with Magnus (don't worry - they do appear later in the book), Clary and Jace are very much in love, Simon has become something of a babe magnet and is handling it with his usual lack of panache. I can't tell you how much I love Simon, although he's become a vampire he still struggles with the usual teenage insecurities. However, he's starting to face up to the fact that he can't continue as before and that he's going to have to embrace a new lifestyle sooner or later. The scenes with his mother are truly touching, so bittersweet.

However, the calm is short lived. Jace is having awful nightmares that are starting to affect his relationship with Clary. He starts to avoid her and even seeks out Simon who's having his own set of problems. Apart from his multiple girlfriend situation someone is hunting him down and eventually he's going to have to find out who wants him so desperately. The dialogue is as sharp and snappy as ever and there's a great new character in the form of Kyle who makes Simon a welcome offer in the form of a room in his apartment. For lovers of Clockwork Angel, one of the best characters from that book makes an appearance too.

Despite some genuinely funny and touching moments City of Fallen Angels also has its bleak and desperate passages. The stakes and tension are ramped up as Clary and Jace's initial happiness is short lived. The new troubles fit perfectly though into the larger series story arc and although Jace and Clary are really put through the ringer it's all entirely plausible. My only criticism would be that I would have loved more of Magnus and Simon. In all honestly though both of these characters could quite easily have their own series and I believe this is something that Cassandra Clare has considered. I hope it happens as Simon, the unwilling vampire, has so much to offer in my opinion. His struggle with his identity is perfect, if painful reading.

Cassandra Clare has a great Q & A article on her blog about CoFA. Don't go and check it out until you've finished the book! It's very interesting though and a must read for fans of the series.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Taming of Lilah May by Vanessa Curtis





Lilah's Anger Diary, March 26th 
Anger levels: 11/10




I'm Lilah May and I'm ANGRY. 
So angry that I'm about to be excluded from school, my parents can't control me, and only one person in the world understands me. And that's my best friend, Bindi.
I haven't always been this way. It all started with my brother Jay. And what no one realises is that it's all my fault.

The Taming of Lilah May is a well written contemporary novel by Vanessa Curtis who gave us the Zelah Green books. In Lilah May we meet the main character, Lilah, as she goes through a particularly tough time at school and at home.  She's a troubled teen and it's actually quite obvious as to why she's troubled: her brother's disappeared and has been gone for several months.  Her parents tip-toe around the white elephant in their lives and hardly mention his disappearance.  Lilah feels angry, scared, betrayed and also repsonsible for him leaving the house and not coming back.

She keeps an Anger Management Diary that is wonderfully telling of her outlook.  We understand her actions and why she acts the way she does.  Her parents seem to have forgotten about her, each other and live past one another.  Her mother is a children's entertainer and dresses as a clown to do so.  Her dad is the keeper of the lions at the local zoo and seems to be the one who has some clue as to how to deal with Lilah.  He instigates Taming Lilah afternoons and they are humourous and real and makes the reader realise how much he too hurts as a parent.  Lilah's mum is far more of a mystery and to be honest, I really didn't like her all that much.  I can understand where she comes from but it doesn't mean I have to like her.

The story is a very quick read - there is some swearing and temper tantrums, but none of it feels gratuitous which is great.  Although the novel is aimed at teens, I think younger, more mature readers will probably identify with Lilah far more than older teens.  The story really is told in this closed space, if you can say that.  Completely about Lilah, how she's feeling, what she's going through.  There is very little intrusion from the outside world, so when it does happen, you are startled.  Especially when the one boy Lilah does quite like turns to her and reprimands her that the world does not evolve around her and that, to be honest, things are pretty crappy for a lot of people and that she should stop being selfish.

I enjoyed Lilah May but would have liked more - I already mentioned it's a quick read, and it is both in respect of the size of the book, as well as the size of the story.  It doesn't end with a happily ever after but it does end on a note of optimism which is great.  Lilah's character undergoes some change which is equally well done and we get a glimpse into the lives of others around her and see that just as Lilah pulled through, other events have become resolved as well, and some in a surprising way.

I'd recommend The Taming of Lilah May for a lazy afternoon's summer reading.  Vanessa Curtis has done well and I really hope that she'll give us bigger books in the future - she writes great characters and I'd like to spend more time with them!

Find Vanessa Curtis's site here.  The Taming of Lilah May is out in May from Frances Lincoln.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard


I wish I could just say: Go buy the book.  Read it.  Love it.

Because that is what I feel.  ASFKITD is such a unique book filled to the brim with Skip's unique voice and point of view.  Few authors can successfully pull of a voice as pure and interesting as Skip's.  The only other two I could think of is:

  • My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher 
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon 

Skip runs away from home.  His life is awful - both at home and at school.  He is bullied and treated badly.  But he's a wonderful artist and sees the world in bright colours and shifting shadows and light.  People tend not to quite understand what he's about, so he thinks that running away is the best thing for him to do.  In his running away he ends up meeting Billy, a homeless man who completely understands Skip.  And Skip is intelligent enough to realise that hanging out with Billy will be beneficial for them both.

I'm not going to talk about the actual story here, because it is a slender novel packed full of fantastic writing and it deserves to unfold for readers the same way it did for me.

Templar who are publishing this are effusive in their praise and you can't fault them.  Ms. Millard writes with great poignancy about Skip, Billy and the very young boy Max.  For a while their lives are undisturbed (apart from the war, that is) but you have this sense that the three of them form this great unit.  There is a honeymoon quality to it, if you ignore the harsh realities of the city under siege.  The three of them survive successfully and as a unit, they get things done.  However, things are changed when they find a young girl Tia and Tia in turn has a small baby whom they decide to call Sixpence.

I am really struggling to put into words how deeply ASFKITD touched me - it reminded me in some ways of the free association writing in How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, only more lyrical and poetic, if I can put it that way.  Skip's descriptions of paintings by Monet and Da Vinci is pure magic, as is his very first observation of Tia dancing.

Skip's character remains wonderfully true to himself throughout the book and undergoes tremendous growth.  Billy and Max are great supporting characters who add so much to the story that there were times I wished they had their own chapters to narrate.  Tia remains a true enigma and even when we think we've figured it out, it's shown that we haven't.

Just, take my word on this.  Get a copy of A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.  Take an afternoon off and prepare to be magicked away to Skip's world where things may not be very pleasant but where there is hope and love and strength and friendships beyond compare.

I'm not the only one to be blown away by this, go here to read the Library Mice's review of A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.  I think she's far more eloquent than I am!

The rest of the Blog Tour can be found here:

A Few Thoughts on Writing by Glenda Millard

We are so excited to be part of the bloggers bringing Glenda Millard's excellent novel to a wider audience. A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is about Skip, who is an outsider. He's never fitted in. So he takes to the streets. Life there may be hard, but it's better than the one he's left behind, especially when he teams up with old homeless man Billy. Then come the bombs which bring little Max and Tia, the sad dancer with a tiny baby, into Skip and Billy's world. Scavenging for food, living on love and imagination - how log can Skip's fragile new family hold out as war grips the city?

Glenda has agreed to do us a gorgeous blog post about writing as I know many of our readers are aspiring writers themselves or even just readers who enjoy finding out about process.



I’ve been reliably informed that the blogs on My Favourite Books are read by aspiring writers and students, and because of this I should give you the nitty gritty. I guess that means nitty gritty about writing. But before I get to the writing part there’s ancient history to tell. It’s about how I accidentally became a writer.

At school I loved writing essays and poetry, but had no idea I could make a career from writing. I left school at 15 and went to work in an office, doing book-keeping, typing letters and filing. Later on I got married and had four children.When my kids were teenagers the business where I was working was going to be sold and it seemed certain that many employees would lose their jobs.

Mbobo Tree published in 2010
So I enrolled at night school to learn a new skill - marketing. I had absolutely no idea how to write the reports required for homework. So I wrote essays instead. The lecturer approached me one evening and tactfully suggested I might do better to study creative writing. A few years and a few jobs later, I saw an advertisement in the paper for a short evening course called ‘Writing for Money’. It turned out to be focused on journalism, but one night we got to write whatever we wanted to. I wrote a story and the tutor suggested I send it to a children’s publisher, which I did. Twelve months later I received a response from the publisher and subsequently in 1999 my first book was published - a picture book.

I kept working full time and in the evenings after dinner and dishes were done I’d sit in the corner of the lounge-room with a massive set of earphones on to block out the noise of the television and my boys wrestling and my daughter playing clarinet and all the other things that go on in families, and I’d write. To begin with I wrote mostly picture books because I could manage those in the small amount of time I had to myself. But after a few years I wanted to see if I could complete something longer. So I made a deal with my family. For 6 weeks I didn’t have to cook or clean and weekends were mine. I wrote my first novel. Over the years I reduced my working hours to part time, but in 2005 I was made redundant from my position as an audio typist. On the same day I was notified by telephone that one of my novels for younger readers has been shortlisted for a prestigious award and I decided that the time had come to see if I could make a go of writing full time. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

Now moving on towards how I do the writing:

I’m good at planning special events such as parties and holidays. I’m fairly organised. I pay my bills on time, keep appointments - that sort of thing. I try hard to keep my home reasonably tidy but that’s not easy because I’m also the kind of person who collects odds and ends. I'm drawn to items that have belonged to other people, places or times. Things with history and heart; bone-handled knives, bread-boards, rolling pins and wooden spoons, thimbles, handwritten recipe books, postcards, empty flower-seed packets and unusual buttons. I can't resist keeping fallen things like feathers, leaves and nests. I’ve even been known to collect newspaper clippings just in case they come in handy. I also like lists. Maybe I should have put all the above into one.

But despite being a habitual list-maker, having above average planning skills, and being duly diligent about keeping appointments, I am definitely NOT good at planning stories. I’ve tried writing timelines, making maps and writing pages and pages of plans, but it just doesn’t work for me. The minute I begin to write the story, things I hadn’t foreseen mysteriously begin to occur. So I’ve learnt from experience to begin with basic information and discover the rest on the journey.

NItty Gritty

Three main things got me started writing A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.

The first was a day spent with a man in a factory where he restored old carousels (merry-go-rounds) to their former glory. This piqued my interest in using one as a setting for a story. Just as a matter of interest - as a direct result of that day and well before I started ASFKITD, I wrote a picture book about a carousel horse. It’s called Lightning Jack and will be published early next year.

A newspaper headline, ‘Urban Tribes’ made me consider what life would be like for a young, homeless person living alone in a city. I wondered if he/she might join a gang or tribe and how or if this might be helpful and in what ways. I wondered if loneliness or fear might be the catalyst for this relationship or if it might be something else. Something beyond that person’s control.

Later on I read an article about people known as freegans and discovered that, due either to necessity or for ethical reasons, freegans live on what other people waste. Things like food, clothing, furnishings and even accommodation such as derelict buildings. The two topics, urban tribes and freeganism seemed to go hand in hand. I liked the idea of using war as a backdrop to the story and the carousel and desolate fun park as symbols of what war takes away; childhood, pleasure and freedom. Once I started writing, the fun park became shelter and tribe became family, the thing that held the gang of five in ASFKITD together until the very end.

Writing Against Advice (or believing in yourself)

On hearing my meagre outline for the story, my partner commented that no matter how resilient the human spirit is, war is disempowering and especially so for children. So I put the project aside before I’d even started, unsure whether I could write a story set against a backdrop of war that was not about war and, perhaps more importantly, could I credibly show hope even in the most dire circumstances? Eventually I decided there was only one way to find out and that was to write the story.

Glenda Millard
Names and Other Odds and Ends:

And so I began. I’d made a list of characters I thought might play major roles and eventually narrowed it down to a twelve-year-old boy. I also had a long list of names. Names are very important to me. But none seemed to fit this boy. However as I wrote and learnt more about the child who had been brutalized, bullied and neglected so often that he felt anonymous, he named himself. The boy who skipped school, skipped town and slept in builders' skips was Skip. I discovered Skip’s compelling desire to find love, acceptance and a family of his own and used him to demonstrate the great motivational power of hope. ASFKITD is the first story I have written in first person. I think this helped me tap more deeply into Skip's feelings and thoughts.

Odds and Ends from the Book and from Life

Pennyweight Flat Children's Cemetery is a place close to where I grew up. The library where Skip, Max and Billy first take refuge is closely based on the State Library of Victoria in Australia, with its beautiful domed reading room. The fun park is based on one I used to visit as a child, where my favourite ride was the carousel of War and Peace. There is an address in the book where some of my children lived while they studied at university. Van Gogh, one of Skip's favourite artists, is also one of mine. I have an umbrella decorated with his famous painting, Starry Night Over the River Rhone. Billy, another major character in the book, and I share a love of the music of Bob Dylan. There are references to Dylan's lyrics in the story. I am always surprised when I go back over a book I've written, to find out just how many things are in it that have NOT been invented....things that are rich and real and true, that come simply from day to day living.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make my blog tour a success.

***
You are welcome, Glenda!  Thanks for sharing this with us.  I love hearing how much went into the making of ASFKITD.  My review - should Blogger decide to play along - will go live this afternoon.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Good Thief's Guide to Venice by Chris Ewan


Charlie Howard - struggling crime-writer by day, talented thief by night, has gone straight. But holing himself up in a crumbling palazzo in Venice in an attempt to concentrate on his next novel hasn't got rid of the itch in his fingers. And to make matters worse, a striking Italian beauty has just broken into his apartment and made off with his most prized possession, leaving a puzzling calling card in its place.


It looks as though kicking the habit of a lifetime will be much more of a challenge than Charlie thought.


Sneaking out into Venice's maze of murky canals, Charlie’s attempts to tame a cat burglar embroil him in a plot that is far bigger and more explosive than he could ever have imagined.

**minor spoilers**

I love caper movies and caper books. So I was really pleased to be able to add another one to my shelves in the shape of Chris Ewan's fourth outing for crime writer and thief, Charlie Howard.

Charlie is holed up in Venice to work on his next novel. But his agent, Victoria, has decided that he needs an eye kept on him so she joins him and bunks in the guest bedroom. This also means she'll be at hand to read what he's done so far. Charlie fears he has performance problems when it comes to writing. Lying awake at night he hears the obvious sounds of someone sneaking around his apartment.

When it turns out that someone has broken into his apartment, Charlie is flumoxed. Who is this dastardly thief? When he confronts the thief he finds her to be an exceedingly lovely Italian girl with a penchant for telling him what to do.

Long story short: she steals Charlie's most prized possession and holds it to ransom. She wants Charlie to break into a palazo and leave a suitcase behind. Not quite what Charlie is used to but after some to-ing and fro-ing he agrees and barely escapes with his life as the case explodes, leaving him shaken and the palazzo itself quite badly torn apart.

Things just go weirder and crazier after that.

I thought that Charlie is such a great character. He is a bit of a prima donna, getting a bit hoity when someone else steals from him, and it made me grin. But I think he definitely sees himself as a gentleman thief and so it's okay for him to genteely nab something from someone else. Also, as I've not read any of the other stories in the past, I have no frame of reference about his other thefts and adentures, but I gather that he was good at what he does. Did do. Because don't you know it, he's decided to go straight.

His odd relationship with his agent Victoria really drove the story forward. They are like an old couple who are too wary of each other - there is some attraction but it is not quite out in the open. I also think Charlie is a bit of an innocent when it comes to women and how much they can lie and hide, like everyone else.

As Charlie and Victoria come up with outlandish schemes to save a count and get to the bottom of the whole deal with the other thief, they are lured to a casino where a high stakes blackjack game is ongoing. Victoria spots someone she knows at the gaming table and slowly the pieces fall into place.

The Good Thief's Guide to Venice is fun holiday reading and the perfect thing to lounge with in the sun. Even if the book takes place in a misty, drizzyly Venice. The action moves along at a cracking pace and the characters are well drawn. I am very keen to read the new one that Mr. Ewan is currently working on. I think he mentioned Berlin to me when I asked him via Twitter.

Find the author, Chris Ewan's website here. The Good Thief's Guide to Venice is out later this month from Simon & Schuster.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gladiator by Simon Scarrow


Rome, 61 BC
Recruited as a gladiator, young Marcus Cornelius Primus faces a new life of brutal training, governed by strict rules, as he learns the skills of an elite warrior.
But Marcus cannot simply forget his past. His father lies murdered by soldiers and his mother has been kidnapped and forced into slavery. Marcus is determined to find his father’s old commander, Pompeius the Great, to seek justice for his family and set his mother free.
Yet, unbeknown to him, Marcus is hiding a life-threatening secret. And if the Romans discover it, there will be no escape..
Fresh from the Rome fest of Vespasian, I was quite excited about Gladiator, given that it was penned by Simon Scarrow, whose Eagle Series has been top notch throughout. And besides, who doesn’t like Gladiators?
Gladiator opens well, with Marcus’ home under threat from a moneylender, creating some nice tension in the background as we get to grips with Marcus’ character. It’s a brief interlude before his journey into slavery begins, a journey that doesn’t offer any kind of concession for age or innocence.
That Scarrow is familiar with the Roman world is both subtle and obvious, even if you haven’t read any of his work before; it’s in the descriptions of life beyond Marcus’ immediate circle and the understanding of the casual disregard for slaves as anything except utilities.
However, as much as I wanted to really like Gladiator, there were a couple of bugbears I couldn’t quite work past. The first and most obvious is that it reads like Scarrow Lite, the rich narrative that won the Eagle Series so many fans having been diluted for a younger audience. And while I can sort of understand the reasoning behind it, I feel that it leaves Gladiator in a strange no man’s land where older readers could be turned off and middle grade readers talked down to. It is, of course, aimed at ages 11+, but I think that the ‘+’ is a very narrow range. The other, lesser thing was that I would have liked to have had more time spent on Marcus’ training, given the title et al; aside from the arena matches, that’s one of the things I was looking forward to. Of course, it could well be that this is something that will be picked up again later in the series, and I hope it is. Of course, and excuse the potential spoiler here, having him plucked out of the gladiator school after his first arena match could make this a bit trickier to pull off.
It’s a good concept with loads of potential, and while it's still a decent read, it needs more bite to make it stand out or realise that potential.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Emerald Atlas Trailers

We've just received a swathe of great looking trailers from Random House for their fab new novel: The Emerald Atlas (reviewed here by the shiny Essjay) by author John Stephen.

Do check them out:

Teaser Trailer:

John Stephen chatting about the novel with some lovely animated bits thrown in:

I am really drawn to the fantastic looking artwork used in these trailers.  This has to be a favourite:

Gabriel character trailer.

The more I watch these and the more I re-read Sarah's review, it makes me want to shuffle my life around to read The Emeral Atlas myself!

Cover Love - D'Obsidienne et de Sang by Aliette de Bodard

We hosted Aliette de Bodard's first chapters for her first novel Servant of the Underworld, on MFB some time ago.  Aliette has gone on to sell foreign rights to her novels, Servant of the Underworld and Harbringer of the Storm and it is the French cover of Servant of the Underworld that I'd like to do a shoutout for this afternoon:



The artist is Larry Rostant who has given us amongst other things the covers for Embedded by Dan Abnett, Son of Heaven by David Wingrove as well as the cover of The Desert Spear by Peter V Brett.  I love the cover of this and think it will attract exactly the right reader.  I also like the fact that the priest is left handed.  Find Aliette's website here.

Clash by Colin Mulhern

Alex: Underground cage fighter, school psycho


Kyle: Talented artist, classroom joker 


When these two clash, a catastrophic sequence of events unfolds...


I was surprised by Clash. To be fair, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I’d see a lot of posturing and hard-man action packaged as YA fiction. What Colin Mulhern gives us instead is something far better and more adept.

Alex, the very quiet boy with the thousand yard stare. Small of stature and unassuming, you wouldn’t think to look at him twice. But what that unassuming quietness hides is an incredibly violent and brutal side. But here’s the rub: Alex knows exactly what he’s doing when he acts this way. He is intelligent enough to realise what he’s doing and he knows he can stop it, but he acts the crazed psycho because it means people leave him alone. His home life is not pleasant. His dad is a complete jackass and ignores Alex unless he’s taking part in cage fighting. Alex’s mum is a victim. Her husband abuses her - initially not physically (not that we know of anyway) but she is definitely verbally abused and treated very badly. You literally will something bad to happen to Alex’s dad because then hopefully Alex and his mum have a chance for a better future.

On the other hand we have Kyle who is ridiculously talented as an artist. He lives with his mum who is a single parent. She is also pregnant at the start of the novel, and we get a sense of Kyle and his mum being close and pretty cool. They work well as a unit and you want good things for them.  Although they don't have a lot of money, you get the sense that they are frugal and that Kyle doesn't lack for anything.

It all starts in art class when Kyle turns in a piece of art. Alex has no idea who Kyle is, but the painting that Kyle left behind really draws him in.  He is stunned that anyone his age can be so talented, have such skills.  He identifies with this kid and he takes the artwork, to keep it safe, as he knows some other yob will take it to probably destroy it.  Alex reckons that by taking the bit of art, he's not even stealing it.  He's keeping it safe.  But he wants to know who the artist is and he goes out of his way to find out.  So he seeks out Kyle specifically to see who this kid is who can draw so well, who is so talented. Of course Kyle and his friend Gareth are terrified out of their tree when this skinny psycho kid walks up to them and just stares at them, Kyle specifically, for a few moments. Before walking away, not saying or doing anything.

It freaks them out. What was that all about?  They are convinced that Alex will soon be hunting them down to hurt them.  But it doesn't happen.  Not in the way they expect.

And the author takes us on this amazing tour of both these boys’ lives in the next few months as things change and get both worse and better and then completely insanely bad. Kyle and Alex aren’t really friends during the book - they are aware of each other but they don’t really realise how their stories are linked. And it is a testament to Mr. Mulhern’s writing skill as to how he brings the strands in this spiderweb of a story together in a completely believable and low-key way.  It is understated yet the impact is huge.

I can’t really go into more explanation here - I’m sorry, as it would be very spoilery and I’d hate for that to happen. I can however say we are shown how Alex and Kyle’s characters develop and grow and how they cope with everyday realities and how these realities intrude on their separate lives and how these separate lives converge into one truly awful moment and the repercussions of that. Gaah! I hate sounding this vague but really, saying more would be unfair.

I went through a gamut of emotions whilst reading Clash but in the end, whilst I was smiling, I also had this slight feeling of dread in my stomach. I read Clash in a few hours, in one sitting. From 11pm to 1am. On the weekend, and then spent the next forty minutes talking to Mark about the book.

Because that is what Clash does - it takes you on this incredible journey and it makes you think and wonder. I really liked it. I thought the writing was very tight and the plotting tighter still - I mean, you could bounce a coin of the plot strands’ butt! I definitely think that Colin Mulhern is a new talent to watch - Clash is suited for older and confident readers. There is a bit of swearing and there is some violence but it is all within the context of the story and it definitely does not glamourise violence or fighting in any way. It is quite stark and brutal but the story has an elegance to it that really had me turning the pages.

Oh, another thing. The chapters are all first person in either Kyle or Alex’s voice respectively and it works really well. As I wrote this I thought to myself that reluctant readers may benefit from reading Clash as the chapters are strongly written, not difficult to read and importantly they are kept short, so it feels like you are moving rapidly through the story.

I’ll stop gabbing now. If you have the chance to read Clash, please go ahead and do so. Or if you know a boy or girl who may want something different, something contemporary and local, with strong characters, this is definitely one to recommend.

Thanks to Liz and Non at Catnip for sending this out to me to read. I had a blast. Now, please ask Colin to hurry up and write his next one!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Colin Mulhern chats to MFB about his favourite book


I had the opportunity to read Colin Mulhern's debut novel "Clash" from Catnip Publishers only last week but fell for the story and the writing in a big way. I picked up Clash at eleven on Saturday night before going to bed and by 1a.m. I had finished it. The strength of the writing and the two characters really blew my socks off.

My review is later this afternoon, but first, Colin chats to us about being a reluctant reader and subsequently finding that One Book to turn him into a reader and then, crucially, how that continued to evolve him into a writer.

***

A big hello to all the followers of MyFavouriteBooks! A great place to kick off my little blog tour, and a great subject to get the ball rolling because it took me a long, long time to find anything I’d describe as a favourite book.

Colin the writer - with a TYPEWRITER! 
I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. I liked the idea of reading, and gave it a go, but I rarely finished anything, and when I did read, I was very slow. This will sound pretty strange, but even though I wasn’t a great reader, I always wanted to be a writer. I was always writing stories, just not really reading them. I used to buy the Pan Book of Horror Stories anthologies, but I’d stick to the shorter of the short stories. When I was 12 I discovered Fighting Fantasy books. These were incredible – game and story, with adventure, fantasy and horror all mixed up. But better than that, you didn’t have to read the whole book. Those managed to increase my reading ability, but I was still to find a novel that would hold me enough to get me through to the end.


The book that did it was The Six, by Janet Green. It was handed to me by my brother, who I never really thought of as someone who liked books. My brother was more of an outdoor type, kicking a ball about down near the garages. But here he was, recommending this book. It had a red-monochrome photo of a bunch of kids on the cover. He let me read a little then said I’d have to get it out of the school library as soon as he returned it.

I was a regular in the school library – not because I loved books, but because I didn’t like being outside at dinner times in the cold and drizzle. So long as you made it look like you were reading, you could go into the library. But, like I said, I wasn’t much good with books, so I’d get bored and start mucking about, which led to me getting kicked out every other week. And then came the day I remembered the book – The Six. I took it to the desk where the librarian glared at me.

She raised an eyebrow and said only one word, but it was dripping contempt, ‘Why?’

I shrugged. ‘Wor kid said it was canny good.’

She stamped it and pushed it across the desk. ‘You’re a moron, Mulhern. You deserve a book like that.’

Maybe I should have been insulted, but to tell the truth, this was class. If that book could provoke such a reaction, maybe it really was good.

It was. Mainly because it was about kids like me, like my brother, like the other kids on our estate – real people. They were all in a gang and they swore and stole and had fights. Class.

The Six isn’t in publication any more, which is sad. Maybe it wasn’t very popular; maybe it isn’t considered to be great fiction or have literary merit. But to me, it’s one of the most important books out there, because it was the one that grabbed me by the throat and held me tight. And for me, that’s the sign of a damn good book.

Thanks for the chance to drop by. Feel free to follow the tour.

***
I love that this wasn't some classic but some sort of random book the librarian did not approve of.  Like Colin says, pure class.  And I think that sometimes parents and teachers forget that the classics aren't for everyone and that readers will find something that interests them.  And who knows what may happen then?

Colin will be visiting my friend over at Pewter Wolf tomorrow, 19th April, so do pop by there as Colin talks about discovering YA.

Find Colin's website here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vespasian: Tribune of Rome by Robert Fabri

ONE MAN: ONE DESTINY 26 AD:

Sixteen-year-old Vespasian leaves his family farm for Rome, his sights set on finding a patron and following his brother into the army. But he discovers a city in turmoil and an Empire on the brink. The aging emperor Tiberius is in seclusion on Capri, leaving Rome in the iron grip of Sejanus, commander of the Praetorian Guard. Sejanus is ruler of the Empire in all but name, but many fear that isn't enough for him. Sejanus' spies are everywhere - careless words at a dinner party can be as dangerous as a barbarian arrow. Vespasian is totally out of his depth, making dangerous enemies (and even more dangerous friends - like the young Caligula) and soon finds himself ensnared in a conspiracy against Tiberius. With the situation in Rome deteriorating, Vespasian flees the city to take up his position as tribune in an unfashionable legion on the Balkan frontier. Unblooded and inexperienced, he must lead his men in savage battle with hostile mountain tribes - dangerous enough without renegade Praetorians and Imperial agents trying to kill him too. Somehow, he must survive long enough to uncover the identity of the traitors behind the growing revolt


The idea of Rome in its heyday is a glorious one- the Forum, the Colisseum, the fountains, togas, slaves to do your bidding. Hollywood has a lot to answer for in respect of the image of Rome until recent times, when the reality of it has been looked at more closely: the basic sanitation, deathtrap housing, overcrowding, cutthroat politics (literally in many cases), dangerous streets and the constant threat from all sides.

It’s the latter version of the world that Vespasian is born into. The youngest son of a reasonably well-off family making a living from a successful mule-breeding business, he grows up on the farm, content with what he has, enjoying the peace that he has while his elder brother Sabinus is away serving in the army. Sabinus’ return, however, sets events in motion that will see Vespasian uprooted and sent to Rome, to earn his way as a man and fulfil his obligations and honour of his family. It’s a deadly adventure that quickly sees whatever illusions he had about life stripped away and offers little respite from the danger that surrounds him.

It is an adventure though, with more than its fair share of dirty, bloody battles, both large and small, a thunderous chariot race on a grand scale twith echoes of Ben Hur, narrow escapes, and intrigue aplenty. But it’s the way that it’s all brought together that makes it work.

Fabbri has a very clear image of life in the Roman world fixed in his mind, and sticks to it throughout. The world doesn’t revolve around Vespasian, and there’s a clear sense that life would go on if he wasn’t there, and while there are a couple of eyebrow lifting moments, it’s this atmosphere that was ingredient X for me, a literary MSG that kept me turning the pages and cursing whenever my train arrived at its destination.

More please!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens


Synopsis

Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.

Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.

Until now.

Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem. And - if an ancient prophesy is correct - what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

The Emerald Atlas brims with humor and action as it charts Kate, Michael, and Emma's extraordinary adventures through an unforgettable, enchanted world.


Although I spend a great deal of time reading young adult fiction I have a massive love for younger fiction too. I still re-read The Dark Is Rising series, the Narnia books, Harry Potter and Philip Pullman's Dark Materials books. When I was lucky enough to receive a bunch of arcs at the Random House Book Bloggers Brunch earlier this year it was The Emerald Atlas that drew me in. There's something incredibly exciting starting a new series that promises to transport the reader to a new world. I couldn't wait to get reading and started it on the train journey home.

We find Kate, Michael and Emma at the end of the line as far as orphanages go. They find themselves shipped off to a rambling and decaying house at Cambridge Falls being looked after by a mysterious Dr. Pym. Whilst investigating the house they find a book which transport them to an earlier time where the house, and Cambridge Falls itself, is a very different place.

From the beginning I loved the three main characters. Each one is affected in a slightly different way by the absence of their parents which would be the case given their disparity in age. Kate has the biggest burden, the promise she made to her mother to take care of Michael and Emma which has dragged her down over the years without her even realising it. Michael relies heavily on facts and seemingly useless bits of information. Little Emma is a fighter and used to acting first, often impulsively. Each one changes as the story progresses and the results of their abandonment are themes that I've not seen touched on in quite this way in a story like this before.

I wasn't expecting there to be quite so much humour but there was plenty. I especially loved the woman, obsessed by swans, who visited the orphanage with an idea of adopting them. There are some laugh out loud moments but also some thought-provoking ones. I especially loved the dwarfs and their underground world. As the book drew to a close I was pretty sure I knew what would happen but was happy to be wrong. The Emerald Atlas is a fantastic start of a series. Plenty of questions are yet to be answered and I look forward to the sequel.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Just like us…but braver, hairier and with swords - Giles Kristian Blog Tour

Vikings excite me because I admire them and their way of life. I envy their wanderlust and their bravery. After all, the Vikings became justly feared throughout Europe as the Hammer of the North. They sailed most of the North Atlantic, reached south to North Africa and east to Russia, Constantinople and the Middle East. They intrigue me because they seem on the one hand earthy and pragmatic, and on the other spiritual and incredibly creative. Even their whole ‘creation story’ is both wondrous and bizarre. They are a contradiction - characterized by a tremendous sense of chivalry but also by barbaric cruelty. As a deeply contradictory soul myself, I find their paradoxical nature fascinating. However, it is perhaps worth considering that these paradoxes may only be seen as such because we are viewing them through our own 21st century moral lens. To a Viking, slaughter and chivalry, art, faith and war were all just aspects of existence. No one aspect more or less remarkable or worthy of deep thought than another, but simply all just a part of life.

The three Norns weaving the wyrd
And yet, it is perhaps also true that they constructed their philosophical ideals, their belief system as a way of making sense of their existence and perhaps even of justifying their aggressive outlook. After all, their gods were warrior gods. Their heaven was a warrior heaven. For a Viking if you die well you’re a hero and you might just earn a place in Odin’s meadhall, Valhöll. There you’ll feast and drink with your dead mates and ancestors until Ragnarök, when you’ll fight beside the gods in the last battle. You believe that your fate is pre-determined. Your wyrd has already been spun by the Norns, those sisters of men’s past, present and future. So you’re free to take on terrible odds in battle or brave dangerous seas. If it’s not your time to die, you should be just fine. And afterwards you’re going to have a Hell of a story to tell.

Mjolnir 
Then there is making sense of the natural world around you. The crashing thunder must be Thor hurling his war hammer, Mjölnir, at the frost giants. The epic crack of a distant glacier is a frost giant’s baleful cry. A rainbow must surely be a bridge between the human world and the world of the gods.

Having said all this, I suspect most Vikings wore their faith fairly lightly. They were just too busy living their lives, seeking glory and riches, fame and recognition to worry too much about the tenets of a complex belief system. This is certainly the case for Sigurd, my favourite character from the RAVEN books. Yes, he respects the gods, but he also believes in himself first and foremost. There’s also a part of him, I believe, that enjoys spitting in the All-Father’s one eye. Sigurd dares to challenge the gods, perhaps because he knows how fickle they can be and he would rather not walk willingly into whatever ill fate awaits. Sigurd is a man who chooses his own path and this often put him at odds with Asgot who is forever trying to win the gods’ favour.

Their differences are what make my characters human. Their quirks and flaws help the reader identify with them. Raven’s inability to completely reconcile himself with Asgot’s wholesale bloodletting helps us sympathise with him. At times Raven is confused. He doesn’t know what to believe or how he should behave. He wants to fit in but he also strives to make sense of it all for himself. This makes him like us. And us like him.


MFB are very pleased to be part of the Giles Kristian Blog Tour for Odin's Wolves.  I asked Giles to please write us something about the mythology of the world he's set his Raven books in and as usual, he's come up with the goods. 


What I like about the Raven books is the fact that the characters are so recognisably human. They mess up, they fight, they love, they lose and they pick themselves up and carry on.  What I also like about the books is that Giles writes them.  This is quite obvious, I know, but what I mean is that he has this verve and enthusiasm for his writing that burns brightly.  As an aspiring writer and as a reader, that verve is so incredible to see and experience in real life, that it really inspires me.  And it also carries across into his writing.  His voice is so recognisable in these books that it sweeps the reader headlong into further adventures.  He is one of the writers where you seem to wake up from reading his books, by shaking your head physically and peering around you just to make sure you are not going to be smacked in the face by an axe or sword. 

Odin's Wolves is the third in the Raven series of books and I do suggest you read them from the start as they are decidedly more-ish. My full review of Odin's Wolves will happen later this year when we host VIKING MONTH.

Giles is at Waterstones Leicester Market Street on Friday at 6:30 pm.  His next web appearance will be on Monday, 18th April at www.historytellers.co.uk.  Be sure to stop by there or track his movements down via his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GilesKristian or his website: www.gileskristian.com.

Wintercraft: Blackwatch by Jenna Burtenshaw




Synopsis

Kate has escaped the clutches of the High Council and Silas has left Albion for the continent. But their lives are forever linked and as the veil weakens, causing Albion's skilled to fear for everyone's safety, Silas and Kate find themselves drawn together by the mysterious and corrupt Dalliah Grey.

I enjoyed Wintercraft and was keen to read the sequel. At the close of the previous book everything was left up in the air. The breadth of Kate's powers was beginning to emerge and the town of Fume has been left in panic. We join Kate as she is awaiting trial in the City Below. The Skilled are blaming Kate for the death of their leader, Mina, and it begins to look as if she has nowhere to turn. Faithful Edgar is by her side but it doesn't look as if this will be enough to help her. I really felt for Kate in Blackwatch - it becomes obvious that her powers (and her family name) are such that no-one trusts her. In Wintercraft she hoped to find a place to belong in the City Below but the Skilled are so fearful that they suggest locking her away for her own good. Edgar becomes a vital companion to Kate and I enjoyed watching their bond strengthen. Edgar also gives a lighter edge to the proceedings as he's a very grounded and practical character which is a good foil for Kate who spends much of her time in-between two worlds.

Silas, on the other hand, has left, managing to dodge the guard searching for him. On a tip-off he heads for the continent looking for Dalliah Grey eager to know if she can help. His journey is anything but calm and he soon finds that it was more than chance that drew him across the water. We're introduced to the lethal Blackwatch and they provide some edge of seat moments throughout. I loved watching Silas struggle with his conscience in this book, something that doesn't usually trouble him. These new fears that he's experiencing for another person are genuinely touching although I found myself viewing him as the resident bad boy. Any gesture, however tiny had me going, "Aw, bless him - he really does care!" In all seriousness though, Silas has to face a whole range of new emotions including coming to terms with his own vulnerability which is fascinating reading.

Blackwatch is brilliantly fast paced and tightly plotted. I loved the way that although Kate and Silas's journeys are separate they are united by their use of the veil and their story arcs. As one of them gets further into trouble so does the other and this mirroring really ramps up the tension. As before I loved the excepts involving the veil - I could read about it for days. As frost creeps over Kate's body she falls deeper and deeper into the otherworld putting herself in great danger. The City Below grows in Blackwatch and as I was reading my mind was scrambling to map it out. It's all huge caverns with tiny walkways, mysterious doors and wrong turnings aplenty. If you've not read Wintercraft then do! Get hold of Blackwatch while you're at it so you can go straight on to the next one. For great background information and extras do check out the website. I'm putting this review up a day earlier than the release date as I've seen that copies are already in stock on Amazon. If you're looking for a new fantasy world to dive into I really recommend these books.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rockoholic by CJ Skuse



Jody loves Jackson Gatlin. At his only UK rock concert, she’s right at the front. But when she's caught in the crush and carried back stage she has more than concussion to contend with. Throw in a menacing manager, a super-wired super-star, and a curly-wurly, and she finds herself taking home more than just a poster. It’s the accidental kidnapping of the decade. But what happens if you’ve a rock-god in your garage who doesn’t want to leave? Jody’s stuck between a rock-idol and a hard place!



From the pen of C.J. Skuse, author of last year’s super cool debut Pretty Bad Things, comes a tale of rock star obsession gone nuts. Hilariously and sharply explores the fantasy and reality of celebrity obsession through a teenager’s eyes. C. J. Skuse has been billed as the new Nick Hornby for teens.

It really has taken me far too long to review this very excellent, deeply funny and oddly quirky and completely over the top book by CJ Scuse and I apologise.  I read it last year and got to meet the author at the Chickenhouse Breakfast this year.  Needless to say, I went a bit Jody at her.  But without the curly wurly.

Rockoholic's main character is Jody who is one of these girls so many of us would recognise.  Maybe because once upon a time we were like her or we knew someone who was.  Jody is what can be termed a super-fan.  She adores Jackson Gatlin.  It is safe to say, she is more than just a bit obsessed with him.  Everything he sings and does, he does for her alone.  She daydreams about him, she's raised him on a pedestal and he has literally become a god in Jody's eyes.  Jackson Gatlin is part of a very popular band and when she gets the chance to go and see him, she queues up the entire day.  But by the time she gets to do so, things go a bit awry and she is taken to the back of the stage, where the the first aiders go to work on those who have fainted or become ill during the concert.

When Jackson comes backstage, a bit zoned out from adrenalin, uppers/downers and who knows what else, Jody has her chance to talk to him.  But she fumbles and instead pushed a curly wurly (a toffee type sweet, for those of you who don't know) in a silver wrapper at him.  Jackson sees this, thinks it's a knife and lets Jody march him out of the first aid room, to the car where her very best friend Mac is waiting to drive her home.

And, following this "kidnapping" let's just say, high jinks ensue.  Jody is initially so bedazzled by Jackson's presence as she is deeply convinced he is going to see her and fall in love with her as his souldmate.  Instead what she gets is a  spoiled person who acts like a 3 year old.  He throws tantrums, he wees himself, he vomits, he shouts and screams.  It's not pleasant.  Jody is in for a massive wake-up call.  And it is Mac that keeps it all together, explaining to her that Jackson's going cold turkey from whatever drugs he's been on. 

Jody has a tough time consolidating her image that she has of Jackson with the reality, even when he's straightened out.  He is not the hero she expected him to be.  He's just a young man who has undergone a massive learning curve when his band made it big.  All he wants is somewhere to sit and write his songs.  Instead he's forced to perform and act in a certain way.  The band's manager seems half demonic and evil and does everything in his power to keep them toeing the line. I felt that the way she broke down Jody's hero into this fallable human was done with great skill and pathos because you could see the character's humanity shine through.

And of course, the world wants to know what has happened to Jackson.  There are newspaper articles and reporters and it becomes a bigger deal than either Jody or Mac anticipated.

A word here about Mac.  He's such a terrific character.  He's slightly flamboyant and has a very arty soul and wears guyliner.  Everyone including Jody thinks that he might be gay but what he really is is a terrific friend and Jody, through her own stupidity and blinkeredness, almost loses him as she runs after Jackson, failing to see what is right beneath her nose.

It is a great book with Jody being this impulsive and very funny character.   The things this girl gets up to makes you moan a bit in your soul because you seriously think that maybe she has no iota of self-preservation at all.  Thank heavens for Mac.  And for Jackson, in the end.

The story ends well, it made me dash away a tear and things are resolved in a very CJ Skuse way.  I am a big fan of Ms. Skuse, who also wrote the superb Pretty Bad Things. Give Rockoholic a whirl - it is incredibly funny. 

Find the author's website here.  Rockoholic is out now from ChickenHouse!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

Synopsis

Maya Delaney has always felt a close bond with nature. The woods around her home are a much-loved sanctuary – and the pawprint birthmark on her hip feels like a sign that she belongs.

But then strange and terrible things begin to happen in the tiny medical-research town of Salmon Creek (population: 200). The captain of the swim team drowns mysteriously in the middle of a calm lake. Mountain lions appear around Maya’s home, and won’t go away. Her best friend, Daniel, starts experiencing ‘bad vibes’ about certain people and things. One of those people is Rafe – the new bad boy in town. What is he hiding – and why is he suddenly so interested in Maya . . . ?

I'm a big fan of Kelley Armstrong having read a fair few of her Women of the Otherworld books plus the Darkest Powers series. I was excited to see that The Gathering is set in the same world as Darkest Powers as I love that idea of supernaturals going up against secret organisations. I like that clash of (super)natural phenomena versus science and order. In fact, I suppose that this represents why I love to read fantasy - it's pure escapism from the rigid order that can exist in everyday life.

Maya is adopted and thinks she may be a member of the Navajo tribe although she's not entirely sure as her mother dropped her off at a hospital when she was a baby and there's little information for her adoptive parents to go on. Maya lives in parkland on the outskirts of the minuscule town of Salmon Creek. She loves living in the woods and looks after a range of wounded animals that she finds. The action starts a year after the death of her best friend Serena in a swimming accident. Maya and Daniel (Serena's boyfriend) have always had questions about how a good swimmer could drown in a calm lake but have tried to put it behind them. Maya focusses on turning sixteen, having a tattoo and getting to know Rafe, the new boy at school.

However, a series of strange events force Maya and Daniel to start questioning everything around them. A journalist arrives and starts poking around, a complete stranger accuses Maya of being a witch, Maya starts having visions and even Daniel is changing. Alongside all this drama Maya finds herself falling for Rafe. I loved the completely believable way that Maya feels overcome by her emotions, scared of the strength of her feelings for Rafe. Daniel is a brilliant character too and his friendship with Maya is touching as the two of them struggle to move through their teens yet stay close. Written in the first person, Maya has a strong voice. She's grounded and at times hilarious - I loved the interaction between her and her adoptive parents.

This is what I love about Kelley Armstrong; you know you're in safe hands. She picks you up like a waif on the side of the road looking for a lift and promises you a journey. Whenever I open one of her books I know that I'm never going to question the motives of the main character, I'm not going to wonder what happened to the pace or get restless. What I do know is that she'll deliver me at the other end, somewhat ruffled and exhilarated wondering when I'm going to get my hands on the sequel. In between I know there'll be spot-on dialogue, feelings that I can identify with, spooky or downright bizarre happenings and some pure magic. If you've never tried one of Armstrong's books then do - start with The Gathering, or The Summoning, or Bitter, or .... just try one, please, just to shut me up.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Winterkill by CJ Box


In Winterkill, Joe Pickett is a game warden in a remote part of Wyoming, but more importantly, he's a family man and home is where he'd rather be than anywhere else. In this third Joe Pickett novel by C. J. Box, Joe finds a herd of elk slaughtered, and when he finds the perpetrator of that crime, it turns out to be the district supervisor of the National Forest, who is then found murdered. At the same time, a group of Waco and Ruby Ridge survivors calling themselves the Sovereign Citizens set up a permanent camp in the National Forest. Among them is the mother of Joe Pickett's youngest girl, a foster child abandoned three years ago. The tension mounts as Washington bureaucrats arrive to evict the Sovereign Citizens, by force if necessary, Joe becomes convinced that wrong man has been arrested for the murder, his foster daughter is kidnapped by her mother, and a killer blizzard is bearing down on the forest. This write-up was taken from here - as it seemed a more comprehensive reflection of what the book is about.


The UK is some while behind the US as they've had the opportunity to read CJ Box's books since around 2002.  It is thanks to Corvus, here in the UK, that we are now getting the chance to catch up with Mr. Box's books.
 
I read Winterkill within a few sittings.  What drew me to the story was the main character, Joe Pickett.  Joe is such a great character with a strong moral compass and a spidey-sense that he tends to follow, regardless of the consequences.  What I liked even more about Joe is that although he has this integral good guy attitude which in theory should have made him a lonely hero-type, Mr. Box has taken that and swung it around, having Joe rely hheavily on his wife Marybeth for advice and guidance.  Marybeth herself is a fantastically wrought character and you have a sense that she can withstand an onslaught from practically anything.  Yet, Box manages to keep both his characters very human, with failings, doubt and anger just under the surface.

**very minor spoilers** 

But I am getting carried away here.  My review for Winterkill is basically this: when Joe is faced with the awful murder of an escaped suspect, Lamar Gardner (the guy got shot full of hunting arrows), within minutes of the suspect escaping from his truck (having locked Joe in the truck by handcuffing him to the steering wheel) whilst a storm is moving in, Joe has few choices. Leaving him in the cold and snow would mean that any of the scavengers would get to him so he lifts the man and carries him back to the truck, through the storm and drives him to the hospital.  He also reports the incident to the local sheriff who accuses him of (obviously) tampering with evidence.  Joe points out that he'd rather bring the man in to hospital, than leave him to the mercy of the storm and scavengers.  This shuts the sheriff up pretty promptly.
 
They are due to set off to with some deputies and various other law enforcement types the next day, but the storm moves in quite heavily and scuppers the plans. By the time things are clear enough for them to go to the site of the murder, with a certain Melinda Strickland in tow.  Strickland is one of the nastiest pieces of bureaucrats I have ever had the honour to read about.  She is a high ranking Forest Service official and is so cold, heartless and brutal, that I really did wish someone would just punch her lights out permanently.  She, of course, makes Joe's life utter hell. 
 
The investigation that follows into Lamar's death spirals out of control as Strickland sees enemies where there are none and through her sheer force of will creates a nightmare for all concerned.  A group of people, refugees, if you can call them that, from some of the most high profile stand-offs between authorities and citizens (think Waco survivors) move into a nearby campground and all they want, they say, is to be left alone.  Joe visits them, to suss out what they are up to and he comes away with a sense that what these people are saying is true.  They literally just want to be left alone to see through winter and then maybe move along.  They call themselves the Sovereign Citizens and although Joe believes them, he doesn't think for a moment that they are all innocent.
 
It also transpires that the Sovereigns have in their midst, the birth-mother of April, Joe and Marybeth's foster-daughter.  And by all counts, this woman wants April back. 
 
When things go pear-shaped, April is taken by her mother and the authorities move in to try and evict the Sovereigns from the campground, Joe is left with some truly awful decisions to make.  The authorities are convinced that the murderer of Lamar Gardner is sheltering with the Sovereigns, which means that Joe has to act to prove them wrong, in the vain hope that they will not attack the Sovereign camp.
 
It literally becomes a race against time.  Joe's character is pushed to the limits here and even though you will him to throw his law abiding citizen persona to the wind, you know that once he does, nothing will be able to bring him back from the edge.
 
I was on the edge of my seat.  I had no idea what was going to happen.  CJ Box kept proving to me that he was a skilled writer and that Joe's action were not to be taken for granted.
 
In the end, the very end, I closed the covers and sat back with this huge tremendous sigh.  And no, it may not end the way you expected it to end, but wow, what you got for your ending was raw and honest and really pummelled you.
 
As this is the third Joe Pickett novel, and as it is very American, being set in Wyoming, it fully expects you to be au fait with guns and various laws pertaining to the Forest Services, including bits of hunting law.  It also assumes that the reader will know about Waco, Ruby Ridge and who the Freemen are.  Personally, this didn't bother me, in the least.  As a reader you can quite easily deduce what had taken place at these events and of course, you can always Google it. I mean, we all know and remember Waco, so it's easy enough to figure out what Ruby Ridge was about.  As Joe does everything in his power to stop the authorities turning Saddlestring into another recognisable name synonymous with death and horror.
 
CJ Box is a writers' writer.  His plotting is ridiculously well done and his characters lived and breathed whilst I read it.  The back story for those of us who did not know about the more intimate details of their lives (i.e. that their daughter April was not their own etc) is handled with care and never once did it feel like I was receiving info-dump.   I came to care for the community and I think I have a bit of a crush on both Marybeth and Joe for being such honest good people whom I want to be with.  So, I'm definitely signing up for the next Joe Pickett book to be read.  I am curious to see what else will happen in his life.  It may sound macabre, but it isn't really.
 
Find CJ Box's website here.  As I understand it, Corvus will be releasing a CJ Box novel a month, until we are caught up with the States.  This is great news.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough




Synopsis

A chilling, beautiful debut novel inspired by a haunting folk song about murder, witchcraft and revenge.

Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the moss . . .

When Cora and her little sister Mimi are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Bryers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome, and are desperate to go back to London. But Auntie Ida's life was devastated the last time two young girls were at Guerdon Hall, and now her nieces' arrival has reawoken an evil that has lain waiting for years.

A haunting voice in an empty room ... A strange, scarred man lurking in the graveyard ... A mysterious warning, scrawled on the walls of the abandoned church . . . Along with Roger and Peter, two young village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries - before it is too late for Mimi.


I seem to be talking a lot lately about the sort of stuff that makes me uncomfortable so I may as well add another to the list - creepy stuff. I'm fine with old-fashioned slash horror such as Scream but spooky things play on my mind at night when the stairs creak and the dog whimpers in her sleep. That being said I put Long Lankin on the shelf for a while whilst I read other things. The problem was that it sounded so brilliant that I knew I wanted to read it whatever. It wasn't what I expected. Set in mid to late 1950's England (I'm guessing), Cora and Mimi arrive at Aunt Ida's large but decrepit house to find they're very much unwelcome. When it becomes clear that they won't be going home straight away Cora is given a long list of rules; don't go near the church, stay off the marshes, don't poke around the house. Of course, the first thing Cora does is check out all of these places.

Cora's not alone though. Just up the road lives Roger with his three brothers and baby sister. Their house becomes something of a refuge for Cora - there's always plenty of food and Roger and Cora become friends. Together they start to investigate the local church and discover that past events seem to be happening again. There are some truly chilling passages in Long Lankin. One that sticks in my mind is a ghost that Cora sees in one of the forbidden rooms. She's crouched upon the floor with her back to Cora one hand pointing up at the ceiling. The style of writing is so atmospheric that I felt that I was actually Cora, standing in the dark watching the woman in the corner. As the book progresses Guerdon Hall seems to decay at an even faster rate, flies appear, roofs leak and window frames crumble.

The story is told through a variety of viewpoints: Cora's, Ida's and Roger. My favourite by far was Roger who gave me some laugh out loud moments. I also enjoyed the historical setting and loved how the children were pretty much left to themselves or to look after four or five small children. As long as they did as they were told and stayed out of the way then the grown-ups were happy - a world away from the society of today.

Long Lankin is definitely spooky, alarming and disturbing but it's also brilliantly written with a real eye for historical detail and wonderful characterisation. Alongside the horror is a tale of friendship, family and love. I found this book to be a real treasure.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Liz Kessler chats to MFB

I was very lucky to meet and chat with Liz Kessler last year at the Orion's Children's party.  I distinctly remember doing my best to lure Liz onto Twitter and succeeding (@lizkesslerbooks) and also chatting to her about blogging and reading and writing.  When Orion approached me to ask me to read Liz's new book "A YEAR WITHOUT AUTUMN" I said yes, as the time-slip novel really appealed to me and it's not something I've read in the longest time.  Little did I expect to fall for Liz Kessler the way I did.

When they offered me a space on the blog-tour, I said yes too.  You may notice I have trouble saying "no".  What's resulted is this, my interview with Liz I wrote shortly after finishing A YEAR WITHOUT AUTUMN.

I make no excuses for the fawning overtones:

1. Where did your timeslip idea for A Year Without Autumn come from?

I had the idea years ago. I think even before I started writing books for children. Originally, my idea was about a woman in a department store who took the lift upstairs and came out a year later on in her life. When I started writing children’s books, the main character became a girl instead. But the thing at the heart of it for me is the idea that our lives seem to turn massively on the tiniest moments. Those moments seem so random and miniscule at the time, but they can change the course of our lives forever. Combined with the fact that I think time travel is just ACE, it all eventually led to A Year Without Autumn!

2. Autumn’s character is such a great vibrant one, and I loved how you contrasted Autumn with Jenni’s character. Was it a conscious choice to choose Jenni’s “quieter” voice as narrator of our story?

Yes. I wanted the main character to go through a transformation. I wanted her to be someone who didn’t see herself as important or brave or interesting, but through the course of the novel, realised that actually she was pretty cool, and that she had strengths of her own.

3. I was wondering: do you see A Year without Autumn as a science fiction novel, taking into consideration the time-slip factor? Also, did you do a lot of research?

Yikes. I don’t think I see it as science fiction. That sounds far too grown up and clever! I wouldn’t really know how to categorise it, and in fact, I think it’s more up to the reader than the author to make those kinds of decisions anyway.

In terms of research, I read various different theories about time travel and watched a few Stephen Hawking programmes, and then took the bits that I liked out of all of it and ignored the rest! The important thing to me was that at this moment in time, no one can prove that time travel actually exists – which means I could do exactly what I liked with it and no one could tell me I’d got it wrong! (No one can prove mermaids or fairies don’t exist either – which is part of what I like about writing those books too!)

4. Are you a big genre fiction fan – i.e. sci-fi/fantasy etc?

Not at all. Actually, I don’t really notice genres. I’m not a big fan of labels. I like books with interesting, believable characters and really good plots that make you want to just keep on reading. Beyond that, I don’t really mind what genre they are or aren’t as long as they’re good!

5. From a writerly perspective: how did you go about planning this novel and how did you manage to keep track of the different strands?

I plan meticulously with all of my books. I don’t even begin to write a word of the book until I’ve got the whole plan in place and I’m sure it’s going to work. Once I’d written this book, my editor still managed to find a few bits that didn’t quite work – so I had to sort those out. I hoped we spotted them all, and managed to get all the strands to match up. If we didn’t, please don’t tell me!!


6. Was it difficult to walk away from your Emily Windsnap and Philippa Fisher books to write something for an older audience?

No, because Emily and Philippa are still there. In fact, I’m writing a new Emily Windsnap book this year, which will be out next year. If anything, it feels exciting. It’s my first ever stand alone novel, and so it feels quite fresh and different for me.

7. Strong family relationships are key in your writing, yet they never feel contrived. As a writer, how do you stay aware of where to draw the line to keep it believable for your readers?

I have no idea! I don’t think this is something you can consciously set out to do. You can just write what’s genuinely in your heart and you genuinely care about, and hope that the emotions and actions you are trying to convey will successfully make their way to the page. It’s quite funny because people often tell me about the themes in my books – like friendship and family and love and loyalty. I never intend to write about these things, but I know that they are the biggest things in my life – and somehow or other, they always seem to wriggle into my books!

8. What was your path to being published?

I had my first poem published in the local paper when I was nine. That was my creative peak for about 25 years!

I worked as a journalist, and I taught English and Media Studies. Then in 1999 I had a complete lightbulb moment and suddenly remembered that I’d always wanted to be a writer, and I had to do it NOW!

So I left my job, took some temporary part-time contracts and got writing! I was lucky enough to be put in touch with the wonderful Catherine Clarke, who became my agent, and she got me the book deal with the equally wonderful Orion. I have been with both of them since, and hope to remain so for the rest of my career!

9. I realise Autumn is so new, it’s not even lost its shine yet, but what are you looking at doing next?

Well I’ve just finished the first draft of the next book. It’s (tentatively) called The Night the Sea Stole Our Town. What d’you think? Do you like the title? (oh gods, yes, I love the title!! tell me more!!) I’m currently taking votes on it. This will be the second of my stand alone books. The plan is to have three of these, which are not linked at all, apart from the fact that they all involve some kind of time slip.

Once I’ve sent this off to my editor later this month, I’ll be getting started on the fifth Emily Windsnap adventure…

10. What are you currently reading for fun?

I’ve just started reading Lionel Shriver’s ‘So Much For That’. But I’ve seen what it’s about, and I’m not sure it’s particularly cheery number, so I’m not sure if ‘for fun’ is the right expression! But I’m about five pages in and enjoying it so far!

***

My review for A Year Without Autumn can be found here.  Later this afternoon, I'll put up another piece that Liz wrote for us about character creation.  So, remember to pop by for that too.

In the meantime, do follow Liz on the rest of her blog tour - the dates are all below!