Thursday, June 30, 2011

True Immortals by Zoe Marriott



Zoe Marriott is a reader's dream author. Funny, heartfelt and always happy to talk about writing and reading and geeky things like how hot Andy Lau was in House of Flying Daggers and other sundry topics, so when we were asked to do something with Zoe to celebrate her brand new novel: Shadows on the Moon, we were hesitant.

Yes, you read that correctly. We were hesitant. We were heading towards Under 14's Only Month in July and not thinking straight and we were so worried that we weren't going to be able to get Zoe to hold court on MFB at such short notice. And you know what? Sarah came through with this awesome review from earlier today and Walker put together some cool things for us to give away and Zoe came up with this awesome blogpost about fairy tales and fairy tale retellings and storytelling...and my heart soared. And to top it all off, later this afternoon, we are hosting an extract from Shadows on the Moon.  Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and believe in serendipity!
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The first stories that the first people told each other were fantasy. We can see these stories in cave art, where human and animal spirits meld with each other and with features of the landscape, creating an astonishing picture of a world where men were part of nature, not separate from it. Despite the life or death struggle that must have formed their existence – or perhaps because of it – those first people took immense care to immortalise their stories. These extraordinary carvings and paintings can still be viewed today.
  
Art by Arthur Rackham

As time went on and humans divided the world to form countries, cities and civilisations, our stories gradually changed. Now, instead of seeing ourselves as part of the wonder and magic of nature, we began to believe that we were different – special – with a wonder and magic all our own. Our tales were more sophisticated fantasy, stories of human-like Gods and monsters who created and ruled the world, alternately tormenting and aiding humanity. These myths and legends still influence our society today.

Still later, when religion became even more formalised - and even more contentious - humans turned from tales of Gods in human form to tales of other immortals. We thrilled to stories of dragons, witches, fairies, pixies, wizards, elves, goblins, vampires and werewolves, and these creatures still show up in everything from children’s books to T-shirt slogans today.

The true immortals of our world are not Gods, monsters, fairies or even dragons (I know, I’m disappointed too) but stories. The human ability, and more than that, NEED to weave the gleaming gold thread of narrative in among the ragged and bloodstained tapestry of our day to day existence is the reason why (I think) we probably developed language, art, music – and the written word. In other words, without stories? We’re just apes with clever fingers.
 
Larry Elmore's Dragon Scout

Stories aren’t going anywhere.

Maybe that’s why today, books that draw on the rich tradition of inherited fairytales, myths and folklore from all cultures are some of the most popular in the YA market. I certainly pounce on new retellings or folklore inspired stories with wild enthusiasm whenever I find them. Here’s a list of some of my favourites, both new and old:

Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones. This is a novel aimed at 8-12s but I recommend it to everyone – it’s based on Norse Myth and was actually the inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s very famous adult fantasy American Gods (told you, stories are immortal). It’s the darkly hilarious tale of a neglected young boy who accidentally manages to summon a certain mythological being into the modern day world, and isn’t sure if he’s made the best friend of his life or unleashed Ragnarok. Or both.

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini. This is probably my favourite retelling of Greek myth ever. I’ve been obsessed with the Illiad and Greek myths ever since I was a kid (you can ask my teachers – I got a gold star for my project on it in year five) so I went into this book feeling slightly hostile and sceptical about someone messing around in my territory. Four hours later I was sending the author tweets cursing her for leaving me hanging and begging her to write the sequel faster. This is a YA paranormal fantasy with a strong, principled heroine, a breathless romance and a cunning, multi-layered plot.

Beauty by Robin McKinley. Most fairytale enthusiasts will offer you this version of Beauty and the Beast as their very first recommendation if you ask for a great retelling. It has probably influenced my writing choices more than any other with its lushly romantic tone, hypnotic, lyrical prose and bookish, commonsensical heroine. It’s a classic.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. This book takes on Cinderella in much the same that my own Shadows on the Moon does, and attempts to explain just why any girl with an iota of spine or heart would allow herself to be made a drudge in her own family home. The sprightly heroine and humorous tone have made this a library favourite, and although I’d say it’s aimed at the younger end of YA, I still enjoy re-reading it very much.

The Perilous Guard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. What can I say about this brilliant, Elizabethan-themed Tam Lin story, except ‘Get it now’? If ever you longed for another heroine like Jane Eyre – strong, resolute, morally focused and pragmatic – then this is the book for you. In fact, just typing this gives me an intense urge to get it out and read it again!

The Iron Witch by Kaz Mahoney. This modern YA paranormal novel deals with the not-terribly-well-known Germanic folk tradition of the Maiden with Silver/Iron arms, and does so in a unique and beautifully written story that mixes alchemy, fairy-folk, and romance.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. A unique retelling that takes on the form of a journal written by one of the servants from the fairytale of Maid Maleen or the Maid in the Tower, this historical fantasy features a delightful, plump, food-loving heroine and a culture which I believe takes inspiration from the rise of Gengis Khan and the Mongolian steppes.

The Door in the Hedge and Other Tales by Robin McKinley. I didn’t want to repeat any authors on this list, but I simply couldn’t resist adding this collection of short stories. When I think about my childhood, the language of this anthology – rich and whimsical and magical – is what defines all my memories. I borrowed it from the library so many times that eventually the librarians gave it to me as a present! The story contains two original tales by Ms McKinley, which draw strongly on folklore, and two retellings of classic stories The Princess and the Frog and The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

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Walker Books and Zoe have kindly offered the following items to be given away to one lucky competition entrant. Please note that the competition is open to UK entrants only and will run from today, the 30th June till July 7th when we'll be choosing random winner via Random.org. The goodies: scented fan (lovely!), magnet and also postcards.


Thank you to both Walker Books for letting me play with Zoe and thank you to Zoe for indulging us with this awesome blogpost.

Zoe Marriott's Shadows on the Moon - Extract 1

     “Sometimes I wonder…” she whispered.
     “Wonder what?”
     “Why I lived, when everyone – Mother and Father, even the baby – died of the fever. Why I lived to come here, and annoy Oba-san, and be a burden to Oji-san.”
     I pressed my lips together to hold in the angry denial that wanted to escape. Instead I put my arm around her, and hugged her fiercely.
     “Perhaps,” I said, when I had control of myself. “Perhaps the Moon took pity on me…”
     “What do you mean?” she asked, surprised.
     “I was so lonely before you came. I used to pray for a brother or sister – someone to talk to and play with. Most especially I prayed for a sister: a kind, beautiful sister. Perhaps the Moon heard my pleas and spared you when my aunt and uncle died, not for your own sake but for mine. If so, I cannot be sorry. Though you might be, to have such a sister forced on you, and such a mother as mine.”
     “Suzume!” she said, a little amused and a little shocked. “What would your father say?”
     “Oh, he never says anything. That is part of what makes Mother so cross all the time. Father knows that if he scolds me I argue, and arguments are so noisy, and—”
     “ ‘A quiet house is a happy house,’ ” she chorused with me.
     She was smiling now, the sweet, happy smile that I loved to see. I congratulated myself, though I had said nothing but the truth. I was about to suggest that we walk back to the house, when I heard hoof-beats on the road. Lots of them. Travelling at a gallop.
     We exchanged interested looks. Mother? No – why would she be in such a hurry so close to home? Besides, we could not afford so many outriders.
     As I leaned forward to look down at the road, the troop of riders broke out of the forest. Aimi made a sound of wonder. There were an even dozen of them, and they wore black lacquered armour and rode dark horses. The spring sunlight gleamed on the horses’ gear and on the silver edges of the armour. They made a glorious picture.
     I expected them to carry on along the road, but instead the leader, who had a crest of white feathers on his helmet, pointed, and they wheeled their horses and turned on to our little road. The thunder of hooves shook the ground as they rode under the ranks of blooming trees, and pink and white petals showered down, catching in the dark flowing manes and tails of the horses. They looked like an illustration from one of Father’s books.
     Yet, as the leader passed us in our hidden place, a cold finger touched my back and I shivered. I did not like the feeling. Sometimes it came when we were about to get bad news.

Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott




Synopsis

Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume is able to recreate herself in any form – a fabulous gift for a girl desperate to escape her past. But who is she really? Is she a girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama, or a lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens, or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Whatever her true identity, Suzume is destined to capture the heart of a prince – and determined to use his power to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her, not even love.



I've been looking forward to getting stuck into Shadows on the Moon for ages so when I saw on Zoë's blog that it had been seen in the wild already I set aside the weekend to read it. Suzume is initially happy with her family and cousin Aimi at their home and her privileged lifestyle. Her mother has been long absent visiting a family member when soldiers come and kill her father and Aimi. Suzume manages to escape by accidentally using a skill she didn't even know she had - that of shadow-weaving. Alongside this and the help of an old man (and fellow shadow-weaver) called Youta she manages to escape them. When her mother finally reappears she is whisked off to live with her and an admirer of her mother, Terayama-San. From this point on the book takes a darker turn and Suzume starts a long journey that will test her to the very edge of her capabilities.



I loved Suzume, she's both brave and resilient. Within her core is an absolute desire to survive and this drives her along as her life takes various twists and turns. Although her mother is keen to forget their previous life and embrace her new marriage, Suzume is loyal to the memory of her father and wants nothing more than the truth. This truth takes her from her comfortable life to that of a kitchen drudge and then away to start over again as a courtesan. Along the way she meets the quite frankly awesome Otieno - a boy she meets on a boat to the Moonlit Lands. He can see through Suzume's shadow-weavings and through the wall she has put up to protect her soft interior. In her every reincarnation he recognises and supports her despite the fact that she doesn't always treat him fairly as she is so focussed on her quest. Another character who I loved was Akira who rescues Suzume from a tight spot. Akira is wonderful, strong yet caring and I absolutely adored her back story which I won't go into so as not to spoil the plot. Needless to say I was praying for a good outcome for her.



One of the themes of Shadows on the Moon is that of self-harm. At no point is this subject trivialised or glorified, in fact it's one of the most sensitive approaches to it that I've read. The origins of Suzume's self-harm is clear; her mother never lets Suzume speak about the death of her father which she witnessed. Instead, from the age of fourteen, she is urged to keep her memories inside. As the book unfolds Suzume remembers other things that her mother did: forcing her to keep her love of music to herself, constant criticism and a lack of warmth and support. Keeping all this within with only a desire for revenge for company affects Suzume deeply and her rage turns inwards. As the years roll by Suzume becomes stronger but at times still resorts to self-harm.



Everything about this book is beautiful from the passing seasons, the food (which had me starving as I read) to the clothes. Although the plot is fast-paced and exciting it was underlined with a gentle sort of rhythm as Suzume goes through her various reincarnations. I would highly recommend this book and it has convinced me to check out Zoë's other books too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Guest Review - Author Julie Bertagna talks Divergent with MFB


MFB jumped at the chance to host this thoughtful review/guest blog by Julie Bertagna, author of the dystopic trilogy: Exodus, Zenith, Aurora.


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DIVERGENT review by Julie Bertagna


By 2012, the tide of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction that is taking the YA publishing world by storm will be a veritable tsunami. Pick your apocalypse, disaster or dystopia. Asteroid hit? Moon crash? A world short of water? Flooded by rising seas? Running out of oil? Scarce on oxygen? Or scarce on basic freedoms, ruled by sinister powers who decide your fate?


Divergent by Veronica Roth is the latest, much-hyped debut on the dystopian scene, marketed as a natural successor to Suzanne Collins’ massively successful Hunger Games trilogy. I was interested to discover that Divergent was optioned for a film adaptation by the makers of the Twilight movies even before the book was published, because I often felt I was reading the script of an action mov-ie, rather than a novel - and that, for me, was both the book’s weakness and its strength.

In this dystopia world, devastating war has been followed by a ‘great peace’. I had to guess that this war had been global as Beatrice Prior’s world and references are limited to a future Chicago, where society has been divided into five factions, each cultivating the various virtues which, it is believed, will save humans from further war.

The strangeness of this idea gripped me right away. It’s a scenario worthy of Margaret Atwood. YA readers, stressed out by exams and life choices, will identify with the tests sixteen-year-old Bea-trice is put through and her pressurised decision over which faction she will belong to for the rest of her life: Candor, Dauntless, Amity, Erudite or staying with her family in Abnegation? Beatrice becomes Tris and makes a choice which wrenches her from a safe but dull existence and all she has ever known. And for the next few hundred pages, Tris is immersed in a brutal initiation trial: a gang world of extreme violence, where every day is a fight to survive the murderous tests deemed essential in order to become a true member of her chosen faction. In The Hunger Games it’s clear from the outset that Katniss is fighting for her life and for her loved ones, but it’s only in the final hundred pages of Divergent that the real plot kicks in and Tris’ torture begins to make sense.

Yet amid the over-long violence some characters of real depth emerge and Tris has to grapple with difficult moral choices - and an overwhelming attraction to a boy who becomes central to the real battle ahead.

It’s a thrillingly fast-paced and action-packed story, but ultimately the relentless violence wea-kened the book for me because it had a cartoon quality that strained my credibility too far, too often. One one occasion Tris is beaten unconscious, in another she is shot and has a bullet lodged in her shoulder - episodes which would floor ordinary mortals - but Tris’ discomfort is fleeting and soon she is back on her feet, battling on regardless. The unending brutality became repetitive and numbing, and Tris’ one-dimensional reaction to most events is to want to kick, punch or strangle someone. So when the really tragic episodes occur, what should be heart-wrenching is diminished, losing its power to shock amid so much page-by-page violence.

Divergent is an intriguing addition to the welter of futuristic visions of the current dystopian craze and Tris is a gutsy, unpredictable girl character. Often perplexing, hard to like or understand, it was these very flaws that kept me interested in her when the violence became tedious. Tris may take bravado and girlpower to unrealistic extremes, but this plain, long-nosed, selfish, gung-ho girl is a welcome divergence from some of the more bland, beautiful and needy heroines of YA fiction.


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This is another very interesting artice Julie had done for The Scotsman on Dystopic Fiction, which is definitely worth a look at.

Thank you so much to Julie and to MacMillan for thinking of MFB to host Julie's rounds around the internet. Aurora, the third book in the trilogy is out now.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth


She turns to the future in a world that’s falling apart.

For sixteen-year-old Tris, the world changes in a heartbeat when she is forced to make a terrible choice. Turning her back on her family, Tris ventures out, alone, determined to find out where she truly belongs. Shocked by the brutality of her new life, Tris can trust no one. And yet she is drawn to a boy who seems to both threaten and protect her. The hardest choices may yet lie ahead…. A debut novel that will leave you breathless.


I am loathe to be another person banging their drum about Divergent and how good it is.  I read Divergent some months ago, because Zoe Marriott could not shut up about it.  She won a copy directly from Veronica Roth and the copy was annotated with these tiny yellow stickys in which Veronica had given glimpses about things like music she listened to whilst she wrote certain scenes etc. I discreetly asked Zoe for her copy and she in turn told Lynsey Newton to pass it on to me to read and it was eventually sent to me with a sticker that said this:




I mean, how on earth could I resist?

And I subsequently read the book in one sitting, cover to cover and adored it. I loved it so much that I started handselling it to everyone I spoke with.  But do you think I could sit down and write a review about it?  It was hard.  It hurt my brain.  So instead I continued to handsell it on Twitter and to my SCBWI friends and to their kids.

This book is superb.  It deals, in quite an adult fashion, with an incredibly difficult choice at a very young age.  How do you choose somewhere to spend the rest of your life? I mean, you are still growing up and don't have all the tools to make this overwhelming decision.  Here, I remembered what it felt like being 15 and having to decide which subjects I wanted to take for the rest of my school career that will ultimately guide me to what I will study when going to university.  It blew my mind.  And it certainly blew Tris's mind as she stood there, having to wait and decide which of the factions she will be going for.  Even though the choice was limited to Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent) they seemed far too many choices and yet, equally, far too few.

I am sure most of you know which choice Tris makes but it makes for interesting reading to see her fulfil that choice, the repercussions and the consequences, the lies and the subterfuge that takes place surrounding her choice.

And of course, from this, the whole story hinges on Tris becoming part of her group, figuring out the hierachy of this world and learning about the untruths about the various factions they are told for a variety of reasons.

If, for any reason, you've been looking at Divergent and thought: too much hype, not my thing, girl protagonist, nothing is as good as Hunger Games, I urge you with all my heart to re-look at Divergent and to give it a go.  The writing is superb, as is the world Ms. Roth has created.  Tris is an amazing character and grows so much in Divergent.  Yes, there is a bit of a love interest, and Four is a great match for Tris.  He is a real boy, a strong and independent young man and you can see why Tris falls for him.  And before you put up your hand and say: "eeew, kissing" - I'm happy to say, there is more action, more tooling up with weapons and doing crazy stunts, than there is kissing or staring at each other in a loving fashion.

I feel that I've not done Divergent the justice it deserves with this write-up.  My heart still swells too much thinking about it and I know I want to re-read it soon.  I'm linking to a few others here as I want to give you a taste of what others thought about it.  Here is Zoe Marriott's review which I loved because, as a published writer, she has the opportunity to see the mechanics behind the story and yet, it did not put her off and she loves it.  And this review is from The Booksmugglers whose opinions I value highly and then finally, a review from My words Ate Me (who may just have the coolest blog name EVER!) and who I don't know from a bar of soap, but would like to.

Divergent is one of those books that makes you think.  You read it, put it down and pick it up again.  The good news is that the second book in the series is called INSURGENT and that it is out soonish, but that is all we know right now.  *bites knuckles* Am looking forward to reading the second book very soon indeed.

Haunting Violet Competition Winner!


Using Random.org I've picked a winner from the comments and the winner is …….


Bella

I'll be contacting you shortly by email to sort out where to send your copy of Haunting Violet to.

Congratulations!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cornelia Funke's Reckless Blog Tour


As one of Ms. Funke's biggest fans, I swooned with joy when ChickenHouse asked me to be part of the Reckless blog tour. I jumped at the chance and worked my butt off on the questions and the interview below is the result.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

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Reckless drips with dark fairy tale menace, and several of your other books also have a ‘fairy tale’ feel. Are you a big fan of fairy tales and can you perhaps tell us which have influenced you the most?

Funnily enough, I never liked fairy tales. I preferred myth and folk tales that are much older. But, as a German child of my generation, I was brought up on Grimm’s fairy tales, and they haunted me and proved to be quite unforgettable. Reckless is also about my experience of living in two worlds: in America, which is in so many ways the younger and more modern world, and in Europe, where we still meet the past at every corner and our own romanticised interpretation of it. Fairy tales talk so much about a lost past, about human nature and all its darkness and light, that the more I explored them the more I was fascinated by how much they have changed and how they were sometimes used as a tool to transport beliefs and social rules.

In Reckless, your writing style is far darker, more mature, than in, say, your Inkheart books. Was this a deliberate change in tone and how did Lionel Wigram co-writing with you affect your writing voice?

When I was editing Inkdeath I started to feel that the style did not fit me anymore. The last few years brought vast private changes for me: my husband of 27 years died, I moved to America, and my daughter left home and now lives in London - which makes me travel a lot. I felt I needed a less ‘baroque’ language; less sentimental, less wordy, more modern. I also felt that there were stories stirring in me that were older. With my being 52 that’s probably not a big surprise; even my ‘young’ son is now 16 and taller than me. When my friend Lionel Wigram [producer of the Harry Potter movies] came to me with the initial ideas for Reckless, he was the perfect collaborator for helping me find that new voice. Lionel and I were soon working so closely together that we were ruthless when it came to criticising each other’s ideas. It feels different to be edited by a close friend who is also a well-respected creative partner. I am much more protective of my characters and stories when editors criticise them, as they only spend a few days or weeks with them while I have been living with them for years. Lionel, in contrast, had created them with me and therefore sometimes knew them even better than I did, especially the male characters. It was also vastly inspiring (and refreshing) to discuss characters and motives not only in my own head but with someone else. It was like I could paint a rather brilliant Yellow and Lionel, a beautiful Blue. But together we could suddenly paint this quite magical Green – rich and dark and unlike anything we could have come up with alone.

I recall Lionel mentioning at your hardback launch last year in London that he had learned a tremendous amount writing Reckless with you. Do you think any of Lionel's script-writing skills have rubbed off on you?

First of all, he taught me how to collaborate, to enjoy the inspiration of another imagination colliding with my own. Guillermo del Toro [producer of Pan’s Labyrinth] asked me to work with him on an animation project this year and I realised how much I had learned about collaboration during the past five years.

Lionel is used to telling a story in a very disciplined and lean way as he has only two hours to fill on the screen. I, in contrast, am a storyteller who can get easily distracted by every minor character who stumbles out of my imagined forests. Lionel learned from me, I think, to sometimes follow those random intruders and I learned to sometimes stay away from them and follow our main hero instead. Lionel is sometimes more insistent on asking a character some quite uncomfortable questions (Jacob hated him for that). On the other hand, Lionel enjoyed spending a whole chapter inside a character’s head – something that is impossible to do in a script. Some readers mistook my new voice for something more movie-like, whereas I personally find it more literary with its inner monologues.

I recently read one of the interviews you gave and you mentioned that your characters sometimes scare you. Who in Reckless had the greatest impact on you and your nerves?

I think that character will fully appear in book three. I only discovered him while I was promoting Reckless in Moscow. I took a walk across the Red Square with my literary agent, Andrew Nurnberg, and suddenly I stopped and murmured something like: “Heavens. I had no idea! So he is behind this.” Writers are used to this kind of fictional ‘encounter’, but Andrew had probably not witnessed it before and was quite amused.
Of course the Tailor, whom we meet in Reckless, is very scary, and two of the characters in the second book aren’t the kind of company you might wish for, but I don’t think they are any competition for the character I met in Moscow. Let’s see…

I loved your two female characters in Reckless (Fox and Clara), and was wondering how much time you spent creating these characters or did they simply turn up, fully formed, ready to be written into the storyline?

Fox turned up fully formed and ready, but only because Lionel fought me when I wanted to turn Valiant into an almost dog-like devoted companion for Jacob. “No!” he said. “If you want a dog, give Jacob a dog; let it be a talking dog if you want, but the dwarf is mean!” A talking dog… hmmm… that was interesting.

Suddenly, all the foxes popped into my head that we meet in the Grimm’s dark forests. They always talk and they are wise and very helpful. So… there was Fox. I only realised that Fox was a woman a few chapters later. That came as quite a surprise. Fox is my alter ego, more than any character ever was; she is the alter ego of my female side.

Clara, in contrast, hid from us. We had endless discussions about her before we could see her clearly, and what finally made me understand her was how she related to Fox.

As for the female characters in Reckless, I admit my secret favourite (aside from Fox) is, for sure, the Dark Fairy, and many girls, even very young ones, love her passionately. But I was once asked to kill her…

You have written extensively for teen and younger readers. Have you considered writing exclusively for the adult audience?

No, I love the fact that as a writer for children I can tell a story for three or four generations, and that they can travel together through the world I offer them. As I am now 52 and my children are both quite grown up I have started having ideas for ‘older’ stories – quite natural I guess. Reckless is a step in that direction, though I have heard from 10-year-olds who loved it. I will for sure write another three or even four books in the Reckless series, and I have plans for stories that are for a younger audience. But I also love the fact that some stories just come my way and won’t leave me alone until I write them. So let’s see who and what will show up in the next few years.

What are some of your favourite reads as an adult? What are you currently reading?

At the moment I mostly read books that are research for Reckless – books on the 19th century and on fairy tales. One is The Conquest of Nature, by David Blackbourn, about the straightening of the Rhine river, completely fascinating. And then, just for fun: Forests and The Dominion of the Dead by Robert Pogue Harrison; The History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor; Mirror of the World by Julian Bell; and Citizens by Simon Schama – which may be research for a possible new project. Additionally, I love to listen to the audio version of Ten by Maugham: A Collection of Short Stories by Somerset Maugham. He is still one of the greatest storytellers for me.

For all the aspiring writers out there, can you share with us any advice you received as an aspiring writer that stuck with you?

I didn’t receive any advice, as I just started writing one night because I was a very bored illustrator and desperately longed for different stories from those the publishers sent me. I developed my method and rhythm of writing over the years myself, as I think that every writer has a different way to find the right story. I tell children who want to be writers that they should always carry a pen with them (one that also writes on skin in case they run out of paper), as the best ideas tend to show up in the most impractical places and dissolve in our minds as easily as soap bubbles. I also recommend that they only choose to write stories that they feel passionate about – passionate enough to spend many months or years with them – and that they should allow their characters to sometimes surprise them and show them what their story is truly about. But, as I said above, for every writer there is a different path through the labyrinth.

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Thank you so much to ChickenHouse and to Cornelia for this great interview.

Do follow the rest of the tour!

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton and Giveaway



Synopsis

For Nick Pardee and Silla Kennicot, the cemetery is the center of everything.

Nick is a city boy angry at being forced to move back to the nowhere town of Yaleylah, Missouri where he grew up. He can’t help remembering his mom and the blood magic she practiced – memories he’s tried for five years to escape. Silla, though, doesn’t want to forget; her parents’ apparent murder-suicide left her numb and needing answers. When a book of magic spells in her dad’s handwriting appears on her doorstep, she sees her chance to unravel the mystery of their deaths.

Together they plunge into the world of dark magic, but when a hundred-year-old blood witch comes hunting for the bones of Silla’s parents and the spell book, Nick and Silla will have to let go of everything they believe about who they are, the nature of life and death, and the deadly secrets that hide in blood.


This is yet another of my hotly-anticipated books for 2011. I've followed Tessa's Livejournal for a while and couldn't wait to get a copy. I hoped it would be dark and magical so dived in as soon as it arrived. I'm a bit worried I won't be able to do it justice in this review but I'm going to have a go. Firstly, there's Silla who before the suspected murder/suicide of her parents was a happy-go-lucky girl. Before, she was pretty, open and popular but now it's after and she has lost weight, cut her hair, has few friends and is barely recognisable as her former self. The result of this is that she's an outsider and the source of gossip in a pretty small town.

Nick's come from Chicago and isn't over the moon to find himself in Missouri in the middle of senior year. After taking a walk to get away from his awful (totally hateful!) stepmother he comes across Silla in a graveyard, cutting her thumb and rejuvenating a dried up leaf. This moment of blood magic causes Nick to remember his mother who always had plasters on her fingers and taught him the basics of her craft. The next day at school Nick gets a chance to introduce himself properly and I have to say, wow, he is seriously charming. He has a sort of casual way about him that enables him to make friends but be confident enough to stand apart from them and disagree if needs be. Silla and Nick together are a great, sexy couple. So often in young adult books I feel that the relationships are unnaturally chaste. I mean, I'm not suggesting that everyone should be getting in deep and heavy every five seconds but I appreciate it when two teens actually kiss and mean it and there's no heavy moralistic vibe behind the relationship.

Silla isn't totally alone though. She has a solid support in the form of Gram Judy, who stepped in after her parents died, and Reese - her brother. Whilst Silla won't believe that her dad murdered her mum Reese does and is struggling with his anger. Despite this his love for Silla is clear. Together, with the help of Nick, they try to unravel the secrets in their dad's magic book as they explore how far blood magic can take them. Interspersed through the book are excepts from the diary of Josephine Darly. Although her story starts in 1903 it becomes apparent that what she has to say has relevance to the present day. Josephine is a fantastic character; selfish, passionate, jealous and - to be frank- an out-and-out bitch. Tessa Gratton has done some brilliant videos of Josephine's chapters and I implore you to check them out.

Needless to say Silla, Nick and Reese get deeply involved before they realise how much danger they are in. I was totally surprised by the outcome and didn't see it coming at all. I sense I'm rambling even more than usual so I'll wrap this up by saying that Blood Magic is one of my favourite books of the year so far. It's bloody and at times bleak yet full of hope and self-discovery and I loved it.


GIVEAWAY

We have one advanced proof copy of Blood Magic to give away. This competition is open to UK people only and a winner will be chosen using random. org from the comments. Please leave your email in the comments and we'll contact you on or after the closing date (Monday 4th July) if you've won to get your address so we can send out your prize. One comment per entry only please!

Good luck!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Join An Awfully Big Blog Adventure

These guys are one of my all-time favourite sites to visit for writing, process and authorly advice. Made up out of a revolving group of authors and industry peeps, ABBA are hosing a big old online literary festival this weekend to celebrate their third year on the webosphere.

If you're interested in writing - in all its many facets - do pop over to their site and check them out:




Photobucket

Here's the programme:

Saturday 9th July
9.30am Anne Cassidy Post: To Blog or Not To Blog?
10.00am Jo Cotterill 
10.30am Anne Rooney & Mary Hoffman Video: Italian Inspiration
11.00am Celia Rees Post: Scattered Authors, the Beginning
11.30am Elen Caldecott Competition: Win ‘Operation Eiffel Tower’
12 NOON Sally Nicholls
12.30pm Gillian Phillip Competition: Win ‘Bloodstone’ and ‘Firebrand’
1.00pm Liz Kessler Competition: Win ‘A Year Without Autumn’
1.30pm Sam Mills Video: Interview with Tyger Drew-Honey
2.00pm Adele Geras
2.30pm Jane Eagland Post: The Ups and Downs of Research
3.00pm Enid Richemont 
3.30pm Malcolm Rose Post: What teenagers really think
4.00pm Lucy Coats Video and Competition: The Hero Dog Story
4.30pm Susan Price & Katherine Roberts Post: Kindles and Kids Books
5.00pm Wendy Meddour Post: On Not Being a Famous Actress
5.30pm Miriam Halahmy & Savita Kalhan 
6.00pm Catherine Johnson Post: Rastamouse, the Moomins and Me
6.30pm Penny Dolan
7.00pm Linda Newbery Julia Jarman
7.30pm Andrew Strong 

Sunday 10th July

10.30am Emma Barnes
11.00 am Dianne Hofmeyr Miriam Moss
11.30am Kath Langrish Post: Secret Rooms in Children’s Fiction
12 NOON Nicola Morgan Competition: Win ‘Write to be Published’ and a crabbit bag.
12.30pm Julie Sykes Post and Competition: My Favourite Bears
1.00pm Leila Rasheed Competition: Win a critique
1.30pm Joan Lennon Post: The Flamingo and the Writer
2.00pm Hilary McKay Competition: Win ‘Caddy’s World’
2.30pm Fiona Dunbar Keren David Video: In Conversation
3.00pm Josh Lacey Competition: Win ‘Island of Thieves’
3.30pm Marie-Louise Jensen & David Calcutt 
4.00pm Candy Gourlay Video: Creating a Legend
4.30pm Karen Ball Competition: An Inspiring Giveaway
5.00pm Linda Strachan & Cathy MacPhail Video: In Conversation
5.30pm Malachy Doyle Post: The Happy Book
6.00pm Michelle Lovric Competition: Win ‘The Undrowned World’
6.30pm Sue Purkiss Post: What the Dickens?
7.00pm Julie Day 
7.30pm Lynne Garner

Friday, June 24, 2011

This is not a review for Hounded by Kevin Hearne


It is quite by accident that I decided to pick up my copy of Hounded by Kevin Hearn (purchased last year from Forbidden Planet before my book buying embargo) to read on the same day Orbit UK announced that they had bought the Iron Druid trilogy for the UK. Sometimes serendipity freaks me out a little.

This is the note from Orbit's site, written by Anne Clarke:


The Iron Druid trilogy by Kevin Hearne is set in Arizona and introduces us to Atticus O’Sullivan. He’s a rare book salesman, herb peddler, and 2,000 year old druid – the last of his kind – who has been on the run for over two millennia from a very angry ancient Celtic god. The books are set in the modern day world, where gods, myths, and magic are very much alive. The first book HOUNDED primarily features the many Celtic gods; HEXED will focus on Coyote and the Bacchants; HAMMERED will be about a plot against Thor. (Everybody hates Thor.)

Kevin Hearne was also excited about the deal, saying: ‘I’m thrilled to be with Orbit UK and hope people will enjoy this blend of history and legend dropped into the modern world. The rich mythology of the Irish is endlessly fascinating to me, and an allusion to British lore in HOUNDED will eventually become important later in the series as Atticus finds himself in trouble near Windsor Castle.’

I first read the manuscript for HOUNDED in 2009 but it was before I moved to Orbit, and although I loved the story, I couldn’t see a way to make it work on my list back then (I was mainly publishing crime thrillers). When I heard the Iron Druid series was still looking for a UK home I couldn’t believe my luck, and I’m delighted to be bringing Atticus to the UK after all. And since we’re publishing these books this September, October and November, I don’t have long to wait to share them with everyone else here too. You’re in for a treat!

I know some readers will look at the US cover and think: pretty boy, sexy time romance, not so good writing, derivative blah blah.

Witness my snort of derision: SNORTLE

Hounded is excellent. Atticus is a strong and deeply funny main character. He has the boy-bits to carry off a whole six book series, if not more. The setting is modern and the author has kept our 2000 year old main character very fresh and very real. Atticus does not posture - there are no thees and thous and he is a pretty cool guy. Also, basically, Atticus does not need to posture. He is badass but he's not arrogant about it. It does him credit as I would have flung the book across the room at the slightest bit of "I am so fabulous and so powerful, look at me I've lived 2000 years or more". Instead he acknowledges his weaknesses and the fact that although he is exceedingly long-lived, there is a chance that he could end up on his back with his head severed with a bad case of deadness.

Hounded reminded me of Jim Butcher. There will be a lot of comparisons to Jim/Harry but really, Atticus stands superbly out from the crowd for several reasons. Mostly it is because of the amount of research that Mr. Hearne must have done for this series. He weaves old Celtic lore competently into modern day Tempe, Arizona's arid landscape and has given Atticus a great sense of time and place. Atticus is also wonderfully pragmatic and goes to great lengths to stay under the supernatural radar and not make waves. But when he is called upon to do so, he stands firmly to defend his patch. Sometimes you get the idea that a writer is so fully immersed in his story telling that by sheer power of that storytelling he compels the reader along. I felt that with Hounded whilst reading it. I could not put it down and wanted to read it cover to cover as soon as I had finished reading it. I did not want to let go of Atticus or his crazy dog Oberon, whom I've come to love quite a bit.

Instead of comparing it to: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, or The Felix Castor books by Mike Carey or the Matthew Swift novels by Kate Griffin or the books chronicling Peter Grant's adventures in London by Ben Aaronovitch, or Suzanne McLeod's very excellent Spellcracker books, or Mike Shevdon's sublimely dark The Courts of the Feyre books, watch this very adept author called Kevin Hearne step up to the plate and take his place beside these excellent authors of adult urban fantasy, because he deserves it.

If these books aren't on your radar, they should be. Look past the covers that may not be everyone's choice, put the "we've seen it before" attitude in your pocket and give them a whirl. You may be very pleasantly surprised.

Orbit will be releasing the Iron Druid books in rapid succession for maximum devouring later this year - September, October and November.

This blogpost was brought to you by the Atticus O'Sullivan Fan Club - Chairperson: Liz de Jager


**also just a note: this is NOT a YA novel**

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pottermore Revealed!

Here we go - straight from the horse's mouth - the Pottermore Press Release



J.K. Rowling today, Thursday 23rd June, answered mounting speculation about the nature of her new project and announced Pottermore, a unique and free-to-use website which builds an exciting online experience around the reading of her hugely successful Harry Potter books, and is partnered by Sony.

The announcement today was heralded by the revealing of the website’s name via an online search for its letters, and a ‘coming soon’ holding page which received over a million visits within 36 hours of launching.

For this groundbreaking collaborative project, J.K. Rowling has written extensive new material about the characters, places and objects in the much-loved stories, which will inform, inspire and entertain readers as they journey through the storylines of the books. Pottermore will later incorporate an online shop where people can purchase exclusively the long-awaited Harry Potter eBooks, in partnership with J K Rowling’s publishers worldwide, and is ultimately intended to become an online reading experience, extending the relevance of Harry Potter to new generations of readers, while still appealing to existing fans. As the Pottermore Shop develops, it is intended that it should include further products designed specifically for Harry Potter fans, offering a potential outlet for Sony products and services related to Pottermore. In keeping with Harry Potter’s international appeal, the site will launch in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish, with more languages to follow.

In the new website, the storyline will be brought to life with sumptuous newly-commissioned illustrations and interactive ‘Moments’ through which you can navigate, starting with the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone. On entering, you choose a magic username and begin your experience. As you move through the chapters, you can read and share exclusive writing from J.K. Rowling, and, just as Harry joins Hogwarts, so can you. You visit Diagon Alley, get sorted into a house, cast spells and mix potions to help your house compete for the House Cup.

At a press conference at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Rowling revealed some key features of the website. In an announcement which will thrill fans, she described how she has brought to life both the Sorting Hat and Ollivanders experiences from her books for the first time on Pottermore, by revealing the questions asked by the Sorting Hat - which places newcomers into their Hogwarts houses according to their characteristics - and the magic behind the Wand Chooser – which finds the right wand for each user from over 33,000 possible combinations. She also revealed glimpses of the new information she has provided on some of the best-loved characters.

J.K. Rowling’s announcement on YouTube and sony.com today revealed that Pottermore (along with the Pottermore Shop) will be open to all users in October 2011. From today, 23rd June, fans can submit their email addresses on Pottermore.com in order to be contacted by the site following the opening of registration on 31st July, Harry’s birthday. Also on that date, an online challenge will be launched, whereby the first million people to complete their registration will gain early entry into the website, and help put final touches to the experience.

J.K. Rowling commented,

“I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years, and to bring the stories to a new digital generation. I hope fans and those new to Harry will have as much fun helping to shape Pottermore as I have. Just as I have contributed to the website, everyone else will be able to join in by submitting their own comments, drawings and other content in a safe and friendly environment – Pottermore has been designed as a place to share the stories with your friends as you journey through the site.”

Pottermore has been made possible with the support and partnership of Sony.

Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President of Sony Corporation, commented:

“Sony's association with J.K. Rowling's Pottermore brings together one of the world’s most innovative brands with the most successful book series in history, in a pioneering partnership that will help shape the future of story-telling. We are proud to be a part of it, both at this momentous announcement, and as we collaborate on its development over the coming years.”

On Sony’s partnership of Pottermore, J.K. Rowling commented:

“As I think people know, I am very protective of Harry and have always been very selective with any new initiatives, but I am totally committed to making this partnership with Sony and this wonderful new website a success. There are many companies I could have worked with on this ultimate digital expression of Harry Potter’s universe, but it is Sony’s unique philosophy of creativity in harmony with technology that made them my first choice as main partner. The spirit behind Sony’s make.believe philosophy is one that rings true with Pottermore’s own values.”

The detailed creative execution has been led by TH_NK, a leading UK digital agency, under the supervision of J.K. Rowling and the Pottermore management team, in co-operation with Sony. J.K. Rowling’s publishers, Bloomsbury in the UK and Scholastic in the USA, as well as her international publishers worldwide, have been active supporters in the creation of pottermore.com and the Pottermore Shop. Warner Bros, the makers of the hugely successful Harry Potter film franchise, is also one of the partners who have worked to support the launch of Pottermore through a variety of marketing, promotional and other efforts, and will continue to collaborate as the project grows.

The storyline of the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, will go live on the site in early 2012. The Pottermore Shop opens when the site opens to all in October, selling complete ranges of the eBooks and digital audiobooks in a selection of languages, exclusively.

Designed for fans of all ages, the website has been created with child safety in mind, employing best practice and compliance with internet codes of practice in the UK, Europe and USA, and elsewhere.






Images from the Pottermore Site - these look like screengrabs, so if you click them they will show up bigger.




The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown


New Year’s Eve 1940: Evie Chase, the beautiful debutante daughter of an RAF commander, listens wistfully to the swing music drifting out from the ballroom. With bombs falling nightly in London, she is determined to make a difference to the war effort.


Evie joins the ATA – the civilian pilots who ferry fighter planes to bases across war-torn Britain. Two other women wait nervously to join up with her – Stella Grainger, a forlorn young mother from Singapore, and Megan Jones, an idealistic teenager who has never left her Welsh village before.


Billeted together in a tiny cottage, Stella, Megan and Evie learn to live and work together as they find romance, confront loss and forge friendships that last a lifetime.

The Beauty Chorus has been inspired by the female pilots during WWII. 166 women signed up to fly Spitfires and bombers from factories to airfields across the country. It was an adventure that would cost many their lives:


It really is quite by accident that I've read several books relating to WWII in such short succession.  Each one has given me a different experience.  In The Beauty Chorus, a title these young female pilots received from their older male colleagues, we are swept off our feet by the impossible glamour of these young women flying these great big roaring machines of war.
 
The newspapers saw their beauty, their youth, their red lipstick and carefully groomed hair, and never once did they peer beneath the surface to show how much hard work these young women put in on a daily basis and the dangers they faced.
 
Evie, impossibly glamorous and beautiful, joins the ATA - Air Transport Auxiliary Unit - on New Years Day in an attempt to get away from her father and her irritating stepmother.  Megan loses her husband in Singapore to the war effort and travels to Ireland where she leaves her baby behind.  She joins the ATA in a way to put it all behind her.  Stella, having never travelled further than the local village in Wales, leaves the farm she grew up on and joins the unit.  The 3 girls are billeted together in a tiny cottage and soon their differences are swept aside as they become fast friends.
 
War is a man's world and The Beauty Chorus has their share of run-ins with some other members of the Auxiliary unit who would rather not have them around.  The girls rise to the challenge and are soon flying various planes and craft around the country to make sure that their male counterparts have flying machines to hand to defend queen and country.
 
This is Kate Lord Brown's first novel but she handles the subject matter with ease - it is a quick read...in the sense that the narrative flows and is easy on the eye.  The girl's characters are very different yet in their differences lie their friendship and strengths. 
 
Before reading The Beauty Chorus I did not know about the ATA.  Which is silly of me as I have a friend whose great aunt flew for them.  But somehow I never really thought about it within the context of what they did in WWII.  It was a bit outside of my ken and so until The Beauty Chorus came along, it never occurred to me how much we owed these women, these "unsung" heroes.
 
It is a very British novel, focusing on friendship and duty and how tea can make almost anything right.  It runs such a fine line between action and adventure and the impossible glamour of parties and handsome men in uniform, that there really is something for everyone in this novel.  It isn't all just serious stuff, but there are throwaway one-liners and deeply humorous moments too, but then it is artfully balanced with the ugly reality that there is a war on and that at any moment any of these girls or their close comrades could be killed whilst out flying from one airbase to the next.
 
I had a box of tissues with me whilst reading this - it was not a commutable book - and sobbed uncontrollably over breakfast one morning, much to Mark's horror.  The Beauty Chorus really does what it sets out to do - entertain you, draw you in, and make you feel part of the story as you can't help but identifying with the girls.  The characters are well developed and Ms. Lord Brown has a great talent for scene-setting.  The book reads in a very filmic way and so it would be great to see a decent movie or tv show made to accompany it. 
 
As I said, it has all the elements that will appeal to a larger audience.  My biggest worry is that - although I love the cover - it may turn off some male readers, and I can say, with my hand on my heart, that male readers would enjoy reading The Beauty Chorus, don't be biased, look past the cover to the excellent novel beneath.  Or buy it on the Kindle from from Amazon.
 
I have found some great interviews Kate did with some other reviewers.  So find one here and here.  And this is Kate's excellent blog. Thank you so much to Corvus for sending me this on to review.  It was educational but more importantly, it was a great read and I highly recommend it.  Just keep those hankies to hand.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey Review and Giveaway


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 tricks to feel more than a little jaded about anyhting supernatural.

The ghosts, however, believe in Violet and she’s been seeing them everywhere. One ghost in particular needs Violet to use her emerging gift to solve her murder . . . and prevent the ghost’s twin sister from suffering the same fate.

I was lucky enough to meet Alyxandra Harvey last month and get an early copy of Haunting Violet which I started on the way home and devoured over the next couple of days. I'm a massive fan of Victoriana coupled with the paranormal so was super-excited to read it. Violet has had a difficult start in life - daughter of a single parent who turns to mediumship as a way to make ends meet. Gradually, Celeste Willoughby becomes more respected and her clients more famous. Her daughter Violet is not only dragged along to all of the seances but also has to take part rigging up all the gadgets which trick the desperate into believing that their loved ones really have returned from the grave.

Violet dreams of a life outside of the seances but can't see a way out. Her only friend is Colin, a boy who works for Celeste, and Elizabeth - daughter of Lord Jasper who was a keen member of the Spiritualist church. Violet, Celeste and Colin find themselves at Lord Jasper's country estate in Wiltshire to perform a seance for the best of society. It is here that the bulk of the action takes place. Violet is an interesting combination of the worldy-wise and the innocent. She would rather walk around in Whitechapel than the fields of Wiltshire but is shy around boys and unsure of her appeal. I really felt for her as she tried to remember the many rules that bound her when in society - she is only able to be herself around Colin. While Celeste is a terrible fraud using the sort of tricks that were common at this time Violet is completely unprepared when ghosts start to appear to her unbidden. At first she hopes that she is merely tired but one in particular keeps on appearing and it is clear that she needs Violet to help her.

Part ghost story and part murder mystery, Haunting Violet fair skips along. I am totally in love with all the Victorian detail that Alyxandra has included, from what a lady should and shouldn't do, wear or say to the books of the day. I was cheering for her when she finally works out how she can solve all her problems and sympathised alongside her as she dealt with her awful mother. At the moment I don't know if there will be a sequel to Haunting Violet but I really hope there will be. Violet is a fascinating character who I'd love to see more of.

GIVEAWAY!

To celebrate the release of this fabulous book we have one copy of Haunting Violet to give away. This competition is open to UK people only and one lucky winner will be taken from the comments. We'll pick a winner using random.org so please include an email address in your comment so we can contact you to let you know you've won and find out where to send your prize. The closing date for the competition is Tuesday 28th June.

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows



January 1946: writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.

I'll be fair and say I was initially not certain about how the author will pull off the story but I had just finished reading The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and was keen to try something else set in this sort of time.

I picked TGL&PPPS up with some trepidation.  And within the first few pages I was utterly charmed and giggling to myself.  The book is a revelation, using only letters by way of progressing the story, we are immediately thrown into the life of Ms. Juliet Ashton, who is a bit of a free spirit.  A journalist and writer with great skill, slightly eccentric and utterly sweet, she lived through wartime London living in Chelsea and writing a column for The Spectator.  (Her revelation as to why she broke off her engagement with a young man on the eve of him going to battle had me in stitches because really, I could understand 100% where she was coming from).

Now that the war was over she is being lauded as a great success by her publisher.  She embarks on a crazy tour of the UK where she is feted and lauded.  And it is during this time that she receives her first letter from Dawsey Adams, one of the members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.   The letter is sweet and intriguing and Juliet can't help but be taken with the amazing name of their society.  So she enquires for more information.

And by means of this single letter, the correspondence starts, not just between Dawsey Adams but also other members of the Society and Juliet.  They speak about how the Society started (quite by accident) and about the hardships and friendships created on Guernsey when the Germans invaded. I admit that I knew very little about this and never really gave it any thought.  As their stories unfolded and the humanity of the mess they found themselves in was revealed, my heart broke.  I think there  has been a distance between then and now that has numbed us from the reality of the war-time, so reading these small personal accounts really brought it home to me as a reader what an incredible time these people lived through.

I fell hopelessly in love with Juliet.  But then I also fell in love with the characters from Guernsey.  I admired their strength, their cleverness and their determination to survive in the face of such awful adversity.  Their stories moved me, made me laugh and cry and giggle aloud.  Here were people who felt as real as my own family and friends.

What I loved most about this book is how by focussing on books and literature this group of diverse people were brought together and it is what kept them together.  Yes, they were all sharing the same hardships but their souls soared when they came together to discuss books and writing, allowing them to rise above the awfulness of their situation. 

There is this one passage that really struck me and had me swallowing against a big knob in my throat.  The character is not a learned man, a professional man.  He is probably not a person we would think anything about because he comes across as a bit stupid and slow and even remarks about that in his letter to Juliet.  But Eben Ramsey's letter to Juliet has affected me the most and it reads as follows (as he's read Shakespeare and come to - unexpectedly - like it):

"Do you know what sentence of his I admire the most? It is, 'The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.' I wish I'd known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, planeload after planeload of them...All I could think of was, Damn them, damn them, over and over again. If I could have thought the words, 'The bright day is done, and we are for the dark', I'd have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstance…"


I've not done it justice in this review, at all.  I would say that this is a book about reading and books and literature and war and love and laughter.  It's quite slender but it is packed full of Ms. Shaffer's love for the written word.  It is deeply sad that this was both her first and her last book as she passed away in February 2008.  She asked her niece Annie Barrows to help her complete the book and I have to say, it is a great loss that such a great voice has been silenced.  But I am thankful that she took the chance and listened to her friends and family and wrote it because it is books like these that change the world in small important ways.

The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie and Literary Society is a book like no other I have ever read.  I think it really has changed the way I think about WWII but it has also delighted me and given me real pleasure, making me want to press it into everyone I know's hand to read.  It literally rocked my world.  I hope it does the same for you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan


WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE PREVIOUS TWO BOOKS IN SERIES!

Synopsis

The Goblin Market has always been the centre of Sin's world. She's a dancer and a performer, secure in her place. But now the Market is at war with the magicians, and Sin's place is in danger. Keeping secrets from the market she loves, struggling with a friend who has become a rival, Sin is thrown together with the Ryves brothers, Nick and Alan - whom she's always despised. But Alan has been marked by a magician, to be tortured as the magician pleases, and as Sin watches Alan struggle to protect the demon brother he loves, she begins to see both brothers in a new light. But how far will brother go to save brother - and what will it cost them all?

I love this series and The Demon's Surrender has been up there with my most anticipated releases of the year. I managed to get a copy (from the fabulous Foyles) before heading off on holiday. As soon as I heard that this last book would focus on Sin I was overjoyed as the Goblin Market is a genius creation and the two are entwined. However, at the end of The Demon's Covenant Mae has thrown her hat in the ring and been marked out as a possible new leader for the market. Merris, now sharing her body part time with a demon, has put the two through a series of tests to see which could be the new leader. Her last trial seems almost insurmountable but both are determined to succeed.

Meanwhile Alan and Nick's relationship continues to be a thing which all outsiders fail to understand. In fact, I'm never sure if the two of them understand it either. Add to this Jamie and Sebastian and there's a whole lot of characters with whom to catch up and wrap up their stories. Another aspects of the Demon books which I love is the way that each one follows a different characters point of view. First we had Nick, then Mae the "tourist" and now Sin who, although human, has spent her whole life knowing about magic and demons. As a dancer she understands that her life is under threat at every market, she is used to living her life on the edge. She's also seen loved ones taken over by demons and understands their every twist and turn. Never a fan of Alan and, more recently, Nick she finds herself thrown into their world.

I think I loved this book the most of all three. Sin is both independent and courageous but also vulnerable and fiercely protective of her siblings. As she discovers more about Alan she finds she has to reassess her feelings towards him. Despite the fact that she's in direct competition with Mae she constantly supports and defends her. As the story progresses Sin finds that it's the very people that she's shut out that could be her best supporters. The characters in all three books have matured and changed and Sin is no exception. Through the very fact that demon's cannot lie she is told some pretty life changing facts. As ever, the dialogue is snappy, snarky and at times I laughed aloud. I think it's the conversations including Nick that get me the most - he's my favourite swoonable anti-hero. The way that he explains to Sin that he has a friend and that another one would be too much trouble just got me, I giggled for ages.

All of this is wrapped up in the most delectable world ever and I'm sad the series is over. I was almost sure I knew the bookshop near the British Museum which makes an appearance - next time I'm there I'll ask about demons. Not that I actually want to hear a truth from one. If this series has taught me anything it's never ask a demon a question - ever. Oh, and don't open your window to one in the middle of the night, you really will live to regret it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes


WARNING: SPOILERS FOR RAISED BY WOLVES

Synopsis

At seventeen, Bryn is has the usual schoolgirl worries: a new boyfriend, a new school and a new home. But she has one major concern that her friends don't have: she is an alpha - a human girl in charge of her own werewolf pack. When Bryn and her closest friends, Dev and Lake, broke from the werewolf Callum's pack, it had all felt right. Together with Chase, Bryn's new love, they had rescued some newly made female werewolves from a despicable master and established their own pack, with Bryn as leader. Yet Bryn has always resented the rules of Pack life - the constant bowing to authority, the submission to the alpha. And she is determined to live differently, to run this pack openly and justly. Then one night, a badly beaten werewolf shows up on her territory. He needs help, sanctuary, care. But taking him in could violate inter-pack rules, and no one knows better than Bryn the costs of challenging those rules. Obedience is law in Pack life, but Bryn is going to break the rules, again.

The second book in a series can be tricky. After all, some of the exciting stuff has been and gone; world building, character introductions, love interest etc. However, the flip side to this is that the characters are now old friends. We know that Bryn is a survivor, stubborn and determined to succeed despite the difficulties she faces. The book opens with Bryn getting used to being the alpha of her new pack. Whilst she wants to be relaxed and non-confrontational about it the events of Trial by Fire force her to look at her position in a different way. Just as she's trying to adjust Lucas arrives on her doorstep; beaten and bloody.

Now she's an alpha there are few people she can turn to for advice. Callum is being unhelpful and the other alphas are just not the kind of wolves Bryn would turn to. Instead she finds she has to dig deep and find the answers within whilst trying to keep her pack calm. Devon is as brilliant as even in Trial by Fire and has become Bryn's second in command - but even this can be difficult as Bryn treads the fine line between friendship and leadership. Just as things couldn't get more difficult a strange group of humans turn up and stake a claim on Lucas.

Ironically it's the human characters that are more menacing in this book. I enjoyed the complex and threatening character of Caroline who really pushed Bryn into difficult decisions. Also, Chase and Bryn's relationship isn't just cut and dried which I appreciated. They haven't known each other long and Bryn realises that they have a great deal to learn about each other before their relationship deepens. I loved that wolf and human or not they still have to deal with mundane complications like differences of opinions. Trial by Fire is a great sequel to Raised by Wolves. The stakes have been raised and as a result Bryn is forced to make serious decisions which have far reaching results. Also, an absolutely awesome twist at the end which I didn't see coming. I look forward to more!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Weta Workshop and Harper Collins Strike a Deal

I know, I know - this is really geeky news I'm sharing here, but I just can't help it.

Ever since LoTR I have been a fan of the creators and artists at WETA.  I love the fact that they sit there and create all these amazing monsters and creatures for us to view on screen.  What I like even more is that I can buy stuff from them directly.  It makes me feel like I am somehow supporting independent creative types.  Crazy, I know!

 

Mark was reading his emails this morning over breakfast when he mentioned that Weta and HC have struck this book deal.  My ears perked up and I had him email me the newsletter.  I followed the links and this is what the article on the main Weta site said:
In what is a landmark move for both companies, HarperCollins Publishers New Zealand and Weta Workshop have entered into an agreement to publish works which will showcase Weta's remarkable creativity and talent.


There are major opportunities for both companies in this agreement. The most significant is the global publication of beautifully produced movie tie-in volumes written and designed by Weta's own creative people, illustrating the amazing skills and talents of the Weta team. Traditionally, the authors of movie tie-in books are several steps removed from the making of the movie, and the books are last minute additions to the movie merchandising plans. However, these books, which will be published under the management of HarperCollins New Zealand's experienced publishing and production teams, will give a real insight to the creative genius that Weta brings to the projects it is involved with.

In addition to print books, HarperCollins and Weta Workshop are exploring the development of ground breaking digital products which will offer the reader the opportunity for a greatly enhanced experience.

‘We are extremely excited about the opportunity to combine the skills and talents of our people all around the world with those of the multi-award-winning team at Weta Workshop,' says Tony Fisk, Managing Director, HarperCollins Publishers New Zealand. ‘We see this as a unique opportunity to present the work of our friends at Weta to a global publishing audience and to work together with them to develop ground breaking new projects.'

‘We have been developing book ideas for many years and now with our relationship and friendship with the team at HarperCollins we can see these books reach an even wider market through their global network', says Richard Taylor, Creative Director and Co-founder of Weta Workshop.

The relationship between HarperCollins and Weta Workshop goes back many years. As the publisher of the works of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, HarperCollins and Weta have developed an appreciation and understanding of each other's capabilities whilst working together on The Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia movies. Recent projects include The Art of District 9 and the award-winning The Crafting of Narnia.
I am over the moon and I really cannot wait to get my grubby paws on some of these Weta/HC produced books.  Mark and I are big fans of what they do and at the end of last year he bought himself one of the London Hellgate figurines and the attention to detail is superb. Even if it is decidedly gory and visceral.

Male Templar from Hellgate London
Please do check out the Weta site and article I've linked to above - it is a great resource and it never fails to give me "grabby hands of want"! And I hasten to add that the blogpost is brought to you out of sheer geekiness and love and we have nothing to do with either Weta or HC NZ.  We are just excited!