Friday, September 30, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Competition Winners!

Yes, I've said "Winners" - even though I was going to give away only the hardback finished copy of DoSaB I have had such an overwhelming response on Twitter about this competition, I have decided to throw in proof copy of DoSaB to another winner.

So, thanks to random.org who chose the following:

Zoe Marriott from Twitter as @zmarriott - gets the hardback

and

Alex Mullarky from Twitter as @ajmullarky - gets the paperback proof

Hope you both love your wins! I am taking the books with me to Monday evening's Laini Taylor event and will get her to sign and dedicate them to you both.

Guest Review: The Outcast Dead


I'm very leased to be able to introduce Sarah Cawkwell's guest review of the latest instalment of the best-selling Horus Heresy series. We've been chatting to Sarah (a.k.a @pyroriffic) for some time now and have vicariously shared the giddy excitement of her induction into the ranks of the Black Library's team of authors (more on that below).

With that thought in mind, I thought it would be interesting to have her perspective on The Outcast Dead. So, without further ado...

The Outcast Dead
A spoiler-free review by Sarah Cawkwell

It may come as no surprise to those of you who know me to realise that one of my favourite traits in any character is a tendency to a delicious brand of grumpy, self-inverted sulkiness. Oh, angst. How I love you. (Not the brooding, sparkly Twilight kind of angst, but the proper ‘I’ve really suffered’ kind). Don’t ask me why; it’s a trait I find incredibly irritating in real life. But I like my heroes to be less than likeable and to be packed to the gunwhales with personality flaws and nuances. It’s some kind of inverse physics thing, perhaps. The less inherently likeable a character, the more I seem to like them. It's similar to my theory on the fact that the smaller the handbag, the more rubbish you can fit in it.

Whatever the reason, I am filled to the brim with undying love for Kai Zulane, one of the central protagonists as featured in Graham McNeill’s latest addition to the million-selling Horus Heresy series. The Outcast Dead is set almost entirely on Terra and is a 'Meanwhile...' piece. It opens the eyes of the reader quite widely to life elsewhere in the Imperium whilst the Adeptus Astartes are going through the wringer millions of miles away. It primarily follows the (mis)adventures of an unlikely hero in the shape of an astropath who is the unwilling carrier of a vital message. This message must be delivered at all costs and he falls into the care of an even more unlikely and largely reluctant band of protectors.

There are other plots woven neatly into the story as well, with some excellent cross-over and more than one or two surprises.

Because this is a spoiler-free review, I’m going to come straight to the point here. I liked this book. It reads well, has a great story that reaches a satisfactory resolution and a brilliant cast of great characters (including the aforementioned astropath). But I may be biaised. I have a particular love for character-driven stories and also for astropaths and psykers of any kind, so for them to form the core of a story is my idea of a good time. It’s like a party that just won’t quit. There is a delicious mix of psykers you like and psykers you don’t. And then the eponymous Outcast Dead of the title are thrown into the mix and it all goes a bit wild and crazy.

Which is no bad thing in my opinion.

I’ve always found the illustrious Mr. McNeill presents characters with whom it is easy to engage, although not always necessarily easy to identify with. I’m unlikely to ever be an astropath, for example. This both pleases me and in my nerdier moments, invokes a certain air of resentment. Because apart from the down side of, you know, losing your eyes, your identity and all the other stuff… you’d be an astropath. Which would be kind of cool. Sucky, but cool.

I digress. I do that.

Anyway.

When you find out what it was that happened to Kai to make him into the Grumpiest Man Alive, you do feel a certain pity for him. I wanted to know what happened to him and then later, I wanted to know what happened to the Outcast Dead. That wanting to know turned into needing to know. And it was this Need To Know that kept me eagerly turning pages until I tragically ran out of book.

With The Outcast Dead, readers are treated to an entirely different side of the Heresy. Away from the militarian, organised lives of the Legiones Astartes, ordinary citizens are going about their business… but this is a world in which things are constantly changing, where the bad guys are evolving all the time (sometimes quite literally)… and the ordinary soon morph into the extraordinary with disastrous consequences for our protagonists.

This isn’t your average Horus Heresy book. Whilst there are Space Marines present and at least one primarch puts in an appearance, there is a distinct absence of full-on battle scenes. For many, this may cause them to dismiss the book out of hand. But for all those people – and there are many of them – who often bemoan the fact that the Black Library don’t publish books that are more character driven… well, they should grab this one.

It’s quite heartfelt in places and as a reader, I appreciate it when I genuinely care enough about a character to care what happens to them. By the end of the book, my initial fondness for Mr. Grumpy had gone all the way through deep pity and out the other side into enormous respect.

It’s a tale about courage and determination, about understanding one’s duty, about loyalty and even about friendships in the face of the worst kind of adversity. It adds gently to the Horus Heresy mythos without scrambling anything and also clears up one or two other grey areas with well-placed exposition.

I have enjoyed all of Graham McNeill’s contributions to the Horus Heresy series so far and The Outcast Dead is no exception. Will it please everyone? No. I don’t believe it will. After all, everyone has different expectations and for some, the absence of full scale warfare may lead to a less-than-satisfactory read. For me, though, it was a good, solid story with interesting characters who I cared about. And as far as I’m concerned, if I come out of a book thinking ‘I enjoyed that’, then it’s done its job admirably.

And The Outcast Dead definitely did that. With bells on. I award it nine screaming psykers out of ten.

Thanks, Graham – look forward to the next one.

**



**

A great review, thank you!

Sarah's first novel, The Gildar Rift, is out in December, and you can follow her on Twitter, or visit her website.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor



Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things.

When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.



When we meet Karou she's walking through Prague, in the snow, on her way to school.  This immediately resonated with me as I had been to Prague earlier this year for my birthday and it had been very cold and snowy.  I snuggled down to read the rest and was so quickly immersed in the story, I forgot where I was.

At school it transpires that Karou is a bit of an enigma to her school friends.  She has blue hair, her art is crazy and she makes up stories about the characters and creatures she draws and everyone probably thinks she's suitably odd and bohemian but what they don't know is that these stories she makes up and the creatures she draws are in fact real.  That although she upholds this facade of being a slightly eccentric human, her life is indeed very odd.  She travels via doorways all over the world to collect teeth (human, animal and other) from various sellers, and brings them back to the creature who raised her who goes by the name of Brimstone.  I say creature as Brimstone is part human, part something other.  A minotaur like creature, he rules over the shadowy home he shares with Issa, who in turn is part human/part snake.  There are other creatures too that exist in Karou's world but right now we just need to know about Brimstone.

As Karou gets asked to visit various places, running these tooth collecting and buying errands for Brimstone, she notices that the doorways she usually uses are being locked against her.  When she comes face to face with an angelic creature who tries to kill her Karou's world tilts on its axis and she has to fight for her life to survive.

Back in Prague things get out of hand and Karou is unable to gain access to the house she grew up in and her life crumbles around her.  To make matters worse, the angelic creature followed her to Prague and is actively stalking her.

Things spin out of control after this and we are swept away in an adventure full of magical realism which I adored.  Laini makes use of various mythologies with a splattering of Judeo-Christian religion thrown in for good measure, and spins this incredible urban fantasy which you can't help but falling for.  It moves from our own contemporary times, back into the past where the storytelling becomes even more high concept and Laini's writing swells into this crescendo of voice and characterisation and superb storytelling.  She plays with archetypes, myths and legends, half-remembered truths and lies and gives us something utterly unique that can only ever be written by someone called Laini Taylor.

Having read a lot of urban fantasy - both "old school" (de Lint, Emma Bull etc) and the newer urban fantasy (Patty Briggs, Kate Griffin, Mike Carey) Laini manages to be a bit of both.  Thinking about DoSaB made me realise that it is a very European novel in the sense that, not only is it set in Prague and other cities in Europe and the Med, it also has this distinct feel of being European, like Carlos Ruiz Zafon's books feel European or the way Guilermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage feels European.  There is a slight bit of discomfort under your skin when you read or watch these movies because even though you know the mythology, and the story beats are familiar, the way it's being presented is different and unusual and you aren't entirely sure what's going to happen next.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone will be on my list of top 12 books for 2011.  It is beautiful, unusual, charming and has such a strong voice, I still think about it months after reading it for the first time.  It's a keeper and a re-reader.

In fact, I was wondering how I could show my love for this book in a visual way... and found this epic picture last night.  Now, you will have to read the book to "get" the in joke, but it is still pretty cool.



And this is the part I'm super excited about:

You can win a copy! I have one completed hardback copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone to give away.   If you're on Twitter, go tell me you want to win this book.  Find me at @LizUK.

If you don't have a twitter account, leave a comment for me here.  I will choose a winner via random.org  and announce it tomorrow morning, Friday 30th September. This is for the UK only, I'm afraid!  The book will be posted out next week after I've had it signed and dedicated to the lucky winner on Monday night by Laini who will be in the UK.  Cool, or WHAT?

Go!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Final Trailer

Tomorrow is the release date for Laini Taylor's superb Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  But today, we have the final video trailer the publishers had created for the book. This trailer introduces us to Karou's best friend, Zuzanna.



I will also be giving a way a finished hardback copy of DoSaB tomorrow, so make sure to stop by and also follow me on twitter as @LizUK as the competition will be run both on the blog and on Twitter.

And more than that, if you win, I will take the hardback with me to an exclusive evening with Laini Taylor on Monday night and get her to personalise and sign it for you too.

Trust me on this, if there is any book that is worth the hype, Daughter of Smoke and Bones is it.

Dreamdark Silksinger

Spoilers for Dreamdark Blackbringer
Synopsis

One faerie, the last of her clan, must fight to complete her sacred duty.

Whisper Silksinger is the last of the secret guardians of the Azazel, one of the powerful Djinn who dreamed the world into being. Relentlessly pursued by bloodthirsty devils, she flees to the city of Nazneen to restore the Azazel to his temple. At the same time, Hirik Mothmage is also on a secret quest, to find the Azazel and restore his disgraced clan's ancient honor.

And behind them all flies Magpie Windwitch, first champion of the new age of faeries, desperate to rescue Whisper and the Azazel alike before they fall in the clutches of a sinister hidden enemy.

I left a bit of a gap before starting book two in this series and the main reason for this is that I know, at the moment of writing this, there are no other Dreamdark books in the pipeline. Laini explains why on her site and I'm crossing everything that one day she'll be able to finish the series. Leaving this bit of sad news aside it goes without saying that it took me moments to immerse myself in the world of Dreamdark again. We left Magpie as Magruwen's champion and on a mission to discover the rest of the Djinn in her quest to protect the Tapestry of Creation.

Meanwhile a fabulous new character called Whisper is in deep trouble. Her grandparents, the Silksingers, have been killed protecting one of the Djinn called Azazel. Now Whisper is the last of her kind and has nothing except the teakettle that she keeps Azazel in. Whisper, like Talon in book one, is a scamperer and can't fly but uses a magic carpet. Even this is destroyed by the devils and she's left on foot. Determined to bring Azazel back to life by putting him on his throne in Nazneen she begins her journey on foot, alone and afraid. Fortunately for her she meets up with a fairy called Hirik and he helps her. Magpie is also seeking Azazel so it isn't long before the two stories share a common ground.

I wasn't sure if I would bond with a new set of characters but I needn't have worried. Whisper is so appealing and I was willing her along, holding my breath as the devils drew closer. Laini weaves a wonderful spell and the tension mounts throughout. The city of Nazneen is so richly described that I wished I could visit it: spice and silk stalls, fortune tellers who use smoke as a means of divination, food and music. The underside of the city is alive too and terrible secrets are waiting to be unearthed. Every character, no matter how small, is wonderfully imagined. Each different fairy clan has it's own characteristics and strengths, the amount of mythology in these books is stunning. As always, Laini doesn't shy away from the horror or unkindness of her world no more than she does the kindness and beauty. In a world that is in danger of unravelling there will obviously be hateful characters and there were plenty within the pages of Silksinger. But also, some of the most gorgeous passages I've ever read are to be found too.

I could quite happily read many more of these books and I only hope that the success of Daughter of Smoke and Bone will mean that I can eventually get the chance.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Switching Gears by Jana Oliver

Jana Oliver
As a huge big fan of Jana Oliver's I jumped at the chance to host her on her blog-tour for the release of her new novel: Demon Trappers: Forbidden.  Her previous novel, the first in her Demon Trappers series, received much love from reviewers and bloggers alike.  And it is after visiting Jana's site that I realised that Jana doesn't just write YA fiction with a kick-ass heroine.  She also writes fiction urban fantasy set in Victorian England.  How does an author shift one hundred and thirty years of mental gears from Late Victorian England to a future Atlanta, Georgia? Jana Oliver gives us insights as to just how that gear shifting works.


Because I love a challenge, I chose to write about two entirely different time periods: 1888 London and 2018 Atlanta. Each comes with their own perils.

As to Victorian London, there are a significant number of people who are knowledgeable about that time period and those folks aren’t shy about letting you know when you mess something up. Also, I’m a Yank. Where we might have invented baseball, the culture in which you live teaches you certain basics without you even realizing it. Like the fact that folks in Britain drive on the left side and add milk to their tea rather than cream.

In the case of the Victorian London in the Time Rovers Series, I needed to think like someone from 1888 so I immersed myself in the time period, read books, newspapers, court transcripts, wandered through Whitechapel back alleys and trolled through libraries’ archives. I’ve worn period-authentic gowns and visited gunpowder factories. I learned how Victorians lived: how they thought, what they ate and how they buried their dead.

But with that comes one bitter fact: No matter how hard I tried, I am a child of the twenty-first century. I will always view 1888 through the lens of someone from my era. A sad fact, but true.

In the end I grew very fond of the Victorians. They never saw a challenge they couldn’t conquer, a feat of engineering that they wouldn’t attempt. They were the masters of the universe in 1888. By the end of WWI that indomitable spirit had begun to grow thin, worn down by forces out of their control. But in 1888 they ruled the world.

Switching to Atlanta in the year 2018 for the Demon Trappers Series wasn’t quite as dramatic a mental adjustment because it’s closer to my own time period. The biggest issue was trying to see into the future. Just how bad would it be? Instead of depicting a city at rock bottom, I decided my Atlanta would be on the downhill slide. That way I could explore how the average person coped with an increasingly dysfunctional metropolis.

It wasn’t until I started writing the novels that I began to see the similarities between my “future” Atlanta and 1888 London. Where there might not be hansom cabs rolling through the streets or London-style “particulars”, there are wagons and carriages because of the high cost of fuel. As my future Atlanta’s economy falters, citizens are adapting Victorian survival tactics without knowing it. They’re recycling everything they can and secondhand markets have sprung up, along with little one-owner shops.

But from that point on my future Atlanta is its own creature. My heroine is schooled in a shuttered coffee shop, Holy Water is vital commodity and Heaven and Hell have decided to make the city its battleground. Luckily the Victorians never had to face those sorts of dangers.

At the heart of word building is research. You need to determine the various elements of your new world: agriculture, religion, politics, legal and educational systems, science and magic. Sometimes you will know these elements before you write your first world. Often you learn them by discovery as the story takes shape. You can base your new world on an existing one, on a society from the past or create one from whole cloth. Just ensure that the characters remain the most important part of your story. The world should add to the tale, not detract.

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that my vivid imagination can easily switch from the backstreets of London to the gritty streets of Atlanta. Once I can “see” my characters inside the world I’ve created, the gears mesh seamlessly. All I have to do is feed research into that marvelous engine of imagination and stories are created. For me, that’s magical.

http://www.janaoliver.com/

http://www.demontrappers.co.uk/

Macmillan Children's Books (U.K. Editions)

Demon Trappers: Forsaken - Jan. 2011

Demon Trappers: Forbidden - Aug. 2011

Demon Trappers: Forgiven - Mar. 2012

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dreamdark Blackbringer by Laini Taylor


Synopsis

Magpie Windwitch is not like other faeries, most of whom live in tranquil seclusion. When she learns that escaped devils are creeping back into the world, she travels all over with her faithful clan of crows, hunting them down. The hunt will take her to the great forest of Dreamdark, where she must unravel the mystery of the worst enemy her folk have ever known. Can one small, determined faerie defeat the forces that threaten to unmake the world?

I started to read the Dreamdark series while I was waiting for copies of Daughter of Smoke and Bone to come out. I wanted to get a feel for Laini's writing style and was also won over by the amazing reviews. Books about fairies nowadays tend to be about life-size ones striding around making trouble in the human world. While I love many of those I was interested to read about a fantasy take on more traditional, tiny fae. Magpie is the granddaughter of the West Wind and lives in a travelling, flying parade of caravans which are pulled by talking crows. Come on, what's not to love there? She's small, independent and quite happy travelling with her friends, seeking out escaped devils to trap them back into bottles that unwitting "mannies," (humans) have freed them from. Magpie is pretty much the only fairy who is performing this vital task. Most other fairies live a peaceable life but have turned their back on the old stories of their rulers and enemies.

Magpie discovers an enemy so fearsome that it is capable of literally unravelling her world and bringing it to an end. She has to travel back to Dreamdark to try and find a solution. Along her way she meets a scamperer (fairy without workable wings) called Talon. He's a prince to the Rathersting clan, many of whom have been wiped out by the devils. He's determined to not let his lack of wings hold him back and with the help of healer Orchidspike he learns how to meld magic and knitting to fashion himself a way to fly. He's also working towards finding out what has upset the balance of the world. The two meet and work together to solve the mystery. I was instantly swept up in the world that Laini Taylor has created. There are so many wonderful characters and a way of life that is both idyllic but also flawed.

This book is a joy to read and a fresh take on fairies, hobgoblins and the such. Once (and it only took a couple of pages) I got used to Magpie's language I was happy to follow her anywhere. She was a constant figure of hope throughout. There's plenty of dark and horrific material in this book (I hated Batch - in a good way) but there's also plenty of beautiful magic too. I could have spent hours with Orchidstrike as she healed or with the wonderful Poppy. I was willing the Magruwen to see Magpie as I did, to see the strength in her soul rather than dismiss her as yet another fairy who had forgotten the old ways. Laini doesn't hold back either with characters who get their just deserts. When Lady Vesper claims to be an ancestor of the legendary champion Bellatrix, Magpie is so incensed that she turns her hairs to worms - real worms. I couldn't stop thinking of this, the imagery of, "… living worms, rooted at the scalp and wriggling." How disgusting is that?

The world of Dreamdark is so wonderful. I'll be reviewing the sequel on Wednesday and could quite happily read another handful of these books. If you'd like to lose yourself in a new fantasy world try this - it's a thrilling story that touched my heart too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tempest's Legacy by Nicole Peeler


SPOILERS FOR THE PREVIOUS BOOKS IN THE SERIES

Synopsis


After a peaceful hiatus at home in Rockabill, Jane True thinks that her worst problem is that she throws like a girl – at least while throwing fireballs.

Her peace of mind ends, however, when Anyan arrives one night with terrible news . . . news that will rock Jane’s world to its very core.

After demanding to help investigate a series of gruesome attacks on females – supernatural, halfling and human – Jane quickly finds herself forced to confront her darkest nightmares as well as her deepest desires.

And she’s not sure which she finds more frightening.

The first two books in this series have introduced us to Jane True. She's always felt like an outsider and has suffered terrible losses in her life, struggled with depression and spent time in a mental institution. Soon after our initial meeting she is told that her mother is a selkie and that she's not altogether human. Fast forward two books and this series still fascinates me. She's come to terms with her new status and is trying hard to become offensively strong with her magic. However, she receives some devastating news which throws her straight back into the action again.

Each book has it's own story but running through the series is another, larger arc which follows the actions of the King's closest advisor Jarl. Jarl is responsible for a great many atrocities and Jane True and the gang are determined that he should be found guilty. However, proving that he's responsible for a number of suspect hospitals (for hospital read medieval houses of torture) is difficult as he makes sure that nothing can be traced back to him. Alongside all of this action Jane is juggling some very different problems. At the end of Tracking the Tempest it became apparent that Jane and Ryu were having a few problems. In Legacy we find that Jane is feeling a bit awkward around Anyan. She's used to him being a friend but suddenly she sees him as something more. I have to say that I love Anyan. He's the perfect combination of brawn and brains, both protective and caring. I'm all for them getting together but I'm not saying if they do!

One thing about the Jane True series is that they read like a dream. Jane has such a perfect voice. She's self-deprecating, loves her friends, has determination and drive but more than that she's outright funny and wild too. She guides the reader through the light-hearted bits and safely through the horror too. There's more world building in this book too. We meet a mysterious blond who is baffling everyone who comes across her, a whole new set of characters who are all half human and live together rather than with the "pureblood" supernaturals at the compound so that they can enjoy a more free life. I was excited too to see that there seems to be much more to Jane than we originally thought. She's of interest to many as her powers begin to properly manifest himself.

Another great episode in the series and the fourth book, Eye of the Tempest, is out in October so thankfully not long to wait.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blood & Flowers by Penny Blubaugh


Three years ago, Persia ran away from her drug-addict parents and found a home with the Outlaws, an underground theater troupe. This motley band of mortals and fey, puppeteers and actors, becomes the loving family Persia never had, and soon Persia not only discovers a passion for theater but also falls in love with Nicholas, one of the other Outlaws. Life could not be more perfect.


Until an enemy with a grudge makes an unfair accusation against the group and forces them to flee the mortal world and hide in the neighboring realm of Faerie. But in Faerie, all is not flowers and rainbows—with bloodthirsty trolls, a hostile monarchy, and a dangerous code of magic, the fey world is not quite the safe haven the Outlaws had hoped for. And they must decide what’s more important: protecting their right to perform or protecting themselves.

In Blood & Flowers we meet 18 year old Persia who at an early age ran away from home and is only now starting to settle in with her "new" found family, the boys and girls in the Outlaws troupe.  A group of puppeteers and storytellers, their oddness and quirkiness suits Persia who feels very much the square peg in a round hole everywhere else. They aren't all human though, and quite a bit of their magical puppeteering is down to actual magic.  Faerie magic.

Persia's voice is different.  It took me a long time to get used to it and I admit to it not being my favourite style of voice, but it is interesting and engaging and quirky.  Through her we are shown a world where things are not very pleasant.  Drug use is rife, there is a lot of political corruption and things aren't being done by those in charge for people who live on the fringes of society.  And this is where the Outlaws find their voice.  They create magical shows to send up the establishment, to reveal what is everyone tries to hide, and see it as their duty to enlighten those who do not see what is right before them.

When an old enemy from the two "founders" of the Outlaws shows up and uses his skills as journalist and general main nasty, to make life difficult for the troupe, they decide to travel over to Faerie because surely things can't go as badly wrong there as here, right?

I liked that the faeries were twisty, clever creatures.  Darker than what we've seen for some time.  The threat they pose to human society and to the established order of things, is talked about in the novel.  They are seen as outcasts, as aberrations, as odd and strange and if they are revealed to all of humanity, to come and live in the human world, there is bound to be trouble.  Of course there are those who will welcome them, but there are others who will want to see them shunned, as they are dangerous things from long ago that still scare us.

The book is not at all big yet it tackles important elements such as friendship and family and it shows how family may not end up being blood relatives either, but a group of people who get you and who understand and love you, through all your faults and failings and peculiarities. 

It took me a long while to read Blood & Flowers, purely because I wasn't sure about the voice, and I am still not sure.  Elements of it worked really well but I found myself skipping sections, especially where the main character felt she had to make lists to describe things.  It did not ring true, yet I know of some people and friends who do exactly this in real life.

Also, come on.  How gorgeous is that cover?  It has some fantastic elements and I would recommend it for a read but would love to hear what others have thought about it too.  It's a keeper, especially as I am keen to read it again in a few months' time to see if my perception of it has changed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Love - Wildwood by Colin Meloy


I'm not sure where I first heard about this book (probably Twitter) but I instantly pre-ordered it. It sounds magical. Here's the synopsis: -


Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird.

You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled “I.W.” This stands for “Impassable Wilderness.” No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it.

And this is where the crows take her brother.

So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness.

A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Wildwood is a spellbinding tale full of wonder, danger, and magic that juxtaposes the thrill of a secret world and modern city life. Original and fresh yet steeped in classic fantasy, this is a novel that could have only come from the imagination of Colin Meloy, celebrated for his inventive and fantastic storytelling as the lead singer of the Decemberists. With dozens of intricate and beautiful illustrations by award-winning artist Carson Ellis, Wildwood is truly a new classic for the twenty-first century.

Doesn't it sound brilliant? Well, my copy arrived the other week and although I knew it was a hardback I wasn't quite prepared for just how beautiful it would be. It has deckle edged pages and I'm a sucker for those.


There's a map and a whole host of beautiful illustrations by Carson Ellis. Look!







I'll report back with a full review as soon as possible but I just wanted to share this with you. (Just a quick note about availability. I pre-ordered mine from Amazon UK but they don't seem to be stocking it now. Instead they have a publishing date of January 2012 which is a little disappointing. With a bit of luck Book Depository will have it in stock soon and I've found that it works to fill in their "notify me" request).

Friday, September 16, 2011

MFB goes to Bath Kids Lit 2011



Mark and I are so excited about visiting Bath Kids Festival for the first time this year. We were heading that way as fans and readers, but got a fantastic surprise when we were approached by the organisors asking us if we would like to attend in our capacity as bloggers. We would be able to meet various authors and get the occasional one to one interview...

Wow! We could not say no. We considered which days to go down and booked our accommodation and we carefully, painstakingly and with various coloured markers, went over the schedule and chose which talks to attend.

And now we are set. I may not sleep until then.

In the meantime, the Festival organisors have come up with a fantastic way for us to keep busy. A group of bloggers, illustrators and authors are all taking part in creating an on-going story.

This is the press release:


The Bath Festival of Children’s Literature is launching a unique collaborative storytelling event on Thursday 8 September featuring well known authors and bloggers. There are 20 collaborators in the project including authors Marcus Sedgewick, John Boyne and Annabel Pitcher who will be appearing in the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature Festival, 23 September- 2 October. The story will be written in real-time with readers following the trail as it moves from blog to blog, with an addition to the story being posted at each stop.

The story will run from 8 September – 16 October with the first installment being posted on the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature blog http://bathkidslitfest.wordpress.com/ where readers can click through to the next installment. Every other day a new piece of the story will be posted and as it is being written in real-time it has the potential to touch on any genre imaginable.

Artistic Director John McLay said “We are hoping to highlight the creativity and dedication of both book blogs and author blogs, through which potential readers are enthused and entertained. There is an amazing amount of support for the book industry via blogging and this is a great way for Bath to capture that and do something fun and unique”.

Big Blog Story Schedule

8 September Bath Festival of Children’s Literature
10 September Robin Etherington
12 September Annabel Pitcher
14 September Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
16 September Hannah Shaw
18 September Writing From the Tub
20 September Lauren Kate
22 September Marcus Sedgewick
24 September Alan Gibbons
26 September John Boyne
28 September Catherine Bruton
30 September Achuka
2 October Samantha Mackintosh
4 October An Awfully Big Blog Adventure
6 October Kate Maryon
8 October Barry Hutchinson
10 October My Favourite Books
12 October Joanna Nadin
14 October LA Weatherly
16 October Bath Festival of Children’s Literature

The Bath Festival of Children’s Literature runs for 10 days between 23 September- 2 October and will be packed full of events for all the family – highlights include the amazing Cressida Cowell, this year’s brochure cover illustrator David McKee, funny-man Andy Stanton and Pirates of the Caribbean actor Mackenzie Crook to name but a few.



Tickets can be booked by telephone 01225 463362, online at www.bathkidslitfest.org.uk or in person at Bath Box Office, 2 Church Street, Abbey Green, Bath BA1 1NL.

***


We will be blogging and tweeting from the event, so do make sure to follow us on Twitter - @LizUK and @Gergaroth. We will be there the first weekend of 24th and 25th September.


Events / talks we will definitely be attending:


Simon Scarrow talking about Gladiator

Cressida Cowell

Eoin Colfer

Ally Carter

Philip Reeve & Moira Young

Celia Rees and Mary Hooper

Tony DiTerlizzi


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs


When a mermaid has her first kiss, she 'bonds' for life with the person she kisses. For Lily, a mermaid princess living in secret on land, this means she has ended up accidentally bonded to her obnoxious neighbour, instead of to the boy of her dreams. So begins a tidal wave of relationship drama, as Lily discovers that happily-ever-after never sails as smoothly as you plan it to.

I have seen so many excited whispers and chats online about Forgive My Fins I had to give in a buy a copy to read to see what the fuss was about.

And I do not regret it for one single moment.  It's a fast, very fun read.  I will forgive you if from the above premise you roll your eyes and think...really?  A mermaid princess?

But it works so well.  It really, in lesser writerly hands, could have become very hammy, very silly and a bit dire.  Instead, we have a fresh voice, a very well thought out mythology and world building to contend with both on land and in the sea.  I did not for one second doubt Lily's actions or voice.  She is funny, charming, loyal, a bit crazy and utterly well, Lily. 

The story really zooms ahead, and I think overall we are with Lily for just over two weeks in real time.  In that time she screws up, tries to fix it, realises her mistake, has fights, pretends to be a fish, has more fights, cries, stands up for herself and brainwashes someone.  So a lot happens.  And it is just fabulous and fun and it was the perfect read to lift me out of my reader slump I was in a few weeks ago.

I'm worried readers may think it has no substance because I call it a fun book to read as fun tends to equate  to airy and light and inconsequential in some readers' minds.  And although there is part of that to play in the book, that yes, it is fun and airy, it definitely isn't inconsequential as it has an underlying message.  Several in fact. Some of them are: clean up the mess you have made / take responsibility for your actions / realise that you are not the centre of the universe / your actions have repercussions.  But these lessons are subtle and cleverly woven throughout the book and it's never made the focus of the story.  We get to enjoy and love with Lily and feel heartsore for her and laugh and cry.
I really did believe in the "forced" romance between Lily and Quince.  I thought Quince was the prefect foil for Lily and the voice of reason, the voice of teasing and well, he brought the hotness. Lily's obsession with the other boy Brody is just too funny and I loved Quince's ways of trying to wake her up to the fact that Brody was in fact a bit pointless. 

This is a great fun book to read - definitely recommended for readers from around 12+.  There is a lot of humour, deeply funny sea-isms from Lily i.e. "son of a swordfish" and overall, it made me feel happy and fuzzy inside.  Whilst on the outside I managed to retain my mean street facade.  Kidding!

The sequel is called Fins are Forever and it sounds ace.

Find Tera Lynn Childs' website here.  Forgive my Fins is out, and has been for some time, from Templar in the UK.

Read an extract here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Charlie Higson Lets Children Play With Dead Things

To celebrate the publication of his new novel The Fear tomorrow (15 September 2011), best-selling children’s author, actor, comedian and creator of The Fast Show Charlie Higson has produced a chilling short film. The Fear is the third novel in Higson’s The Enemy series.

The opening of the film echoes The Shining, as a rotting adult zombie (with an uncanny resemblance to Charlie Higson) attempts to break into a room of terrified children. The zombie appears intent on eating the children but there is a surprising twist in the plot. The film is available to view online:



This is the latest in a series of cult trailers for Higson’s books. The first trailer featured Charlie Higson decaying into a Zombie. This was followed by The Scared Kid, made by the creators of Colin, a zombie film which hit the headlines for its £45 budget when it was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. The Scared Kid is a viral video mirroring the plot of Higson’s second Zombie novel The Dead, where a terrified boy posts online a film of himself being attacked by adults. In the book this film goes on to be the most viewed clip on Youtube.

The Fear, Charlie Higson’s latest zombie novel, is published tomorrow. The new book begins five days before the end of the previous novel The Dead and ties all the pieces from the last two books into a huge, terrifying new chapter for The Enemy series.

Set in and around London, the books are set in a world where a mystery disease has broken out attacking everyone over the age of 14. Some survive but those that do face a more terrifying fate – they turn into hideous zombies with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Children form gangs and attempt to survive in an unrecognisable world where there are dangers around every corner.

An Exposé - Bram Stoker's Dracula - illustrated by Ben Templesmith

I saw this book some time ago at my "local" Waterstone's on Oxford Street (i.e. the one opposite Selfridges) and dithered about buying it, mostly because it had been well-thumbed by previous customers.  So I went to Amazon and put it on my wish list.

Until late last week when the lovely Sarah noticed it, was intrigued by it and bought it for me.  With her permission, I give you the second expose on MFB of a novel we've fallen in love it purely because of it's concept and design.

Front Cover

Plain black matte pages

Deepest darkest gorgeous red...drawing us in

Beautiful and freaky title page - double spread

Skulls - gotta have skulls 

First official sketch, showing Jonathan Harker's journey to meet Dracula

Extract of page, in "handwriting" font - the rest of the journal is in normal font

Jonathan's very special friends are waiting to meet him

The beast itself 

Loving the little bat!

Back of the novel 

It is a gorgeous hardback, definitely an item to own if you are a) a fan of Stoker's Dracula b) a fan of Ben Templesmith's artwork c) into all things dark and Gothic.

The pages are from thicker than usual paper and also not pure white.  They feel lovely to the touch.  There are a lot of sketches dotted throughout the book and they vary from breathlessly beautiful to bloody awful and scary.  Templesmith is a very talented guy.

My one warning would be this though: the hardback, although gorgeous is bound quite loosely.  This means that the covers move quite a bit.  And because of this, my back cover, on the inside, has already torn slightly.  I don't mind, no one will see it, but it is a bit annoying.  Also, if the hardcover scuffs on the outside, the black will come off.  This also already happened, purely from me carrying it home in a bag, during commute.  Again, this didn't bother me as I touched it up with black permanent marker.  I know, I am a barbarian.

The designer for this beautiful book is Justin Eisinger and the publisher is IDW.

Find Ben Templesmith's website here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fury by Elizabeth Miles


Synopsis

In book one of the Fury trilogy, Em Winters and Chase Singer discover that a little guilt isn't the only consequence of doing wrong. After Em hooks up with her best friend's boyfriend and Chase's secret harassment of a social outcast spirals out of control, three mysterious Furies-paranormal creatures that often assume the form of beautiful women-come to town to make sure that Em and Chase get what they deserve. Not everyone will survive-and those who do will discover there are worse punishments than death. But when Em befriends outcast Drea and learns more about who and what the Furies really are, she becomes resolved above all to take them down and stop their plans. Little does Em know that, by confronting the Furies, she could become inextricably bound to them for life.

I don't mind telling you that this book scared the crappola out of me. Not because it was creepy or dark (I mean, it's all that and more) but because it has this underlying sense of dread. Reading Fury is a bit like watching Final Destination - you know it's coming but you don't know when. The book opens with a girl throwing herself off a bridge. We soon learn that she ended up in hospital and rumours are spreading all over school. We meet Chase, a guy with a talent on the football field, eager to escape his trailer park background and Em who has a crush on her best friend's man. That feeling of dread had already started for me, it kind of builds gradually as the story unfolds.

As soon as Em's friend Gabby is out of the country, Em is straight round to see Zach. She tries to convince herself that she's not going to do anything but of course one thing leads to another. Meanwhile Chase has a secret and it's making his carefully constructed facade crumble. His background is pretty tough and he's desperate to not let anything slip that would attract the negative attention of the school. Then he has a chance encounter with a trio of girls, one of which has flame red hair and calls herself Ty. As he becomes more and more obsessed by her his life begins to unravel.

The books is based upon the Greek mythology of the Furies who avenge crimes with swift justice. In the case of Fury, these modern-day Furies bring a whole new angle to karma and reaping what you sow. I must admit that I didn't feel any sympathy or connection to any of the main characters but I loved smart Drea and loyal JD. I'm really hoping that both of them play a larger part in the next book. I think that's part of the point though, it's the main characters that attract the attention of the Furies with their shady behaviour which meant that I wasn't always sure if I liked them. By the end of the book I was left wondering if the Chase and Em got more than they deserved. Fury is not your usual paranormal story and I'm looking forward to the sequel although I may be peeking at the pages from behind my hands, or perhaps the sofa.

World Book Night 2012 Titles Revealed


1 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
2 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
3 The Book Thief Markus Zusak
4 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
5 The Time Traveler's Wife Audrey Niffenegger
6 The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
7 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
8 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
9 Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier
10 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
11 American Gods Neil Gaiman
12 A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini
13 Harry Potter Adult Hardback Boxed Set J. K. Rowling
14 The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon
15 The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien
16 One Day David Nicholls
17 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
18 The Help Kathryn Stockett
19 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
20 Good Omens Terry Pratchett
21 The Notebook Nicholas Sparks
22 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson
23 The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
24 The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
25 Little Women Louisa M. Alcott
26 Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden
27 The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold
28 Atonement Ian McEwan
29 Room Emma Donoghue
30 Catch-22 Joseph Heller
31 We Need to Talk About Kevin Lionel Shriver
32 His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
33 Captain Corelli's Mandolin Louis De Bernieres
34 The Island Victoria Hislop
35 Neverwhere Neil Gaiman
36 The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver
37 The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger
38 Chocolat Joanne Harris
39 Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
40 The Five People You Meet in Heaven Mitch Albom
41 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
42 Animal Farm George Orwell
43 The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follett
44 The Eyre Affair Jasper Fforde
45 Tess of the D'Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
46 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
47 I Capture the Castle Dodie Smith
48 The Wasp Factory Iain Banks
49 Life of Pi Yann Martel
50 The Road Cormac McCarthy
51 Great Expectations Charles Dickens
52 Dracula Bram Stoker
53 The Secret History Donna Tartt
54 Small Island Andrea Levy
55 The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
56 Lord of the Flies William Golding
57 Persuasion Jane Austen
58 A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving
59 Notes from a Small Island Bill Bryson
60 Watership Down Richard Adams
61 Night Watch Terry Pratchett
62 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
63 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon
64 Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Susanna Clarke
65 The Color Purple Alice Walker
66 My Sister's Keeper Jodi Picoult
67 The Stand Stephen King
68 Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
69 The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
70 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
71 Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons
72 Frankenstein Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
73 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Shaffer
74 The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
75 Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell
76 The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman
77 The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
78 The Princess Bride William Goldman
79 A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
80 Perfume Patrick Suskind
81 The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
82 The God of Small Things Arundhati Roy
83 Middlemarch George Eliot
84 Dune Frank Herbert
85 Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel
86 Stardust Neil Gaiman
87 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
88 Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie
89 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone J. K. Rowling
90 Shantaram Gregory David Roberts
91 The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro
92 Possession: A Romance A. S. Byatt
93 Tales of the City Armistead Maupin
94 Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami
95 The Magus John Fowles
96 The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas John Boyne
97 A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
98 Alias Grace Margaret Atwood
99 Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami
100 The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami
The highlighted titles are titles I have read and enjoyed.  This is a great list - obviously there will be those who will wonder about a. not enough women b. not enough genre c. too much literary fiction but I'd like to point out the titles that are here are great ones and novels to be excited about - no matter what you like to read.  Breaking out of self-imposed little boxes and surprising yourself is fun, especially when you randomly discover a new author or novel that makes your heart soar.

Well done to everyone who nominated and chose and voted for these titles.  It is a fantastic list and I look forward to watching the whole event unfold.  Hopefully we get the chance to take this part and give out a stack of books.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Melvin Burgess talks about Chris


We are so proud to be part of Melvin Burgess's blog tour to promote his powerful and thoughtprovoking novel: Kill All Enemies.  In today's blog, Melvin takes time to talk to us about Chris, one of the characters from the novel, and the boy that formed the inspiration for that character.
Chris

The thing about the lad I used as the basis for Chris was, he just wouldn’t do enough work. It was fine when he was in the early years at High School, because you can get by then on native intelligence. He was a clever boy and still round near the top of the class at that time. It was as the years went by that things got sticky. He’d be given more and more homework, he wasn’t doing any of it and falling more and more behind. It was driving his teachers crazy - particularly as the exams got close.

Of course, we all want our child to do well, both teacher and parents. Over the years, the measures to make him get on with it got harder and harder, and his parents and teachers became increasingly frustrated.

That could be the story of a lot of kids. What made Chris different was the degree to which he stuck to his guns. He simply refused to be in the wrong. Detention? – wouldn’t turn up. When they isolated him – put him in a classroom on his own with a teacher while he got on with his work - he’d simply wait until the teacher’s back was turned, or until they had to go out of the class for a few minutes, and climb out the window. The same at home. His parents tried it as well – locked him in his room until the work was done. Same thing – out the window, gone. Everyone was getting angrier and angrier. Eventually, when things got too hot, he simply disappeared from home.

This sounds like a serious thing, but he hadn’t actually left the area at all. In fact, he was actually going to school. Still not doing the work, mind you – but going. He was eating at friends, sleeping at friends. Perhaps anxious that he he’d really leave altogether if they got to stern abut, his parents went along with it for a while, hoped he’d come round; he didn’t. Later on, when they got in touch with his friends and friend’s parents to try to stop him, he accordingly went a step further as well, and went camping. Amazingly, he put up his tent on the school grounds, where no one ever thought of looking for him.

I mean - how bad is that? Or … should it really be, how cool is that? After all, we’re all forever complaining and worrying about the amount of stress we have to put up with at work, and most parents are aware that the same thing is happening at school. The work life balance has been getting worse for years, and it shows no sign of getting any better. Isn’t it nice to come across someone who is just not putting up with it?

In no other part of his life was misbehaving. It was just the work. School was school – home time was his time; that was all there was to it. No one and nothing was going to make him keep up with that homework.

Chris was obviously someone who had real character and who knew his mind and I was fascinated by his refusal to get sucked into the school workload. I sympathised with his parents, of course – but at the same time I admired him for making a stand.

There are a number of stories for Chris’s real life that I used in the book. Getting dressed up in crazy gear, prancing into the classroom room and lodging himself under the teachers table as a protest was one - although not for the reasons I put in the book. His mum told me that one. Oddly, when I spoke to Chris, he remembered very little of many of the events she told me - an interesting thing about perception. He gave me the basis for the story of snailboy though, which I used.

Things got quite hairy as the exams got close. His mum got fed up with the fight and suggested to the teachers that things had gone too far. Chris, she suggested, had the right to fail if he wanted.

“Yes, he has the right to fail – but not on my watch,” one of them said. No surrender! But Chris got his way in the end, and they cut down on the exams and just concentrated on a few of them. When he left, he got a job in a bar and within a very short time was managing it. Not a lazy person then, or a stupid one, or an irresponsible one – just one who wasn’t going to do the work.

He was an immediate candidate to pick up and spin into a character for the book. I loved his attitude, his stubbornness, and the fact that, since he managed himself so well as soon as he was out of school, it was plainly the school that was failing, not him at all.

The character that developed on the pages in KAE turned out great – full of humour, strong willed and determined. Somehow, though, I found it hard to reconcile that character with someone who would get into so much trouble just by avoiding.

I looked through my notes and I found a clue from when I had talked to Chris, that I might be able to use. I remembered how he told me that he still hated writing stuff. He was writing an email to someone just recently, he said, and he still hated doing it.

It was the writing.

In the book, you can find the spin I put on that for my character. Whether it’s true of the original Chris or not, I have no idea …



Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Opposite of Amber by Gillian Philip

They found the fifth girl right after the snow melted ...the place where he left her was winter water, crazed with ice-feathers and dusted with snow. The traces from her body were gone, the ones that said his name, but she had an extra skin of ice that protected her and she looked perfect, like Snow White'.


Ruby and her older sister Jinn live together on their own, just about making ends meet. Jinn is beautiful, with glittering blonde hair, and makes it her business to look after Ruby. They are horrified by, but try to ignore, the local newspaper stories of prostitutes who are murdered, their bodies eventually discovered underwater. Then the no-good Nathan Baird turns up on the scene - again - and Jinn starts to change. First Nathan moves in with Jinn and Ruby, making Ruby feel an outsider, and then Jinn and Nathan move out, leaving Ruby alone. Jinn no longer has time to look after Ruby. And it seems to Ruby that Jinn herself needs looking after. Her beautiful glittering hair starts to lose its shine. And then Jinn disappears. A deeply moving, chilling, and incredibly powerful thriller that celebrates the love two sisters have for each other and mourns the events beyond their control that will conspire to drive them apart.

I am the world's most rubbish fan.  I love Gillian Philip's writing yet it has taken me ages to get around to reviewing The Opposite of Amber, which is truly crappy of me, considering how much I enjoyed it.

Gillian Philips has managed to create a very vivid experience for the reader, especially as the story is told from our main character, Ruby's point of view.  And Ruby is a very sensitive young girl who seems to experience things in high emotion.

When we meet Ruby she is pretty stressed out, thinking she had somehow made a school friend try and commit suicide.  Basically, Ruby was chatting to another boy at school, Foley, and Alex came up to talk to her, so she flippantly told him to jump off a cliff.  And Alex went and walked off the school's roof, injuring himself quite badly.  So she's in a pretty dark and emotional place.  All of this combines to make her feel pretty isolated and unwanted, added to the fact that her mum was never much of a mum in the first instance, so things are not at all pleasant for Ruby.

She adores her older sister, Jinn who, still very young herself, does her best to look after Ruby but is far too caught up in her own world, to really fuss with Ruby too much.

When the local bad boy turns up, and takes up his on again off again relationship with Jinn, Ruby's life takes an even worse turn.  She watches her sister Jinn go out of her way to do everything for him, making excuses and fussing around him, ignoring Ruby's feelings and inviting him to become their "lodger".  Unfortunately Jinn's love for Nathan is so all consuming that she loses her job and has to resort to walking the streets to try and care of them.  It is grim and unpleasant and stark and real.  Where Jinn was this gorgeous girl with a future ahead of her, it is Ruby, the quiet voiceless one, the shadow, who is forced to become tougher, stronger, grow a voice and to sort things out.

The relationship between the sisters is very important in the novel.  They are a unit, a family, and with Nathan added to the mix, along with his debt and the dangers that comes with that, it quickly turns into a mess.

Added to this, a range of serial murders has taken place.  A murderer has been killing prostitutes, or girls he assume are prostitutes and of course, with Jinn walking the streets, poor Ruby is scared senseless.

The novel is written in a very colloquial Scottish way, which for about five minutes made it difficult to get in to, but once you hit your stride it works to enhance the atmosphere and sense of place.  As usual Gillian stretches herself as an author and we get the full readerly benefit of her skills - she gives us a novel about trust, deception, sistership, motherhood, murder, love - the gamut of daily emotion.  She also gives us a fantastic heroine whose character undergoes tremendous development.  The novel is layered, interesting and very tense as well as intense.  I remember sitting down to read it and hunching my back and clenching my fist thinking "no no no".  It takes a writer pretty much at the top of their game to tap into a reader's emotion as strongly as this.

Every bit of this book was believable.  I loved the flawed Ruby and the senselessly brave Jinn.  I yearned for everything to go right for them, but of course, you'll have to read the book to find out if it does.  I'll allow myself one further bit of advice: have tissues ready.

Find Gillian's website here.  The Opposite of Amber is published by Bloomsbury here in the UK.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

100 Most Popular YA Books - A list


I saw Bella on twitter this morning mention this list...and I thought...I wonder how many I've read.  So I thought I'd list it here to check.

The highlighted titles are obviously the ones I have read.  I am thinking that I've not done too badly.  On the other hand I realised I've not even managed to review most of them!  I am ashamed.


1. Alex Finn – Beastly
2. Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones
3. Ally Carter – Gallagher Girls (1, 2, 3, 4)
4. Ally Condie – Matched
5. Alyson Noel – The Immortals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
6. Anastasia Hopcus – Shadow Hills
7. Angie Sage – Septimus Heap (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
8. Ann Brashares – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (1, 2, 3, 4)
9. Anna Godbersen – Luxe (1, 2, 3, 4)
10. Anthony Horowitz – Alex Rider (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
11. Aprilynne Pike – Wings (1, 2, 3)
12. Becca Fitzpatrick – Hush, Hush (1, 2)
13. Brandon Mull – Fablehaven (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
14. Brian Selznick – The Invention of Hugo Cabret
15. Cassandra Clare – The Mortal Instruments (1, 2, 3, 4)
16. Carrie Jones – Need (1, 2, 3)
17. Carrie Ryan – The Forest of Hands and Teeth (1, 2, 3)
18. Christopher Paolini - Inheritance (1, 2, 3, 4)
19. Cinda Williams Chima – The Heir Chronicles (1, 2, 3)
20. Colleen Houck – Tigers Saga (1, 2)
21. Cornelia Funke – Inkheart (1, 2, 3)
22. Ellen Hopkins – Impulse
23. Eoin Colfer – Artemis Fowl (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
24. Faraaz Kazi – Truly, Madly, Deeply
25. Frank Beddor – The Looking Glass Wars (1, 2, 3)
26. Gabrielle Zevin – Elsewhere
27. Gail Carson Levine – Fairest
28. Holly Black – Tithe (1, 2, 3)
29. J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
30. James Dashner – The Maze Runner (1, 2)
31. James Patterson – Maximum Ride (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
32. Jay Asher – Thirteen Reasons Why
33. Jeanne DuPrau – Books of Ember (1, 2, 3, 4)
34. Jeff Kinney – Diary of a Wimpy Kid (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
35. John Boyne – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
36. John Green – An Abundance of Katherines
37. John Green – Looking for Alaska
38. John Green – Paper Towns
39. Jonathan Stroud – Bartimaeus (1, 2, 3, 4)
40. Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl – Caster Chronicles (1, 2)
41. Kelley Armstrong – Darkest Powers (1, 2, 3)
42. Kristin Cashore – The Seven Kingdoms (1, 2)
43. Lauren Kate – Fallen (1, 2, 3)
44. Lemony Snicket - Series of Unfortunate Events (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)
45. Libba Bray – Gemma Doyle (1, 2, 3)
46. Lisa McMann – Dream Catcher (1, 2, 3)
47. Louise Rennison – Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
48. M.T. Anderson – Feed
49. Maggie Stiefvater – The Wolves of Mercy Falls (1, 2, 3)
50. Margaret Peterson Haddix – Shadow Children (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
51. Maria V. Snyder – Study (1, 2, 3)
52. Markus Zusak - The Book Thief
53. Markus Zusak – I am the Messenger
54. Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
55. Mary Ting – Crossroads
56. Maureen Johnson – Little Blue Envelope (1, 2)
57. Meg Cabot – All-American Girl (1, 2)
58. Meg Cabot – The Mediator (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
59. Meg Cabot – The Princess Diaries (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
60. Meg Rosoff – How I live now
61. Megan McCafferty – Jessica Darling (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
62. Megan Whalen Turner – The Queen’s Thief (1, 2, 3, 4)
63. Melina Marchetta – On the Jellicoe Road
64. Melissa de la Cruz – Blue Bloods (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
65. Melissa Marr – Wicked Lovely (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
66. Michael Grant – Gone (1, 2, 3, 4)
67. Nancy Farmer – The House of the Scorpion
68. Neal Shusterman – Unwind
69. Neil Gaiman – Coraline
70. Neil Gaiman – Stardust
71. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book
72. P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast – House of Night (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 )
73. Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials (1, 2, 3)
74. Rachel Caine – The Morganville Vampires (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
75. Rachel Cohn & David Levithan – Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
76. Richelle Mead – Vampire Academy (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
77. Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson and the Olympians (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
78. Rom LcO’Feer – Somewhere carnal over 40 winks
79. S.L. Naeole – Grace (1, 2, 3, 4)
80. Sabrina Bryan & Julia DeVillers – Princess of Gossip
81. Sarah Dessen – Along for the Ride
82. Sarah Dessen – Lock and Key
83. Sarah Dessen – The Truth about Forever
84. Sara Shepard – Pretty Little Liars (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
85. Scott Westerfeld - Leviathan (1, 2)
86. Scott Westerfeld - Uglies (1, 2, 3, 4)
87. Shannon Hale – Books of a Thousand Days
88. Shannon Hale – Princess Academy
89. Shannon Hale – The Books of Bayern (1, 2, 3, 4)
90. Sherman Alexie & Ellen Forney – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
91. Simone Elkeles – Perfect Chemistry (1, 2, 3)
92. Stephenie Meyer – The Host
93. Stephenie Meyer – Twilight Saga (1, 2, 3, 4)
94. Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees
95. Susan Beth Pfeffer – Last Survivors (1, 2, 3)
96. Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games (1, 2, 3)
97. Suzanne Collins – Underland Chronicles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
98. Terry Pratchett – Tiffany Aching (1, 2, 3, 4)
99. Tonya Hurley – Ghost Girl (1, 2, 3)
100. Wendelin Van Draanen – Flipped

Forty eight titles all in all, no 49. This list comes from What's Your Story Reviews, who in turn got it from Reut Reads  and so on and so on.  It certainly is a comprehensive list but not an all compassing list.  And actually, to be fair, it lists some awesome titles and would work really well as a reading challenge or even, just a primer to YA fiction.

Anyway.  A bit of a random musings list on a Saturday morning.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Third Trailer

The lovely goodies just keep turning up. Next gorgeous trailer for the hotly anticipated Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor just in from the publishers.



And! The other reason I love this video is because the artwork we see as Karou's is actually created by friend to MFB and all round cool guy: Tom Percival.

Here is a lovely post on the Daughter of Smoke and Bone website about the creation of the artwork and videos.

There once was a young artist called Karou who drew tales of monsters and demons that delighted and enthralled those around her.

But she has a secret, a secret that ties her to a dusty subterranean chamber, where her beloved guardian brokers dark deals in a place that is not here. A place that is Elsewhere.

Living with one foot in each world, Karou has never really known which one is her true home.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing...

If you're on Twitter, be sure to check out:

#DaughterofSmokeandBone

@HodderBooks

@SmokeandBone

And of course, Team MFB is: @LizUK / @esssjay (Sarah) / @Gergaroth (Mark)

Nefilim by Asa Schwarz


Nova Barakel, a Greenpeace activist, breaks in to the President of the biggest power company (Vattenfall) in Sweden to spray the apartment with words like murderer and blood money. In the apartment she discovers the man, together with his wife and dog, dead in a brutal and sadistic way. Soon another corporate president is murdered.



Nova becomes the lead suspect in the crime investigation and is forced to flee the police. At the same time she has to deal with her mothers recent death, whom she had a complicated relationship with. Mysterious events links her mothers death to the brutal murder.

Nefilim is by the Swedish author Asa Schwarz and because it is written in Swedish and translated into English by the same person who translated the Larson books, it should already tell you that this is not your average YA.

Nothing about this book follows the usual YA trend we have seen in the UK & US and further afield.  I would be inclined to say that it isn't YA so much as a big cross-over into the adult Crime / Thriller market and it really should be stocked in those shelves too.  It is easily one of the most tense and strange books I've ever read. 

Nova, our nominal main character, is the rebellious teen from a quite well-off single-family.  Her mum, Elisabeth, is a lawyer and is a bit of distant character.  Cold and probably a bit unfeeling, you can sort of understand a lot of Nova's hang-ups.  However, when we meet Nova, her mum had just recently been killed in a car crash, leaving her an orphan, with a pending police investigation ongoing to try and figure out how it had come that her mum had driven into a petrol station and blown up, killing several other people at the same time.

Nova's an incredibly strong, very well defined character.  She is both unexpected and unusual enough to be a completely new type of teen I've read about, but enough like some of the girls I grew up with so that I can relate to her, as an adult.

The novel starts with Nova breaking and entering into an apartment, with the sole aim to spray slogans on the walls of the super wealthy businessman's apartment.  What she finds is a mess.  He has been slaughtered, along with his dog and his wife, and their bodies are left to rot in the bedroom. 

As descriptions go, it is pretty intense.  And Nova's reaction is completely logical.  She runs, but only after being violently sick.  After meeting up with her two friends from Greenpeace, they decide to anonymously contact the police to let them know about the bodies. They are completely taken aback by the murder and have no idea who could have done it, as Greenpeace does not condone murder.

After this, we move to Amanda, who is a senior investigator in the police.  We meet her during a bad time.  She's battling some kind of awful stomach bug and throws up at the littlest provocation.  She's very much a person who has to be in control and does not like having her facade as the uber-efficient policewoman slip.  When she enters the crime scene in the apartment, she does however, slip.  She becomes violently ill in her brand new designer bag, much to the surprise of her friend Moses, who is a doctor and coroner.  This scene so well describes Amanda - she puts the job first, knowing that she's ill, she still goes in to do her thing, and when the illness threatens the integrity of the crime scene, she chooses to rather be sick in her handbag, than go out and face her other colleagues, and perhaps damage the crime-scene.  Super characterisation.

Amanda is also the investigating officer in Nova's mother's death.  And it is her job to go and tell Nova that the findings were that her mum must have fallen asleep at the wheel of the car, driving home, causing the accident.  When Nova faces Amanda, she is still wearing the orange jumpsuit she wore when she entered the businessman's apartment and without realising, implicates herself in the murder, as Amanda's later investigations reveal Nova's presence, as the orange jumpsuit was so noticeable that a shop assistant identified it.

The story spins out from these dramatic opening scenes and the pace does not let up.  Just because Nova is a juvenile, do not expect the author to hold back on the terror on gore of the subsequent murder or the determination Amanda has to track down Nova and see her behind bars for these attacks.  What doesn't help is an awful reveal about Nova's own past that makes Amanda viciously convinced that Nova is indeed a demented psychotic killer.

It makes for very fast and uncomfortable reading.  The plot is very sophisticated and layered, with a variety of strands I will not be touching on in this review as obviously it is something that you must read for yourself.  There is a hint of the supernatural about this novel, tying in with the title - Nefilim - which relates to the fallen angels at the dawn of time. There is also a massively strong eco-message throughout the novel.  I initially did not expect it - but it forms so much part of Nova's character and her "indoctrination" into Greenpeace, and what she stands for, that it worked genuinely well.  It is a very modern thriller, very mature, with some intimate scenes between Amanda and her lover that stops for the reader just before they do the horisontal tango.  Admittedly, it came as a surprise that it was part of the novel, but then, all does get revealed.  In the end.

It is well written, well paced and importantly, translated in a way that still made me feel like I am reading a Swedish novel.  It is an unexpected gem, and one I am really pleased I succumbed to buying from Foyles during my last trip there with Sarah.  It is definitely recommended for more mature young adult readers and definitely for adult readers who have become fond of Swedish crime novels.  Just because Nova is the main character, and she is a teen, do not expect a gentle romance or anything of the sort. In fact, ignore this review completely if you decide to buy it and make up your own mind.  I can't stop thinking about it and am wondering what the next book will have in store for me. 

Find the author's website here. She is published in the UK by Sibling Press.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Between by Jessica Warman

A little while ago I received this mysterious blue proof in the post and all it said was Between. Since then I've been chatting on and off to Jenny at Egmont about this book and I'm slowly but surely starting to get very excited about it.

The synopsis:

Only the good die young. Right?

Elizabeth Valchar has it all: friends, money, beauty, a cute boyfriend and assured popularity. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she is found drowned next to her parents' boat. Everyone thinks it was a tragic accident - teens drinking on a boat, a misstep leading to a watery death. But Liz is still here after death, and she doesn't know why. There are gaps in her memory. Her only company Alex, a boy killed by a car a year earlier, Liz sets out to piece together her life. But their small coastal town is hiding many secrets - about families, boyfriends and friendship. Plus, Alex hates Liz for being mean when they were alive. Was she as squeaky clean as she thinks she was? Could it be that she herself is hiding the biggest secret of all? Can Liz discover the truth? And if she does, who can she tell? An engrossing, compelling thriller that peels back the layers of small-town life to expose true, ugly, cruel human nature.

Find the trailer here. For some reason, I can't embedd it into the blogpost which is annoying.

However, it is a very creepy trailer and I'm very much looking forward to reading Between by Jessica Warman (cool surname or what?) and hosting her on her blog tour later.







Also, pretty cover points!!