Thursday, August 30, 2012

YA Cover Reveal - Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

We are so proud to show off our friend Tanya Byrne's YA cover of her exceptional debut: Heart Shaped Bruise.

First, we look at the hard back cover we all know and love:

Isn't it lovely?

But now, feast your greedy little eyes on this pretty.  See the heart? See the two girls'* faces? You can't unsee it, right?

My review will go live for this next week but here's a spoiler: it is frigging amazing!

The paperback is aimed at the YA market although I know a lot of teens have already bought the hardback.  It's due for release in the last week of September and I know - and this is to Hannah, specifically - that I'll be buying another copy.  Because that's just the kind of nerdy book geek that I am.

*PS: now there's a debate - who do you see when you look at the cover? A boy and a girl...or two girls? Leave the comment below - this is getting interesting or follow us on Twitter! @tanyabyrne and @LizUK

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing by Michelle Spring & Laurie R King

This cover nabbed from Blackwell's website as I couldn't find another

This is the second book in the Arvon series of books on writing. Written by two distinguished writers in the field, Michelle Spring and Laurie R. King, the book reveals, with riveting honesty, why and how authors are drawn to write about crime. The book also features fascinating insights from twenty-six top crime-writing guests. The Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing is a detailed, practical guide to writing every kind of crime story, from classic whodunits to fast-paced thrillers. The book's objective is to bring together some of the lessons and insights that the authors and contributors have learned over their careers, to help the readers to free their creative minds, while also studying the solid technique behind writing in this genre. The Arvon Book of Crime Writing captures the essence of Arvon teaching into a practical handbook for writers, packed with tips and advice from leading novelists as well reflections on the genre itself and practical instruction on great storytelling.

The Arvon Foundation runs professional writing courses by published writers and provides expert tuition and creative support.  The Arvon Book of Crime Writing is divided into three sections: 

Part 1 - Essays on critical issues in the genre
Part 2: Guest Writers - 25 contributors offering advice and tips 
Part 3: How To Write Crime

I picked up a copy of TABoCaTW last week from my "local" Waterstones on Oxford Street as it just looked so interesting.  Also - I realise this is a silly thing - it is the perfect size.  Unlike a lot of non-fiction how to books, this is only slightly bigger than a standard sized paperback novel, so it fits easily in my bag to cart about on commute.  I took it back to the office, read some of it in my lunch time, read it on my commute home, read it before it some more, emailed and fan-girled at Laurie R King (who responded to my fan-girl email *swoons* with good and charming grace) and so I thought I'd review it on MFB as I know a lot of you guys are aspiring writers too.

I love crime and thrillers.  I admire people like SJ Bolton and Val McDermid, George Pelecanos, Tess Gerritsen - the list is long - who continuously write great books with engaging characters and great storylines.  Getting the chance to sit in on one to one snippets of advice from them via this book is one of the bonus features for me.

Here is a breakdown of the contents (I apologise for the not-so-great photos) that will give you an idea of what's contained in this neat package:

Each section feels personalised and the authors speak to their readers in a relaxed way, explaining concepts and offers suggestions on how to best approach certain things when writing scenes / characters.

I knew immediately after finishing Part 1 that I needed to share this with you guys - the book might be about Crime and Thriller Writing but it's foremost about writing and connecting to your audience, about engaging them and making them want to keep on paging through to the end of the book they've spent money on.

Two sections resonated in Part 1 especially - Reflections as well as Ways of Writing.  Ways of Writing dealt with how both Michelle and Laure write - the more organic development writer (otherwise known as the pantser) and the one who plans meticulously and follows the outline.  I think most writers fall in between both of these but it's so interesting seeing the two of them lay out how they write.

The sections on early decisions (POV, series, standalone etc) can easily be transferred to writers who write fantasy, literary fiction, science fiction, children's and YA titles.  Ways of Writing is once again touched on in the Plotting section, taking us deeper into the Organic writers' mind then into the Orderly writer's mind.

Part II - is what it is.  Interesting essays from a variety of well known successful writers about plotting, setting, sub-genres, voice...a great resource which neatly leads on to Part III about getting your story across to the audience.

I say again, this great pocket rocket book may be aimed at Crime and Thriller writers and readers, but it will behoove (check me out, Sarwat and Steve Feasey, I am using the word behoove!) any aspiring writer to get a copy of this as the advice is solid and universal and presented in a far better way than a lot of "how to write" books out there.  It also helps that the book is modern, relying on current authors and advice and publishers for their information and essays - it was published just last week! - and the examples that are referred to are all easily accessed and attainable.

I'm super pleased with my purchase and think a lot of aspiring writers and fans of crime and thriller writers will be too.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Favourite Book of Eight-Year-Old Me

Everyone has their favourite books from childhood and one of mine was Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden. I used to borrow this as often as possible from the library and for reasons that I can't remember would take it back, return it then hide it on the wrong shelf in the hopes that it would still be there to take it out the the following week. Why I just didn't ask my parents to buy me a copy or keep it out and renew it is now a complete mystery to me. I fell in love with this book so badly but never owned a copy. Then I grew up and forgot all about it until recently when I wondered if it was still about. A quick search on the Internet revealed that a hardback copy had been released and I bought it but when it arrived it was missing the most important thing - the doll's house plans.

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower is about a girl called Nona who is sent from India to live with her aunt and uncle in England. The two dolls arrive at the same time from Japan and are also missing home and someone to take care of them. Bullied by Belinda, the youngest daughter of the family, the dolls give Nona an interest and gradually she starts to stand up for herself. She feels that she knows what the dolls are going through and begins researching how to make them a home. The dolls speak to each other too and their thoughts mirror Nona's. She's as concerned as they are that the house be correct and authentic. And so gradually she starts to feel part of her new family as the dolls gradually get the home they desire.

The best part of this book for eight-year-old-me though was definitely the plans at the back to enable you to build your own Japanese doll's house. This had young me absolutely entranced. As Tom, the eldest son of the family, makes parts of the house for her it is carefully explained in the back. I never had one, nor any Japanese dolls but this book was always part magic for me for that reason alone. Everything is described from how to make the screens to the drawing placed in the alcove. So when I found that the new copy didn't include the plans I went into a frenzy and searched across the interwebs until I found the right copy. Madness really as I'm never going to make the house but just the thought that without the plans I definitely couldn't was bad enough.

I feel I should apologise to all the other kids at my local library who never managed to take it out as I either had it at home or it was hidden in some corner.

This copy was printed in 1976, costs 45p and has no barcode! Also, bizarrely, the synopsis at the front of the book explains the entire plot, start to finish. I need to look at my other books from this era to see if this was a thing.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Strontium Dog - The life and death of Johnny Alpha: The Project

Earth, the late 22nd century. Many survivors of the devastating Atomic Wars were mutated by Strontium 90 fallout. These ‘mutants’ became a victimised underclass- hated by the ruling ‘norms’ and forced into squalid ghettos, the only job left for them was bounty-hunting. 
 The best of the Search/ Destroy agents (also known as Strontium Dogs) was a man called Johnny Alpha. He became famous for fighting for mutant right and died defending his kind from ultimate destruction. 

But it seems even death can’t keep a good dog down and rumours are circulating about Alpha’s return..

When I first got wind of the potential return of Johnny Alpha, I was bitterly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Strontium Dog, and Johnny Alpha was the template for every other RPG or PC game I played across my teenage years (and beyond tbh). I sobbed like a madman when he was killed. But it was a Good Death. He died for his convictions, and went down fighting, scant consolation for the mutant shaped hole in my life that his death left behind. I took some solace in the knowledge that the impact of his death was such that Carlos Ezquerra didn’t want to illustrate that issue. It made my grief feel a bit more legitimate.

 So. On one hand it would be good to have Johnny back, but that was far outweighed by the worry that his ‘resurrection’ would be a tawdry and cynical gambit that would cheapen his death and dilute the impact of such a powerful story. Then I heard that the story was being helmed by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra once again, the same pairing that created Strontium Dog all those moons ago, and some of my dread passed, although it still took some time before I found myself sitting down and turning to page 1 of The Project.

Ezquerra’s familiar and distinctive art immediately leaps out and welcomes you, a continuity of style that’s immediately reassuring. The story starts with and follows Precious, a writer compiling a true account of the events surrounding Johnny’s death. She teams up with a barely sober Middenface McNulty to start seeking out accounts from the surviving witnesses of his death regarding the rumour that contrary to the official account, Johnny’s body was brought back through the dimensional portal that he had given his life to open.

It’s a clever device that allows Wagner to feed through enough backstory that anyone unfamiliar with the original story won’t feel utterly lost. It also lets the story gather pace without feeling rushed, so that by the time that they’re closing in on Johnny’s resting place it's gathered enough gravitas that it doesn’t feel rushed, distancing it from the way that deaths in the Marvel/ DC universes have lost their impact.

 I have to say that I came away from this feeling optimistic about the resurgence of Strontium Dog. It’s handled very well, the story is as strong as anything that has gone before, laden with twists and revelations and, damn it, Johnny’s back!

A fine job by Messrs Wagner and Ezquerra, and well worth the wait.

Find the full story here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Rose Janko is missing. It has been seven years since she disappeared, and nobody said a word. Now, following the death of his wife, her father Leon feels compelled to find her. Rumour had it she ran off when her baby boy was born with the family's genetic disorder. Leon is not so sure. He wants to know the truth and he hires a private investigator to discover it - Ray Lovell. Ray starts to delve deeper, but his investigation is hampered by the very people who ought to be helping him - the Jankos. He cannot understand their reluctance to help. Why don't they want to find Rose Janko?

Stef Penney is a chameleon.  If you liked The Tenderness of Wolves and like me, you were blown away by her voice, her lyrical tone and how your heart lifted because of the beauty of the prose, you'll be surprised when you pick up The Invisible Ones as the two books are as different from each other as, I don't know...jam and peanutbutter.

Still set in the past, but far closer than Tenderness, we meet Ray Lovell as he's engaged by a young girl's father to try and find her.  The only thing is, the girl went missing some time ago and no one spoke to the police about it...and the family she married into say she's run off with another man.   What makes matters difficult for Ray is that he needs to get in touch with a gypsy family to find more information and no one can give authorities the run-around as effectively as a gypsy. Ray should know, he is one. 

I realise that the book might be seen as a commentary on gypsy culture and we expect something akin to the tv shows that have been on these past few years but trust me, this is nothing of the sort.  Ms. Penney works hard building up Ray and the investigation.  The story is part-told by a young gypsy boy and seeing things from his point of view is a brilliant ploy of the author - so we get to see how they react to Ray and we also see how they react within the family. 

The writing is harsher, less polished than Tenderness, but there is a definite reason for this - the book is more crime and investigations so the language and Ray's great voice makes sense.  Ms. Penney's strengths lie in her characters.  We are totally immersed in Ray's world and that of the gypsies we come to meet throughout his investigation because she makes sure we come to care about Ray and the case.  She's a clever girl. 

The story unfolds in expected and unexpected ways but our steady compass of Ray remains the same - his own preconceptions and ideas about gypsy life and family get challenged and he comes up against an adversary he did not expected.  I realise I'm sounding obtuse but you really do not want to let the cat out of the bag on this one.  If you pay attention as you read it, you'll see the clues but what you make of it, until you come to it...that's entirely up to you. 

I thoroughly enjoyed The Invisible Ones but think that readers who are still in love with Tenderness and who don't want to have the memory replaced, should be wary.  I think she's got a great range and her courage to do something as different and as noir as this, should be recommended.   If you've never read Tenderness but you are a crime fiction fan, give this a go.  

And a big thanks to Quercus who kindly let me have a copy after I gushed at them in their offices a while ago about how much I loved The Tenderness of Wolves and how it is one of those books that will always stay with me, until my memory goes.  *grin*  I think they probably just gave me a copy of The Invisible Ones to get me out the door and to shut me up.   Here's a video from Stef chatting about The Invisible Ones. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel


For 500 years Lenah Beaudonte has been a vampire. 500 years of seduction, blood and destruction. But she is sickened by her dark powers and longs to feel the sun on her skin, grass under her bare feet, and share the breath of a human kiss.

She wants to be mortal again.

But is she really capable of being human, after her long years of darkness? Waking up as a sixteen-year-old girl brings Lenah many things the life she has missed, taste, touch, love. But a vampire soul is not easily shed. And her coven of four vampires she led in decadence and thrilling destruction want their queen back…

I don't know how this book passed me by but with the second Vampire Queen novel having recently come out I wanted to catch up. The book begins with Lenah waking up after a hundred year sleep - one which ends with her being transformed into a mortal sixteen-year-old girl. Her maker, Rhode, is responsible for her return to human form. As a result he dies the next day leaving Lenah completely alone in her new life. I quite liked this twist as it meant she had to rely on herself during the first part of her story. She must assimilate herself into high school life and make sure that she doesn't attract the attention of her former coven. When Lenah was a vampire she was completely deadly, ruthless and cruel and thought nothing of killing a child to feed upon. Infinite Days definitely embraces the traditional vampire - deadly killers who have no trace of humanity about them. I found this quite a relief. I always prefer my vampires to be inhuman monsters.

Something that I loved about Infinite Days was the switch between present day and Lenah in the past. As she was made a vampire in the 1500's we see her as she was then and throughout her life (death?). We follow her over the centuries and see how the passage of time has changed her. Fortunately this means that we get to see Rhode and also some of her other coven members, especially Vicken - the only other love of Lenah's undead existence. Through these flashbacks we get to understand her love for both vampires and get a feel for why she's so desperate to be human again. Because she has existed for over five hundred years her language is antiquated at first and she struggles with things we take for granted like clubs, boats and other run-of-the-mill things. This mix of young and old make Lenah a very unique heroine.

In her new life I loved seeing how Lenah adapts to being human again. She initially keeps some vampire traits like ESP or vampire sight. She struggles to understand how to interact socially and is saved by Tony, a student at her high school on an arts scholarship. They bond and although it's easy to see where Tony's feelings are going Lenah is distracted by the gorgeous Justin. I wasn't initially convinced by Justin but let's just say that he won me over in the end! Lenah's journey is an incredible one; she goes from being socially inept to a fully fledged teenager. But of course Lenah's past catches up with her and the finale is breathtaking. I'm just glad that I have the next installment as the cliffhanger would have driven me crazy otherwise.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Defenders of Ulthuan by Graham McNeill

The high elves have long been the protectors of the Warhammer World, and their homeland of Ulthuan is known for the powerful magic that surrounds it. At the heart of Ulthuan lies a magical vortex, and the mages who created it remain trapped in a space out of time, endlessly working the spell that keeps the world from becoming a seething Realm of Chaos.
When Ulthuan comes under attack from the forces of Chaos and dark elves led by the Witch King and the hag sorceress, Morathi, the high elves must hold firm or face disastrous consequences. 

In Defenders of Ulthuan Graham McNeill tells the epic tale of the struggle between good and evil.

Readers, I read myself a Warhammer book (my first ever) and I loved it.  I had no prior knowledge of the world Defenders of Ulthuan is set in, before going in and reading this and although I was worried about it, I really shouldn't have been.  

I felt, as a noob reader and newcomer to the world, that I was 100% safe in Mr. McNeill's hands. The narrative is rich and evocative when it comes to describing the world of Ulthuan.  I was surprised, I admit it, by the strength of the world-building (noob, remember) and how much work went in to setting the scenes and laying the foundations of the story so that towards the end of the book, and the big reveal, you actually do feel the loss and horror of the betrayal. 

DoU easily stands on its own merits as a fantasy novel, regardless of it being a Warhammer fantasy title.  McNeill writes beautifully and goes out of his way to ensure that we recognise and realise how badly things are going for the elves and what the ultimate outcome will be.  

Something that took me by surprise is the (I initially thought) over-use of description.  It is superlative and as a reader it surprised me as I'm no longer used to writers getting away with using such rich descriptions for things - however, I understand why it was done and allowed in Sons of Ellyrion - it's all about building this majestically beautiful world, allowing us to see how definitive and unique it is, making us realise what's at stake here if Ulthuan ultimately falls to the dark elves.  Within the space of possibly two chapters, I got over my "this is overwritten" worries and just fell utterly in love with it and luxuriated in the richness of this world. 

I learned a lot from Graham McNeill in this book - from an aspiring writer's point of view I learned how to set up characters and how to set up bigger stakes through small incidents and how important identifying with characters really are.  From a reader's perspective, I relished the action, the betrayal, the horror and the sheer spectacle of where the story was leading.  

There are multiple points of view in the book but each one very much has it's own voice. Also, there is sexy times! and it it made me grin as it was described lightly and sweetly. *grins* 

I realise this review doesn't really make much sense...but this is what I'd like you take away from this: 

If, like me, you've wondered about reading the Warhammer fantasy titles, I don't think you have anything to worry about.  If you're a fantasy fan, you'll get the world and what's going on here.  The book keeps you paging.  Poor Mark had to sit through me going: OMG! This is happening and omg, do you think this guy is actually the bad buy and OMG! I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS PERSON DIES!  <- this is a sign of an involved reader and good writing.  

I have the second title: Sons of Ellyrion lined up to read in the next few weeks.  And I gotta know what happens.  No spoilers, please!  

Read an extract from Defenders of Ulthuan here

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Angel Dust by Sarah Mussi


Would you move heaven and earth for the one you love? ANGEL DUST is a powerful, gritty and utterly modern tragic love story with a twist. When Serafina, the brightest and most beloved of all God's angels, is sent to collect Marcus Montague - the original badman - and take him to Hell, she finds herself powerfully drawn to him and makes a decision that places her in the middle of a war between Heaven and Hell. Can Serafina fall in love without falling from grace? Can Marcus's soul be saved? And just who is the mysterious and ever-so-helpful stranger Harry?

I've read a great deal of paranormal romance but I don't think I've ever read one where the angel is both the main character and the narrator. I've got behind in my reading as there's been a couple of books recently that I didn't want to finish. Once I'm in a reading slump it takes a special book to give me a jolt and I hoped that Angel Dust would be the one. I knew I was reading something very different from the first chapter. Serafina is new on soul collection duty and the only other ones she's done were asleep at the time. So when Marcus is on The Manifest for collection that night she wasn't expecting to fall in love. All the others were so easy but she's keen to get it right, not to mess up. Despite her best efforts she finds herself unable to do her duty; it's something about the way he talks, the way he smiles. She's offered a way out by an odd man called Harry, a way to buy more time for Marcus and she grabs the chance without asking any questions.

I hardly ever read prologues. I sort of skim read them then read them afterwards but for some reason this one grabbed me. True, it didn't make a whole lot of sense but it's a sign of a great book when I go back and read it again as soon as I'd finished the last page. I loved Serafina's voice. She revels in all things human and has an appealing mix of naiveté and knowledge. She's seen all sorts of souls in her time as an angel and doesn't really understand why humans make the choices they do. Angel Dust is full of religious world building - some references I recognised but others I wasn't overly familiar with but it didn't hinder my enjoyment. I was intrigued by Serafina's heavenly world though and how eager she was to leave it to be by Marcus's side.

Marcus is in a gang but Angel Dust doesn't glamorise this in any way. It's desperately clear how much hurt and suffering he causes his family and those who love him. Marcus isn't depicted as a victim either who's trapped against his will. The theme of free will runs through the book and Serafina (and the reader) has to separate her feelings for Marcus the individual and the man who has the potential to do terrible things. Marcus makes mistakes and bad decisions but he's not alone in this. Confused by how to save his soul Serafina struggles to be both the perfect angel and Marcus's saviour. As she falls deeper in love she starts to question everything she's been told.

I loved this book so much. There's some witty references to paper work, contracts and the workings of heaven that keeps it fresh. Serafina may be an angel but as a character who's struggling to find her way her journey is easy to identify with. More than anything I fell in love with Serafina, Marcus and their struggle. They go through so much that I was crying by the time I finished their story. There's some perfect symmetry in the writing too: repeated sentences and music leads to one very powerful ending scene. This book's a keeper, I'll definitely read it again and it goes on my list of the best of 2012.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Shenanigans in London this Saturday, 18th August

This coming Saturday, 18th August, Blackwells is hosting a fantastic line-up of YA writers on a panel (which I get to moderate, the fools!) and I thought I'd share with you who will be in attendance.

From Blackwell's website:

High Fantasy Night in Blackwell's Charing Cross Road, August 17th at 6pm

We are thrilled to be hosting a panel of exciting young authors who write genre fiction for the Young Adult market, though that doesn't mean old adults can't read it too!

Tom Pollock's debut novel, The City's Son, is about graffiti artist Beth Bradley who stumbles upon a hidden world of monsters and miracles underneath London's streets. It is the first in The Skyscraper Throne Trilogy and is a story about family, friends and monsters, and how you can't always tell which is which.

Tanya Byrne is a writer, feminist, drinker of tea and sniffer of books. Her debut novel, Heart-Shaped Bruise, is a compelling, brutal and heart-breaking story about identity, infamy and how far a person might go to seek revenge.

The author of Department 19 and its thrilling sequel, Department 19: The Rising, Will Hill is a growing name in the Young Adult genre fiction market. When Jamie Carpenter's mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government's most secret agency.

When not writing ads for videogames featuring people being blown up, Kim Curran writes books for young adults featuring people being blown up, namely her debut novel Shift. She volunteers as a writing mentor at The Ministry of Stories and her greatest achievement was when Tom Baker told her a script she wrote was funny. He was being paid.  <-  I have it on authority that a handful of pre-release books for Shift will be on sale. 

James Dawson, author of dark teen thriller Hollow Pike, grew up in West Yorkshire, writing imaginary episodes of Doctor Who. Until recently, James worked as a teacher, specialising in PSHCE and behaviour. He is most proud of his work surrounding bullying and family diversity. He now writes full time and lives in London.

To reserve your tickets for either of these events, please email 


This is going to be a mad event - and we're hoping to see lots of faces there.

The panel is aimed at readers and interested folk who want to find out about writing and what makes writers tick.  If any of this is of interest to you, do email Blackwells to reserve tickets - it's free and to be honest, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than chinwagging with a bunch of creative types and getting books signed?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fear to Tread by James Swallow

Since the earliest days of the Great Crusade, Sanguinius – angelic primarch of the IXth Legion- was ever among the closest and most loyal of Horus’s brothers. But the Blood Angels have long kept their true nature hidden from the rest of the Imperium, and when the Warmaster hints that the key to their salvation may finally be within their grasp, the sons of Sanguinius race to claim it.
Now, as the revelation of their betrayal dawns and the traitors’ hand is revealed, the Blood Angels must face all the warp-spawned armies of Chaos, as well as their own personal daemons upon the blasted plains of Signus Prime.
The first thing that grabbed me about Fear to Tread was how nice and chunky it was. Clocking in at a respectable 508 pages, it’s a lot of bang for your buck and also means that most people won’t blaze through it in a single sitting. Note the use of ‘most’.
FTT opens with a pre-heresy battle, the culmination of a hard fought campaign prosecuted by Horus and his Luna Wolves in conjunction with Sanguinius and his Blood Angels, and lays the foundations for one of the cornerstones of the horrors that await the Angels on Signus Prime. From there, the action moves ahead to the uneasy period following the Council of Nikeae, the calm before the storm that encompasses the scourging of Prospero and the moment when the traitor legions reveal their new allegiance on the ashes of Isstvan. It’s the time when Horus is making the most of the last days of the Crusade, using the unsuspecting trust of the loyalist legions to isolate or manoeuvre them into vulnerable positions for a swift, decisive attack, and in FTT it’s the Blood Angels who are in his sights.
Horus ‘ manipulations crystallise slowly at first, and seen from the perspective of a small number of Blood Angels, you can understand just how it is that he can pull off such a monumental gambit. Sworn to the Emperor’s vision of universal apostasy, holding to science and logic over the foolish and destructive superstitions and mysticism that have held mankind back, the Angels wouldn’t know a demonic trap even if they were standing in one. Or in this case, obediently flying into one. And once it’s unleashed, how do they fight something when every fibre of their being and all they have been taught tells them that it doesn’t exist? The answer to that question is earned in blood as Horus’ daemonic catspaws enact his plan into action, filling the plains around their macabre cathedral with rage and blood as the primarch battles his greatest foe.
With a fistful of Blood Angels novels under his belt, and an audiobook, there was never any doubt that James Swallow would be the one tasked with bringing the story of the Blood Angels and the legend of the Red Angel to life. That level of familiarity with their history, the fate of Sanguinius and the nature of their legacy comes through in his writing; there’s no feeling of having to digest lumps of exposition and overall it simply feels effortless. Even if you’ve never picked up a Blood Angels story before, FTT will draw you in and keep you turning those pages. I think he’s definitely nailed it. It’s ripe with the feeling of that era, and the knowledge of what lies ahead for Sanguinius and flawed sons gives it a subtle but unmistakeable air of tragedy. Just what I like for 40K! 
Buy it, read it, beg for more.

Read an extract here of Fear to Tread and watch the trailer below: 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Debutantes by Cora Harrison


It’s 1923 and London is a whirl of jazz, dancing and parties. Violet, Daisy, Poppy and Rose Derrington are desperate to be part of it, but stuck in an enormous crumbling house in the country, with no money and no fashionable dresses, the excitement seems a lifetime away.

Luckily the girls each have a plan for escaping their humdrum country life: Rose wants to be a novelist, Poppy a jazz musician and Daisy a famous film director. Violet, however, has only one ambition: to become the perfect Debutante, so that she can go to London and catch the eye of Prince George, the most eligible bachelor in the country.

But a house as big and old as Beech Grove Manor hides many secrets, and Daisy is about to uncover one so huge it could ruin all their plans—ruin everything—forever.

First off, this cover must surely be in the finalists for prettiest of the year? That's what drew me in to be honest but I've always been a bit like that. I do love a bit of period drama too so this combination meant I had to give Debutantes a try. The four sisters - twins Poppy and Daisy, eldest Violet and little Rose - are all members of a faded and much-reduced aristocratic family. Since their father lost all of their money in some odd scheme things have been very tight. So tight in fact that there's little chance that Violet will be able to have her debutante season in London or be presented at court. This means she has no hopes of finding a rich husband and getting herself and her sisters out of their grinding poverty.

We get to know twin Daisy pretty well as the book mostly focuses on her. She is an amateur film maker and has high hopes of doing it professionally. As it is, her amateur films bring in some much needed cash. It's obvious though that Violet must go to London so between them they hatch a scheme to help bring this about. From the beginning there is also a mystery to be solved which starts in the form of a letter found in an abandoned stable. To be honest the answer to this mystery is fairly obvious from very early on but this didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the book.

The interest in this book, for me, was the 1920's detail. The fact that the girls didn't go to school as there was no money. The way that all money went to first born sons meaning that the debutant season is really a fierce battle between eligible girls trying to snag those first-born sons. Although I don't think that Violet was a character who was easy to like I did feel sorry for her. The only other opportunity that appears to be available for her is to settle as a spinster if she can't marry. The girls are even set to lose their home when their father dies due to an entail on the estate (Sense and Sensibility style).

Things really take off when they go to London and everything is neatly sewn up by the end of the story. Debutantes is a fun, easy and escapist read - perfect for holidays.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp (text) & Sarah Ogilvie (illustrations)

Once upon a time, in a tower near you,
Lived a sad princess; the Princess Sue.
"Some day," she sighed, "my prince will come,
But I wish he'd move his royal bum."

But when Princess Sue's prince finally does arrive, he's not quite what she had in mind. Find out how the feisty princess escapes the clutches of her twit of a prince in this funny twist on the traditional princess tale.

I spotted this little picture book when I was out and about last week Monday with Sarah - we were doing one of our "hit all the bookshops in the West End walks" - and I just could not stop thinking about it.  Whilst Sarah was wondering which book to buy in Waterstones opposite Trafalgar Square, I sat on the floor in the kids' section re-reading this book over and over.  Then bought it.

I love Princess Sue - she's lived all her life in her tower and she's read all the books you can find about being a princess and about being rescued.  But then Sue's not quite the type of tidy, snooty, princess you'd expect.  When her prince does come for her she's over the moon, convinced that they will be going on grand old adventures together.

Sadly, of course, this is not the case.  The prince, nice enough if you like them dumb and old fashioned, takes her to his castle where he expects her to stay.  But no, says Sue, I want to go out and have adventures with you! Isn't this why you rescued me? No, says the prince.  I went through all these trials to save you and to lock you away again...Sue, like me, was not happy with this.

So she makes friends with a dragon.  And she goes about and has tremendous adventures with the dragon and has the time of her life.  And when the prince tries to tell her off for behaving badly she shrugs and walks away from him to follow her heart to adventure.

This is one of the best and funniest books I've read in ages - charmingly illustrated and deliciously feminist it will appeal to young readers who themselves are tiny rebels.  Or actually, if like me, you're a fan of picture books and enjoy wry humour and poking fun at archetypes.

Highly recommended, for sure.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Love At Second Sight by Cathy Hopkins

I apologise massively as this review was meant to go live on Friday but due some Blogger shenanigans, it did not happen.  However, here's the review and I hope it was worth the extra wait!)

Unlucky in love Jo is dragged along to see a clairvoyant by her two coupled-up best friends, and is told that there's only one boy for her. The trouble is, the last time she saw him was in a past life, when she worked as a governess to his younger brother. The clairvoyant tells her that as she is back in this life, so is he, and she must find him if she is ever to know true happiness and love.

Jo doesn't believe a word of it - but then a series of events begin to change her mind. Could her one true love really be out there? In her quest to find the One, she visits psychics and cemeteries - but will she even be able to recognize her soul-mate when she finds him? Or is she destined to continue looking for love for all of time?

This review will be brief - because well, I think that younger teen girls will love this story and even older teens and rickety old women like me will love this story.

Jo has to be one of Cathy's strongest female characters she's ever written.  Jo is Every Girl.  She has her two best pals she hangs out with, but lately she's been feeling the odd one out - she's the one without the boyfriend and although she's pretty much okay with it, she can't help but wonder if there's something wrong with her.

When they go off to a fun fair and her one friend insists they go to a fortune teller and the fortune teller reveals that Jo used to be a governess in her previous life and that she unfortunately missed out on her true love, her soul mate, in that life...but that she now stood a chance in this life to find him...Jo thinks that she's crazy to even partway entertain this wild fiction she's been sold.

I've read books in the past where the main character has been told their fortune and the token protests are made but deep down you know they really believe the story they've been told - this is not the case in Jo's story.  You get the feeling that she really doesn't believe any of the "mind body spirit" stuff at all and she approaches it in a very logical and normal way, quite systematic...and yet, you sense how her will wavers as things start stacking up against her strong logic.

As the story grows and we get to know Jo and her friends better, Cathy has great fun playing with our own perceptions of things.  I liked how the story neatly spiralled out in ever widening circles and how Jo started doing research into the story she's been told and how her friends support her and how she handles the interest from three boys...gaah! It all gets so very tense and you just will Jo not to screw things up.

It's longer than Cathy's Million Dollar Mates books and meatier as it gives Jo a chance to go through this great character development arc.  All the Cathy trademark things are there though - great friendships written well, lovely boys to fall for, and just...well, let's be plain: great fun writing and a very engaging and interesting story.

Give Love At Second Sight a whirl - I don't think you'll be sorry.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

MFB interviews: Cathy Hopkins

When S&S offered me the chance to interview Cathy Hopkins, one of my favourite teen and tween writers, I jumped at the chance. I  read through her most recent title: Love At Second Sight and came up with a set of rambling over-excited questions that she kindly answered for us:

1. Can you tell MFB’s readers about Love at Second Sight?

It’s a love story about Jo, a teenage girl who has been unlucky in love while her mates are all happily paired off. When she’s dragged along to see a clairvoyant by her best friend, Effy, she’s told that the reason she hasn’t found love is because she has already met her soul-mate but in a past life in the 1800’s when her name was Henrietta and she worked as a governess to a doctor. During this time, she fell in love with the doctor’s son, Howard but the family kept them apart. The clairvoyant goes on to tell her that as Jo is back in this life, so is the boy and she won’t find true love or happiness until she finds him again. At first, Jo thinks it’s all a load of nonsense but events start to happen that make her think – could what the clairvoyant said be true? And if so, how is she ever going to recognise the boy who is The One?

2. I loved Jo’s character – she is such a lovely sensible girl.  In this instance, did you find Jo first or did the story of LASS come to you first?

The story of Love At Second Sight came first. It was after I’d been to see a clairvoyant with a friend and she told me that, like in the book, in a past life I had been a governess called Henrietta who lived in Bristol around the 1800’s and, as in the story, had been governess to a doctor. She also told me I’d had many lives before that but that was the most recent! After that, I started thinking, what if? And the story started to unfold. I wanted Jo to be cynical about the idea of reincarnation but her friend, Effy would be the open minded one who would urge her to pursue the idea that if she was back, so maybe would be the people she had known including a boy who had been her soulmate.

3. How much research did you do into past lives and hypnotherapy? I was told by S&S that this was an interest of yours before you decided to write LASS. 

I did a lot of research. I read lots of books and watched whatever DVD’s I could find out about the idea of reincarnation and case histories of people who had said that they had some recall of previous existences. All fascinating stuff. I have always asked questions like, where have we come from? Where do we go when we die? So I enjoyed giving those questions to my characters and tried to represent all the different viewpoints in how Jo and her friends approached the idea that maybe we have lived before and that the physical body is like a cloak that we wear when we’re born and shed at the time of death while the spirit lives on through many lives.

Personally I don’t know if it’s true that we live on or not. I guess there’s only one way to know and that’s to die and find out!

4. I liked how you showed Jo’s sessions with her hypnotherapist – made us understand why she was having these chats with Fiona.  Do you think kids still have a preconceived idea about why adults and kids visit therapists? 

I suppose some kids, teens and adults have preconceived ideas about why people visit therapists - that it’s for the mentally ill or hypnotherapy is only for smoking, weight problems or insomnia. Others recognise that with the right therapist, the value of therapy at a difficult time or turning point in life can be far reaching. In the book, Jo is going for help to a therapist because of the difficulty she is having sleeping but her sessions lead to much more.

5. Jo’s character goes through this great character arc – do you sit down and consciously plan how your characters develop or do they have a say in it too? 

Both. When I’m writing, I do aim for my main character to have an arc of change so that they are different in some way, either in thoughts, attitude or appearance by the end of the book, to show that they have evolved through the story and what has happened to them. That said, when writing, as the character develops and becomes more real in my mind, they start to have their own say too. It’s great when that happens.

6. How long is LASS? Did it take you longer to write as your Million Dollar Mates and other Cathy books (as I refer to them) tend to be smaller books?

It’s 309 pages long and the idea had been cooking in my head for many years before I sat down to write it. I researched the idea over a year and a lot of the story and details came from the books and case histories I read about. After that I worked on the outline and characters. Then when I finally sat down to write it as a book, it took about eight months.

7. Are we seeing you focussing on books for older teens after LASS? And then a completely self-serving question: will there be more Million Dollar Mates? 

At this moment in time, I’m not sure. I have another idea for a one off novel which I am working on at the moment. Again, the theme will be to do with finding a soulmate. Is it choice or chance that you meet someone?

I’m not sure about another Million Dollar Mates book either. There are four book in that series out so far and a fifth, Super Star, due to be published next spring.
I have also been thinking of a new series with a whole new set of characters. So far, a girl has come into my mind and a name. Beatrice Brooks, known as Bea to her friends. And I know she’s a Scorpio. I’ll have to see how vocal she becomes but so far, she’s looking interesting to me with a lot to say for herself. For the next month or so, I will put some thoughts and ideas down and see which ones come to life the most – and of course, which ones appeal the most to my publishers.

8. I loved your descriptions of North London and especially Highgate and the cemetery.  Do you visit there often? And tied in to this question, do you ever feel yourself being a bit Gothicky? 

I set Love at Second Sight in North London and parts of it in Highgate cemetery because yes, I had visited there a number of times and used to live just down the road from there – so all very familiar territory. The cemetery is the most wonderfully atmospheric place, like a film set for a Gothic movie, in fact I think it has been used in a few films: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Dorian Gray both have scenes set there amongst others. There are regular daily tours around the cemetery because as well as the atmosphere, there are many famous people buried there. I also liked the idea that if we have lived and died before, how weird would it be to come across the grave of someone you once were. Woohoo. Shiver down the spine time…
I wouldn’t describe myself as Gothicky but I do like some aspects from the Victorian era – the buildings, architecture and interior décor in particular. Not sure I liked those long dresses though, too hot and constricting.

9. Who from the Victorian age would you like to meet over dinner if you had the chance to do so? 

I’d like to meet Elizabeth Siddal, the model and muse for the Pre- Raphaelite painters. I’d like to ask what her the painters in the circle were really like and what it was like to have modeled for them and how were women like her treated. In the book, Love At Second Sight, Jo has a few Pre-Raphaelite posters on her bedroom wall including the one of Elizabeth Siddal when she posed as Ophelia for Rossetti. Also, Elizabeth Siddal is buried at Highgate cemetery.

10. The boys in your novels always feel so true to me.  Ben in this, along with Owen and Finn really ached with realness – do you have a secret stash of boys that you watch and write about for your girl characters to fall in love with? 

The boys in my books are part imagination – the kind of boys I wished had been around in my teenage years and part real, a mix of my friend’s teenage boys or someone I have observed when out and about. I base my characters on real boys as opposed to the boy band pin ups or current A list teen stars.

11. I loved the three friends’ relationship – Tash and Effy are such good kids – and I know from your Million Dollar Mates how important friends are to you and your characters.  Do you have really good friends you still hold dear and do you use them / situations you’ve been in your writing? 

I write about the importance of friendship in all my books because I think the friends you meet in your teenage years can last a lifetime whereas boys can come and go. I still see two friends from my teenage years, Annie and Nicky, and value them highly. We’ve known each other through such different phases of our lives, know each other so well and are always there to support each other or just hang out and we can go back to being fourteen in an instance. I feel very lucky that in my life, I do have the best group of female friends, some from the old days, some more recent. They make me laugh like anything, are there when I need a shoulder to cry on plus will always tell me if my clothes are wrong or my eyebrows are the wrong shape (thanks Carol…)

And yes, I use many instances from my teenage years and the experiences I had back then in my books. It was a very happy time for me. That said, certain things don’t change whether you’re fourteen or forty so I can also use a lot of current stuff too – like after a date, how soon is too soon to call a boy/man without seeming uncool? That kind of thing never changes.

12. How many books do you write a year now and when you get the chance, how do relax? Do you ever have the chance to read for pleasure and if so, are they adult titles or do you prefer other kids’ books? 

I write between one and two a year now, though Love At Second Sight took longer because as I said earlier, I was researching it for a long time before I sat down and plotted the storyline then began to write it.

I do read for pleasure, both adult, teen and kid’s books. I have piles of  books all around my bedroom waiting to be read – all genres, some modern, some classic. I am endlessly curious and love the insight that a book can give, whether into another culture or idea or person’s angle on life. I like nothing more than having lots of books waiting to be read. They’re like parcels that haven’t been unwrapped yet and I don’t know until I open them what’s inside.

Find Cathy's website here and do pop by tomorrow for my review of Cathy's newest: Love At Second Sight.