Friday, June 26, 2009

** Winners of the Sarah Rees Brennan Party Favours**

Big congrats to our two winners for the SRB Party Favours:

Jennifer Lawrence (not sure when Jen's from but I've emailed her!)

Poonam Shah from the US

Hope you both like your pressies. Make sure to email me back asap so I can post these out!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Poison Garden by Sarah Singleton


It is the 1850's, and a young boy, Thomas, leaves his family to be apprenticed to a pharmacist, at the behest of his dead grandmother. He also inherits a magical box from her, which provides him entry into a mysterious garden. But while visiting it, he sees a ghostly vision of his grandmother, who tells him she was poisoned, and warns him that he must find the person responsible, and save her precious garden. For she was one of five members of an arcane guild, each of whom cultivated an individual garden, mastering the art of poison, perfume and medicine. The guild members jostle for power as, one by one, they are murdered... can Thomas solve the mystery, before he in turn is threatened?

I fell in love with Sarah Singleton through reading The Amethyst Child last year. This is from part of the review I did for The Amethyst Child:

The Amethyst Child is not really a book that you read as much as experience. It is an absolutely gripping book which I would highly recommend reading for Sarah Singleton's deft touch with the poetic pen, vibrant characterisation and for her pure unadulterated storytelling skill.

Sarah has moved on from this almost dreamlike summer laden novel from last year to offer us a deeply dark, wonderfully Gothic novel in The Poison Garden.

Written with an deceptive ease and skill we very quickly come to know the 1850's world Thomas inhabits. We are drawn into the strange garden he discovers and to the story of the arcane guild, relatively newly resurrected and by the driven character whose shadow seems to loom throughout the novel.

The story moves swiftly and is peppered with eccentric and intriguing characters, anyone of whom could be responsible for his grandmother's death. The group calling themselves the Guild of Medical Herbalists is a small and intimate one. The suspect list is limited and as each bit of information gets added to the story, you find yourself nodding and saying "maybe him...maybe her..."

It is a competently written murder-mystery with Thomas being the central figure holding all the strands. He is a lovely creation - at first slightly shy and hesitant but his character growth is well plotted and soon we have a very capable, stubborn and ultimately a very likeable character on our hands who starts unravelling the plot and picking up clues.
Some parts are terrifically complex and surreal and I felt that younger readers may not entirely quite grasp some of the concepts, which is why this should be handed to slightly older readers who enjoy more of a challenge. There are some grisly bits, as there is bound to be, but what is most striking in this novel is the complexity of the world Ms. Singleton's created. I would have loved for the novel to be a bit longer - purely because I wanted to spend more time with Thomas - and that is entirely a personal thought.

As The Poison Garden is one of our Summer Reads, I get to score it and am happy to give it a well deserved 7.5 stars our of 10.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Luisa Plaja talks Extreme Kissing, Peter Petrelli and Dario Argento

When I first "met" Luisa Plaja it was as the person behind the very cool and trendy YA Chicklish website. I had NO idea she was a writer until I received a book in the post from her publishers...It's always the quiet ones, readers, that you have to watch out for! I devoured Extreme Kissing, initially unsure what to expect but the effortless writing got me, as did the quirky characters. And because I wanted to know more about the elusive author Luisa Plaja, I got Luisa to agree to do an interview with MFB! Yes, I am a devious plotster.

Could you introduce yourself to some of the readers who may not know you and tell us a bit about your books you have published.

My name's Luisa and I've got a big nose... Ahem, sorry, my name's Luisa Plaja and I love teen fiction, especially of the romantic comedy and/or down-to-earth coming-of-age variety (both sometimes known as 'teen chick lit' if the main character is a girl). My debut, Split by a Kiss, is this type of novel, and I've been told it's like a book version of Mean Girls crossed with Sliding Doors. My most recent book is Extreme Kissing, the story of two best friends and one life-changing day out.

What made you realise you wanted to be a writer, and more importantly, a writer of YA fiction?

I've wanted to be a writer all my life, probably since I first encountered books. I thought being published was an impossible dream, though. As for YA/teen, it's my favourite type of fiction, and there's no way it's just for young adults. I think anyone who never reads in this category is missing out. I've never really stopped reading YA fiction and it feels natural to write about teenage protagonists.

Also, apart from being a writer, what would your other dream job be?

Ooh... something in films or filmmaking. Maybe even a projectionist - I've always thought that looked like an amazing job. But, honestly, writing is my dream job.

In your most recent novel, Extreme Kissing (link to review), you have your two main characters Carlota and Bethany go loping around London doing crazy things – what on earth made you think this up for them?

There are several things behind it. Firstly, it was similar to something I'd occasionally do with my friends when I was a teenager myself, although without half of the fun, danger and life-altering consequences of Carlota and Bethany's day out. All right, without ANY of it. I've also always loved teenage magazines, Carolota-style. Lastly, I read an article about a grown-up form of 'extreme travel', involving things like sticking a pin in a map of the world and flying to that country. I thought it would be fun to do this on a smaller scale, accessible to teenagers. I mean, really you could do it without leaving the house - an extreme day in. It could involve writing a novel!

Have you ever considered going Extreme Travelling yourself and if you did, which famous person would you choose to gallivant with?

When H from the book blog About Books asked me this recently, I decided I'd like to go extreme travelling with Peter Petrelli from Heroes. If it had to be a real person, then... hmm. Maybe some other authors or book bloggers. We could take random book challenges on the way! I think it would be a lot of fun.

We are fortunate that we get YA books from both the UK and the USA to read and review – why do you think there is such a difference between the two markets?

I think primarily it's because of the age of the readers the books are targeted at. In general, YA fiction in the UK is targeted at younger readers - perhaps 10-14 - wheareas YA fiction in the US is aimed at readers into their early twenties. I think this is gradually changing, though, and I've seen more 'older' YA fiction in the UK recently.

Could you tell us how you went about being published?

I had a dream journey to publication. I wrote the final scene of Split by a Kiss and sent an email enquiry to a top agent telling her about my book. She asked to see the manuscript, and two weeks later she phoned and asked to meet. That was an amazing moment - my first serious submission and an agent wanted to see me! I remember happily swinging my bewildered (but happy) toddlers around the room for joy. I signed with her and, after some revisions, my book sold fairly quickly to Random House.

When you set about writing – do you come up with your characters first or the story concept or do the characters dictate the story?

Characters probably come first, and definitely dictate the story. Even if I have a rough idea of the concept first, once I start to explore the characters everything changes. Split by a Kiss is a case in point. I started out writing the story of a British girl in the States. I wanted to write about culture shock, really. The splitting of my character into two happened when the unexpected effect of her British accent got her into a tricky situation and she had a tough decision to make. At this point, my character was on the brink of changing to adapt to her new situation, and there really were two ways she would react. So I decided to write about both paths.

And probably the most scary question yet: How do you keep it real? Or more importantly, how do you hit the right tone in writing for teens so that they feel you do not write/talk “down” at them.

Well, I really hope that's the case. The answer is that I don't write for teens - I write for myself. You can make what you like of that, but my mum would probably tell you that I never grew up. I might argue that teenagers are already grown up, really, and writing for teens is no different than writing for adults, except for the age of the protagonists, and the issues they're concerned with. I find those issues fascinating.

Are there novels or “how to” books which you think influenced you in your own writing career?

I love this question, but I think it's impossible to answer! I've probably been influenced in some way by everything I've ever read. I used to devour 'how to write' books when I was a teenager, but a very kind author I wrote to at the time told me to stop reading them, and that the only way to be a writer was to write. I think there's a lot of truth in that. So my answer is that a kind author called Mara Kay was probably my biggest influence.

What can we expect from you in the next few months?

Well, I'm writing away as usual, but I'm also involved in a few other projects. One of them is the Sex in Teen Lit special at Ink and Paper, where the fabulous Jo will be reviewing Extreme Kissing and interviewing me as well as some other authors, including Melvin Burgess, Mary Hooper and Joanna Kenrick. I think it's going to be amazing, and you can read all about it here:

I'm also supporting the Oxfam Bookfest and doing a charity event at my local Oxfam shop.

You also run Chicklish one of my go-to sites for children's and YA book reviews – how did this come about? More importantly, how do you get the teens to review for you and can we hire them?

A few years ago I was talking to some writer friends about how little information we could find online about UK teen fiction, especially the more light-hearted variety. Most of the sites we found were US-based. We decided to redress the balance and Keris Stainton, whose wonderful debut YA novel will be out next year, founded Chicklish. It's been going for over three years now and we've gathered various fantastic contributors along the way, including writers Alexandra Fouracres, Karen Saunders and Carly Bennett and some teenage reviewers who have written to us offering to review. I've recently involved one of my local schools in reviewing too, with great results.

You write for the teen / YA market and have read very widely in the field so you are a bit of an expert. Do you think the genre has undergone a change, with authors feeling they can tackle scarier and more intense subjects such as pregnancy, drug-use, self-harm etc. without the old parent-pitchfork brigade running them out of town?

Hmm, that's an interesting question. I'm not sure whether I've seen drastic changes, to be honest! I think teen fiction will tend to reflect an era, like other types of fiction - hence the slightly 70s tone of some Judy Blume novels, and the 80s materialism of a series like Sweet Valley High, morphing into the realistic drama of a 90s series like Katherine Applegate's Making Out, and the celebrity-style scandal-filled Gossip Girl for the noughties. I think there have always been books about intense subjects, though. In fact, if anything, there has been a gentle change away from issue-led books and towards books where the issue is just part of a wider story.

I remember from previous email-conversations that you used to read a lot of horror and are quite a horror you think you will ever write a YA horror?

I'm not sure! I think I love writing romance too much. Of course, there's romantic horror... The answer is, I don't know, but I do love what I'm writing at the moment!

Do you have any favourite horror books or movies that you still pick up to flick through or watch?

Movies: Definitely. I'm a massive Dario Argento fan, and my favourite of his films is probably Suspiria. Books: Yes, those too. Stephen King will always be the master for me, and I still maintain that Carrie is YA fiction. ;)

And more importantly: do you have a zombie apocalypse plan?

Of course; everyone should have one. Mine involves holing myself up with a stash of food and a load of books and waiting for it all to subside. At least if I'm eaten, I'll be eaten happy.

Final question: advice for any unpublished authors out there, looking to break into the YA market?

Enjoy what you write and don't give up. Oh, and read a lot, because YA fiction is excellent.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

The Name of the Wind follows the story of the enigmatic Kvothe, who we meet as a small town innkeeper. However, an unexpected visitor will be the catalyst that reveals him to be so much more than his appearance suggests; he becomes the reluctant narrator , revealing the birth of the legend that surrounds him, a legend that Patrick keeps tantalisingly out of reach in this, the first of the Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy.

Kvothe is a well considered, sympathetic character, an interesting hybrid of trouper, beggar, scholar, bard and arcanist who you can’t help but root for. He’s ably supported in his adventures by a cast of characters that are both interesting and varied, sharing the limelight without stealing it.

Patrick’s confident, polished writing flows across the page, belying the fact that this is a debut novel. His writing is tight, with not a word wasted, the story unfolding at a measured pace that satisfies and teases in equal measure; each paragraph a baited hook that pulls you deeper into the story and keeps you turning the pages at a brisk rate.

All in, Name of the Wind was an absolute pleasure to read and one I have no hesitation in recommending to anyone!

Summer Reads list score:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

David Gemmell Legend Award

Mark and I had the great pleasure of helping out at last night's David Gemmell Legend Awards. It was an amazing evening and it was lovely seeing fans, publishers, authors, agents and the press turn out for the inaugural event.

The winner of the overall prize was Andrzej Sapkowski - author Blood of Elves. Personally I've not read it - yet - but I am sure I will get around to it!

Below are some snaps we took whilst at the event, helping out and fangeeking.

Mark takes possession of the five baby Snaga's which Gillian Redfearn from Gollancz brought to the event for the five shortlisted authors.

Oh so very pretty - baby Snaga on display.

Danie Ware from Forbidden Planet, left, Samantha Smith commissioning editor at Orbit UK, David Devereux author and owner of a good pair of legs, Anna Grigson publicity assistant at Orbit UK.

The incredibly talented James Barclay delivering Druss' speech to the audience with the grace and style of a trained actor and orator. No one moved or said a word for the five minutes he spoke. It was simply amazing!

Jo Fletcher, a personal hero of mine, accepting the award on behalf of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.

Mark gets a chance to heft Snaga - the original as created by the boys at The Raven Armouries. More enthusiastic people I have to come across. Listening to them talk about making these items gave me goosebumps. They are incredibly passionate and they genuinely conveyed the magic that goes into making these amazing items.

Snaga at rest.

I love this pictue of Danie which Mark took. Danie is a tall girl, quite slender and on first inspection you wouldn't quite class her a rabid weaponaholic, but she is. Just look at that serene expression on her face - it's as if she's come home. I love it.
Ah yes, then there is me, hefting Snaga. Just one thing: LARPERS - seriously think about it next time you say: my Barbarian fights with two axes because SHE is that hard. Gah, you try handling this amazing thing with one hand. Beautiful and heavy and just out of this world. No wonder weaponsmiths held as much status as some kings in the days of old. Pure ancient primitive magic.

The final photo of the evening. Joe Abercrombie, one of the shortlisted authors gets a chance to heft Snaga. Witness the slightly unhinged expression in his eye. It's a look that says: if I leg it now, I may not be able to get far, but I will be able to hurt someone badly if they try and take it from me.

The evening sped by at a tremendous pace. I think everyone had a lovely evening. I know we did. Until the next Award in 2010.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sarah Rees Brennan: We Are Walking Over Bones: Building a Magical England

So the world knows now that I am an unashamed geeky fan-girl when it comes to Sarah Rees Brennan. I think it's because she is so very, seriously. It's because she is a hugely talented writer and a genuinly lovely person, to boot. Sarah and her publishers agreed to let Sarah pop over to MFB to do a guest blog! So, here she is, in her own words:

We Are Walking Over Bones: Building a Magical England

Fantasy set in our world is called urban fantasy for a reason: to build magic into a real place, a place people are familiar with, you have to really concentrate on that place. Otherwise it won't seem real, and the magic won't seem real either.

I'm not sure I have any simple effective guidelines for world-building - I wish I did - but I do have some thoughts. World-building in urban fantasy means examining the real world really closely, and then building a convincing model with added bits. So choose somewhere that you know well or that you find yourself wanting to get to know well.

Of course, I got the germs of the idea for The Demon's Lexicon on a walking holiday around England, and so I ended up with an idea about two brothers on the run throughout England. Landing me with two central cities, London and Exeter, and assorted locations around England.

... I do not make life easy for myself.

Luckily for me, I was living near London when I wrote it, though it meant a lot of daytrips at the weekends. I took three different trips down to Exeter, where reports of me trespassing on private property may be true but cannot be proven! I still remember taking a Ghost Walk around Exeter, where standing in the shadow of the cathedral, we were told that the scattered bones of plague victims were lying beneath our feet.

So once you're inspired by your surroundings, and you've taken a giant amount of trips and notes about them, there's the question of actually using them: of making the surroundings do your work for you: in China Mieville's Un Lun Dun, he uses the familiar landmarks of London and inverts them to signal that we're in a new and magical place: he puts giant spiders in Westminster Abbey and gives a whole new spin to the London Eye. In Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, he posits a fantastical world lived in the in-between of abandoned Tube stations.

London's got history to burn, and the smoke ends up looking like magic.

Tower Bridge is gorgeous: it has fairytale towers that turn gold in the setting sun, and it makes me happy just to look at it: so I introduced it into the story at night, in driving rain, and made the towers look like enemy fortresses to my hero Nick: turning something lovely and familiar into something awful, holding up a mirror to the landscape angled just so.

'Tell all the truth, but tell it slant,' said Emily Dickinson. Er. Not about world-building, mind you, but still: putting down everything you know and then putting your own slant on it is what seems best - most vivid, and most convincing - to me.

There is a sculpture in Exeter, on the high street, that Nick notices and thinks looks like a knife - making the scenery a little dangerous and indicating that Nick is the kind of person who sees knives in statues, who had a bit too much of an affinity with pointy objects of death.

But there's an added layer in there for people who are familiar with the city, and the sculpture. The thing standing at the heart of the city isn't a knife. It's a riddle.

So maybe I do have simple suggested guidelines for urban fantasy worldbuilding, after all.

Love it. Study it. Build it. And then work it.

Wow - awesome post! Pure and utter muse-crack (my favourite made-up word, ever).

I have got 2 sets of party favours to give away which we nabbed at Sarah's signing last week. These are the unutterably cool buttons to wear with pride. Please email into myfavouritebooksatblogspot(at)googlemail(dot)com for a chance to win. The competition will close on Friday, 27th June. Open world-wide!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Spear of Destiny by Daniel Easterman

Synopsis: (taken from Allison and Busby's site)

The untimely and brutal death of an old man sparks a chain of events that will put his nephew in danger as he races across Europe to Egypt, to solve one of the oldest mysteries in the world: the location of the tomb of Christ and the sword that pierced his body on the Cross.

In 1942 Gerald Usherwood and his platoon discover a mysterious crypt and it becomes clear they’ve stumbled onto something extraordinary. Sixty years later, his nephew Ethan discovers his body, slumped over his desk, clutching a small, ancient relic. As Ethan begins piecing together the events of 60 years before, guided by Gerald’s diaries, he finds himself hurtling across Europe, just one step ahead of the killer who will stop at nothing to discover the final resting place of Jesus Christ … and the ultimate religious icon that could spearhead a violent campaign to revive the Nazi legacy …

There is a luxuriousness about falling into a book by an author so well versed in the writing craft. The opening sequence in Spear of Destiny has stayed with me, long after I had closed the covers. I wish I had the ability to create one of those CGI movies to show you what I mean or that I was a close personal friend to John Woo who is a cinematic genius when it comes to showing landscapes.

The novel moves swiftly. We are introduced to Ethan who I personally felt was out of his depth in this novel - his character is well drawn, but he seemed a bit too nice, maybe a relic from another time, someone brought up with a different set of moral skills, and not someone initially capable of handling what the death of his grandfather and old friend threw at him. I think the author did this on purpose to contrast Ethan against the vile antagonists in the novel.

There were sections in the novel I did not like - the extreme violence against Ethan's niece in particular - but it is a case of remembering that it is fiction and it drives the storyline, creating a further crisis for Ethan to deal with whilst highlighting the antagonists' ruthlessness.

A lot of research has gone into the novel with the discussion of places and local (both ancient and modern) history fitting in neatly. It reworks the Spear of Destiny myths adequately, making this very much a Daniel Easterman take on how things could have gone, weaving known fact with fiction into a surprisingly quick read.

The novel's set pieces are well executed and the reveals are measured out in a steady stream, keeping you turning the pages. There are some instances where the writing is too lyrical and you may be confused, thinking you are reading an esoteric literary novel, but then the fight scenes pop up and you realise that you aren't!

Spear of Destiny is a very enjoyable book, with a strong cast of characters, enough plot twists and turns and dastardly villains to keep the biggest thriller fans happy. It does tick all the boxes, lopping in conspiracy theories, dark shadowy Nazi organisations, biblical history - in other words, there is much here to satisfy!

Find information about Daniel Easterman on his UK publishers' Allison and Busby's site here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Black and White by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge


Once best friends at an elite superhero training academy, Callie Bradford--code name Iridium--and Joannie Greene--code name Jet--are now mortal enemies. Jet is a by-the-book hero, using her Shadow power to protect the citizens of New Chicago. Iridium, with her mastery of Light, runs the city's underworld. For years the two have played a dangerous game of cat and mouse.But now playtime's over. A looming evil threatens both them and the world they share. As Jet works with a "normal" man who has an extraordinary ability to make her weak in the knees, Iridium teams with a mysterious vigilante called Taser. Both Jet and Iridium are convinced that the other woman is the key to a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions.

Three things sold me on this book: 1. the cover, 2. the fact that it was about superheroes and 3. that well, it looked like two kick-ass authors had some tremendous fun writing this and I wanted to see what they threw into the mix. I've said this before and I'll say it again: I am a fickle soul.

What I did not expect is to fall deeply into smutty love with the two main characters, Iridium and Jet!

Jet is a Shadow, a by the book superhero, mouthing platitudes and the party line like some Judge Dredd clone. Jet is also bound to go insane because of her power. This is historically accurate and references are made in the novel to her father losing it. I had a lot of empathy for Jet, readily seeing how much she is a victim of the Corp which handles the Squadron. Her utmost fear is going insane, she remembers distinctly what happened when her father gave in to the Shadow...

Iridium is a Light, wild, reckless, honest, brave and a rabid. In other words, she's a superhero that's gone rogue. She sits in the centre of a web of criminal activity in the city of New Chigago and she uses her genius intellect to remain a thorn in the side of Corp. Her father, an ex-hero, is locked away from society and she heavily feels his continuing demand on her, seeing him as an unsung hero, the one who helped everyone, not just the people Corp preferred helping.

We get to learn to know Jet and Iridium during their formative schooling years at the Academy, alongside a group of secondary characters. The novel zooms in and out of various events, highlighting the girls friendship and how they are torn apart. The novel is very cleverly set-up. There is a lot of show-not-tell and the secondary characters are used to full effect here, something I liked seeing.

Each chapter is headed by a quote and the quotes run the gamut of being amusing, interesting, to the thought provoking.

From Chapter 58

Heroes must always have someone to play the villain. Otherwise, the world have no use for them.

Lester Bradford, statement made during sentencing at his felony trial.

Kessler and Kittredge manage to keep an even balance between the two main characters - you gradually come to be immersed in their personalities and their ongoing battles. The line between hero and villain is so very slender and they have taken great pains to show this. This also reflects - obviously - real life. Things are never ONLY ever black and white, no matter how much you try to be a palladin or virtue.

The cracks in the futuristic society are subtly highlighted - nothing in this novel is in your face. It is a textbook case of how to plot, create engaging characters, keep the pace going, and then spin it all around and deliver an even a better ending than you were expecting.

I'm a bit at a loss for words to continue describing B&W as it is so much more than just a superhero novel, or rather, so much more than an incredibly well written superhero novel. So much happens to the characters and in their futuristic world, that even trying to hint at it, would contain spoilers and that, dear readers, would seriously detract from your own enjoyment of this very cool novel.

Black and White serves to set the scene, very adequately, for the rest of the series. I am looking forward to the further exploration of the current world, its history and how these superheroes will be tackling the breakdown of its society and governing principles. A very interesting and astute read and hopefully the series will encourage some who would turn their noses up at reading a novel about superheroes! Especially if they think it's kids' stuff....

I do however have one complaint and regret. I was way too keen to read this. I should have waited. A little while at least. Because then the wait for the second novel, Shades of Grey, would not have been so long!

Find Jackie's site here - and Caitlin's site, here - . This is the site that's been put up for The Icarus Project - .

As Black and White is part of the Summer Reads List, I am giving it a VERY conservative 8/10 stars.

Black Tattoo Competition Winner

YAY! Do the dance of joy Matt I from Enfield as you've won the truly cool Black Tattoo HB edition from Sam Enthoven - personalised to you.

Thanks to the other 26 people who had entered but "spoke", choosing the winner. Better luck next time!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Nights of Villjamur, Mark Charan Newton

An ice age strikes a chain of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur: a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshees wail the deceased, cultists use forgotten technology for their own gain and where, further out, the dead have been seen walking across the tundra.

When the Emperor commits suicide, his elder daughter, Rika, is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself.

Meanwhile a senior investigator in the city inquisition must solve the high-profile and savage murder of a city politician, whilst battling evils within his own life, and a handsome and serial womanizer manipulates his way into the imperial residence with a hidden agenda.

When reports are received that tens of thousands of citizens are dying in a bizarre genocide on the northern islands of the Empire, members of the elite Night Guard are sent to investigate. It seems that, in this land under a red sun, the long winter is bringing more than just snow . . .


Unfortunately I missed the chance to have a quick chat with Mark at the recent signing hosted by Forbidden Planet due to a work commitment. It’s a pity, as I would have liked the opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed Nights of Villjamur in person.

In Nights, he’s created a world on the cusp of an ice age that is tightening its grip across the lands, freezing oceans and bringing waves of refugees to seek shelter outside of Villjamur’s locked gates. Behind these uncaring walls, the shocking murder of a councillor sets an inquisitor on a path that will send him into a world of shadow and intrigue far more deadly than any ice age. Meanwhile, in the distant north, an implacable and mysterious enemy has arisen, insatiable and ruthless, slaughtering it’s way across the land.

The characters are well thought out, particularly Jeryd, the inquisitorial investigator. He’s a interesting, underestimated character. Shaken out of a mild case of depression, he’s plunged into a quagmire of deceit and murder that begins slowly, like a snowball rolling down a long hill. As his story arc unfolds, and others fall into place alongside his, the pace subtly increases until you don’t notice the pages turning anymore.

Nights is an epic fantasy chock full of fresh, off the wall ideas, yet Mark manages to keep the heady cocktail of cultists, flying soldiers, zombies, diabolical politicians, albinos and genocide under tight control, nimbly weaving the various storylines together into a satisfying whole.

It’s ambitious, interesting and great opening for the Legends of the Red Sun series - bring on part 2!

Summer Reads List Starred Rating:

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sarah Rees Brennan's Signing

HUGE poster as seen from outside the very cool Home Bar in London Town.

Monday night we trekked over the width of London to meet debut author Sarah Rees Brennan as she did her signing at The Home Bar, courtesy of Trisha and Tanya of Murder One (Book and Film Club).

Sarah looking incredibly elegant and modest whilst signing books for her fans.

A fan has made this amazing diagram of the characters in The Demon's Lexicon - I've kept the picture large, so when you click on it, you'll be able to see it in greater detail.

Ah, the things we make authors do for a good photo opportunity. Thanks to Kaz coaxing Sarah we got this shot of Sarah snogging her main fella in the novel, Nick! To much hooting and hollering from everyone else. It was fab.

These two lovely fans were amazing - incredibly sweet and honest in their adoring fan geekdom. I hope they visit MFB - as I need another photo of the silver dagger charm they won!

A lovely arty shot of some people queueing to chat to Sarah - notice all the cameras out capturing the moment.

This troupe hurtled around the signing area and all of them piled in to get photos taken with Sarah. I took a variety of photos for several of them. Their enthusiasm was catching. My face ached from laughing so much!

Mark hid at the back, snacking on popcorn and chatting to Kaz and Trisha. I made new friends and handed out business cards like it's going out of fashion. We headed off after the draw and before the flick started - it was a long tiring day and I had to get home for some zzz's.

It was fantastic to get a chance to meet the whirlwind that is Sarah and her publicist from Simon and Schuster, Kat. I grabbed some party goodies for the site, as part of a competition later this week to accompany a fantastic guest blog from Sarah.

Thanks to Trisha & Tanya for hosting this, thanks to Sarah for writing an awesome book and for coming out to play and to Kat and S&S for thinking that this was a good idea!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Winners of the Red House Children's Book Award 2009 Announced

Former journalist and editor Sophie McKenzie has scooped the overall prize in the prestigious Red House Children’s Book Award 2009 for her thrilling teen novel, Blood Ties.

The award is regarded as the most important children’s prize for literature because it is the only award voted for solely by young readers.

It is second time lucky for McKenzie, as her novel, Girl, Missing, won the older readers’ category in 2007.

Blood Ties (Simon and Schuster) won both the older readers’ category and overall prizes in the award, which is owned and co-ordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

The winning novel is a gripping thriller that explores issues of genetic engineering and personal identity.

Tightly plotted, readers said they empathised with the teenage characters Rachel and Theo who struggle with their sense of identity.

The fast-paced novel keeps readers on the edge of their seats as the protagonists race to survive against the odds.

McKenzie learned of her win at a glittering awards luncheon at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens yesterday (Saturday) which was attended by more than 200 people, including 80 children from across the country, all of whom were involved in the voting.

Stunned McKenzie, who won a silver trophy, said she was honoured to win this unique literary prize.

“Blood Ties is my favourite book so I am completely overwhelmed that the readers have chosen it as theirs, too,” she said. “I am delighted and it is a huge honour, but this isn’t really about an award, fantastic though it is to have won it, it is a celebration of reading. It’s stories above everything. I passionately love stories as they help us understand the world around us and the work the Federation of Children’s Book Groups does in getting children to love books and reading cannot be underestimated.”

Two other category winners in the 29th annual award were also announced at the event: Allan Ahlberg’s beautiful picture book The Pencil (Walker), illustrated by Bruce Ingman, has taken the younger children category, while Kes Gray’s fun story, Daisy and the Trouble with Zoos (Random House) has clinched the younger readers’ category.

An incredible 143,295 votes were cast by children and young adults all over the UK both online and through ballots collated by regional co-ordinators of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

Thousands of children from schools, libraries and nurseries spent 18 months devouring 838 titles to find the shortlisted ten books, four in the category for books for younger children, and three each in the younger readers’ and older readers’ categories.

Announcing the winners, Sinead Kromer, national co-ordinator for the RHCBA, said: “The Red House Children's Book Award is the only award that truly values the opinion of children and empowers them to make the decisions that collectively decide the winners. If you look back over the winners of the past 28 years most of them have become bestsellers and even modern classics. The children know what they like and know what they want to read. And it is children who have chosen the winners. The names of the winners are a closely guarded secret until the envelope is opened, the winners announced, the whistles blown, the poppers explode and the hall bursts into applause. It is an experience the children will remember for a very long time!"

Seni Glaister, CEO of Red House, said: “Congratulations to all the winners of the award, especially overall winner Sophie McKenzie whose exciting thriller Blood Ties has gripped children around the UK.”

The Red House Children’s Book Award is owned and coordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. The Federation was launched by Anne Wood, the brains behind children’s TV phenomenon The Teletubbies, in 1968 and the first book award was launched in 1980 - the first winner being Quentin Blake for Mr Magnolia.

For further details, visit

Previous winners of the award include JK Rowling, Robert Swindells, Michael Morpurgo, Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson and Malorie Blackman.

Other titles shortlisted for the 2009 award were:

Younger children
Beware of the Frog by William Bee (Walker Books);
A Lark in the Ark by Peter Bently, Illus. Lynne Chapman (Egmont) ;
The Three Horrid Pigs and the Big Friendly Wolf by Liz Pichon (Little Tiger Press)

Younger readers
Cows in Action: Wild West Moo-nsters by Steve Cole (Red Fox);
The Cat Who Liked Rain by Henning Mankell (Andersen Press)

Older readers
Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior by Chris Bradford (Puffin);
Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine (Harper Collins)

Kevin Chandler - Author Challenge

I am a mean and nasty person. I've been chatting to the lovely and generous Kevin Chandler on and off for quite a while now via email since we first met at an evening with Legend Press.

His new novel has just been released and instead of asking him questions, I made him come up with his own and answer them. Being the consumate gentleman he is, he refrained from calling me all kinds of nasty names and came up with an interesting blog post and kindly sent it onto me. The blog below is a result.

Author: Kevin Chandler
Writer and Therapist
(answers his own questions)

Does writing run in your family?

Nope. My father was a baker, my mother a barmaid. She died when I was four, so I was brought up by my father, and Aunt Nell, his childless, widowed sister. They each had the most gorgeous copperplate handwriting, Aunt Nell used hers for shopping lists and the occasional sick note for school, and the only things I ever saw my Dad write were his betting slips. I can hear Aunt Nell, turning in her grave, ‘What you? Written a novel? Luvverduck!’ She was the salt of the earth but believed in knowing your place in the scheme of things. My Dad was more ambitious, but was always let down by whatever he backed in life. He married a woman a generation younger than himself but she still died first. My father used words sparingly, as if they expensive and he was fearful of running up a huge bill. If he were alive, he would have just smiled, and felt proud.

Did you write as a child?

Only at school; I enjoyed making up stories in English, and one day wrote an essay about a boy on a volcanic pacific island running from the larva flow pouring down the hillside. I poured myself into it, but made the mistake of doing a little research in an encyclopaedia and included the name of an actual volcano and island; All your own work? was all the teacher scrawled at the bottom in red pen. I gave up writing after that for best part of thirty years. Bastard.

What made you start again, and why fiction?

The magic of words, to conjure stories that touch our hearts and minds, and make us suspend disbelief, as we find ourselves enlarged and illuminated, in the lives of the characters. Therapy is such a grand setting for fiction, with its artificial and closely defined structure, the absurdities and pomposity of its language, the small rituals and paraphernalia of the therapy room, and its mercurial capacity for healing and growth. I wanted to take the lid off, to show therapy from the inside, the best and the worst of it, revealed through a riveting fictional story. I wanted to write the kind of story that I would want to read, one that grips you, makes you want to know what happens next, one that gets under your skin, and leaves you uneasy, and wondering.”

Where do you write?

In my small study, a converted box room, looking out over Cartworth Moor on the southern Pennines above the small town of Holmfirth. I divide my time between writing and working with clients as a paid listener. Working from home, my travel costs are low, but I need to get out more!
What was the first fiction you had published?
‘Fifty-Minute Hour’, a long short story about a policeman dragged along to Relate by his female partner in a last desperate attempt to save their ailing relationship. It was one of eight stories in Legend Press’s 2008 anthology, ‘Eight Hours.’

Your first novel, LISTENING IN: A Story of Therapy and Real Life, has just been published, what’s it about?

Patrick Chime, a disenchanted forty-something, is a talented therapist but a terrible husband. When a gun-toting former client and social misfit, obsessed by porn and the artist Degas, walks into his office, Patrick’s world starts to unravel as he’s forced to tackle his own personal demons. It is a story about the interface between the personal and professional selves, about the discomforting parallels between psychotherapy and prostitution, and about the true cost of therapy, and a life spent Listening In.

Was it easy to get your novel published?

I got nothing but rejections for two years, and then suddenly had two publishers wanting it, Legend Press, and Accent Press. I went with the latter for the simple reason their MD, Hazel Cushion showed the most passion about it.

How do you find the work of marketing your novel?

I’m used to training counsellors so public speaking holds no fears, but it still feels odd going public with material that for so long was held between the four walls of my study. I’ve done several talks, readings, interviews and pod-casts, and for the most part, enjoyed them. The low point was at a branch of a national book chain (sod it, Waterstones!) where I was booked to do a two -hour Signing ‘n’ Selling one Saturday morning. I took up my seat at the table they had kindly laid out for me bearing a copy of the poster that also adorned the shop window. I assumed an approachable posture and put on my most enticing expression and immediately felt like an Amsterdam tart, touting for custom. A man strode in off the street, gave me a cursory, dismissive glance, and made for the far shelves. Must try harder. A woman approached from the side, making a bee-line for me. “You must be Kevin, I’m terribly sorry, our system messed up, and your books haven’t arrived. I’m afraid there’s nothing for you to sign and nothing to sell.”

No takers for my body, either. A writer’s lot.

Listening In will be part of our Summer Reads List II once we've made headway with the exiting list. Keep an eye out for the review!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Meeting Guilermo del Toro at Forbidden Planet London

From left to right: Sharon, Gav, Liz (with book) Mark behind Liz, then Ana in white coat, Gordon far behind, then Matt and right infront, MG.

And then in other news, WE GOT TO MEET HIM.


We turned up to FP in pouring rain. John had to give us directions how to find the queue to the back of the store, which is where the signing would be taking place....huh? It was pouring with rain - it was rubbish. We huddled with around fifteen other people and slowly the rain wore off. First Matt from appeared and we got to chat for ages about cool books and manga. Next to magically appear was Ana from shortly followed by Gav from, Alexander Gordon Smith, author of Furnace and The Inventors http:/to /, MG Harris who is the author of The Joshua Files and also Sharon of .

We formed quite the posse, much to the chagrin of everone else in the long queue but to be fair - once things got moving, it happened incredibly quickly and no one could say they waited very long.

I got my manuscript copy of The Strain signed, along with Adam from The Wertzones' proof. Mark got our hardback copy of The Strain signed AND then Guilermo (first name basis, baby!) chose to sign our limited edition cards which we got when we attended the premiere to Pan's Labyrinth all those years ago. Gav got my autograph book signed.

GDT was amazing - sweet, charming, and very personable, shaking every single person's hand and thanking us for turning up. I mean, REALLY? Like it was some form of hardship.

Kaz Mahoney appeared as we were leaving. Then we all strolled down to Wahaca for lunch where we ate ourselves to a standstill, talking signings, books, authors - it was amazing. It was lovely. Not to mention the food which was, as always absolutely scrummy and decidedly well priced.

I am so grateful to have met Alexander Gordon Smith face to face for the first time - we email-chat loads and meeting Gordon face to face was amazing. Funny, erudite and genuinely a cool guy - plus, he wore a Flash Gordon shirt. How cool is that? Plus, he had the chance to hand over a copy of Furnace to GDT. Who accepted it gratefully and with a kind smile.

MG Harris is one of my literary heroes. Or is that heroine? Her books, The Joshua Files are my go-to books to read when I'm feeling a bit blegh. They are crammed full of action and adventure and the pace is just fantastically insane. I am so looking forward to books 3 and 4 you have no idea.

And so, without further ado - some more pictures from today.

Part of the queue outside Forbidden Planet

MG Harris, author of The Joshua Files

Mark and I doing our best not to break out into some kind of chorus line dancing episode which would have been truly embarrassing.

Alexander Gordon Smith - Gordon to all - with a copy of Furnace:Lockdown.

And then, when we left Wahaca, we met with these artfully dressed charity collectors. We gave them money and got to take a photo of them. I admit it, I have no shame.

Thanks to Forbidden Planet, Danie Ware and John (one day I'll learn his name) for arranging this awesome signing. It was a blast.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Legend of the Crystal Lens, Samantha Graves


Tomb raider Simon Bonner wants out of the looting game…until a mysterious crystal lens lands on his doorstep. Legend has it that this lens holds the key to the archives of man - a Mexican tomb that explains the root of all knowledge. There’s just one problem - he doesn’t know how to use it.

Museum curator Jillian Talbot’s ability to see an object's history is her secret, so when Simon approaches her, she finds it hard to believe that she’s the seer of legend - that only she can unlock the mystery behind the crystal lens.

Journeying into the jungles of Mexico, with evil crooks hot on their tail and a growing passion between them, every move for Jillian and Simon becomes a terrifying dance with danger.

This is such an amusing feel good book. It’s a little bit romance, it’s a little bit action adventure and a whole lot of fun. It’s a deceptively quick read and the characters are fun to hang out with.

Jillian’s family are reformed thieves and she’s been the quiet studious one, getting a real job in the real world. She is however capable of packing a punch if needs be. And she’s not as shocked about being almost kidnapped (again) as she is annoyed at someone trying to kidnap her (again). Especially when she finds that the man who helps her by beating up the kidnappers, Simon Bonner, is in fact after her for his own dubious reasons.

It’s a classic – a little bit of ire, a little bit of flirting and whole boatload full of action and a supporting cast of decidedly dubious affiliations. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have to be honest though and say that I expected Legend of the Crystal Lens to be a whole lot more in the vein of Indiana Jones and authors like David Gibbins or Daniel Easterman and Andy McDermott, where the focus is more on the adventure and the actual quest.

In Legend of the Crystal Skull the quest element is strong but the author, Samantha Graves, has a completely other agenda. That of making these two desperately different people fall in love and taking us along for the ride. I am strongly reminded of Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile – now depending on your feelings about these movies, I have either turned you onto this book or off. I hope it’s on.

Samantha Graves writes very well – her characters are unique and challenging and we had a brief email correspondence in which I told her how much I am liking this warring couple and she wrote back: “Honestly, those two were so much fun to write. Their love was really true and beautiful. A wonderful story to write.”

Once I checked out Samantha’s site, I discovered that The Crystal Lens is titled “Out of Time” in the States. I also found out that Ms. Graves is a bit of a celebrity! She was a 2009 RWA® RITA® finalist and has been nominated for a tranche of other awards and won another handful of them too. Check out her site here. I am really grateful to Piatkus for sending this onto me. I am very much aware of my lack of Romance (yes, that’s a capital R) reviews on the blog and I’m happy to combine this love story action adventure with a supernatural twist to the reviews.

Although I've not added this to the newly created Summer Reads list as I read it some weeks ago, I would happily recommend this to anyone as a holiday read. I am keen to pick up the previous novel, Sight Unseen, as it chronicles the story of Jillian's sister and her life as a notorious jewel thief. Very Sydney Sheldon! (But probably better packaged).

**War of the Words** Press Release

This is one of the best comps I've heard of for aspiring, unpublished writers, in the speculative fiction genre. Read this press release through and follow the link below to the main SciFiNow website. Now, if only I had my novel more than 28% finished....

Press Release

SciFiNow and Tor UK announce competition to offer a new Sci-fi writer a book publishing contract.

Leading consumer specialist magazine SciFiNow and highly regarded SF imprint Tor UK have teamed up to launch a new competition, War Of The Words, in a bid to find the UK’s best new SF writer. The partnership will be announced to readers in SciFiNow issue 28, on sale 13 May. Both SciFiNow and Tor UK are committed to celebrating the best in science fiction and fantasy literature and discovering emerging talent in the genre. Writers will be encouraged to submit a full synopsis along with the first three chapters by 20 August. The judging panel will be
comprised of members of SciFiNow magazine and Tor teams, and a shortlist of six entries will be announced before the overall winner is revealed in SciFiNow issue 35, on sale 25 November 2009.

Top Macmillan and Tor authors will offer advice and tips to competitors in exclusive interviews. The SciFiNow website will also host regularly updated author content, including podcast interviews and video clips, as well as Q&A opportunities for aspiring writers. After the winner is announced, SciFiNow will continue to follow the publishing process with interviews with the winning author and extracts in the magazine, plus a winner’s blog on The finished book will be published by Tor UK in 2010.

Julie Crisp, Senior Commissioning Editor at Tor UK, commented: “At Tor UK we’re dedicated to finding, growing and nurturing new talent. We’re very excited to be working in partnership with one of the leading specialist magazines to find a new science fiction or fantasy writer to join authors such as Neal Asher and Alan Campbell on our list.”

Aaron Asadi, Editor in Chief of SciFiNow, added: “We’re delighted to be working with Tor UK on such a fantastic competition. SciFiNow has always prided itself on championing the very best in sci-fi and War Of The Words exemplifies that.

Find the very important link to where you can find further information on this mindblowing opportunity here - .

Meeting Mark Newton

Thursday, 5th June 2009 at Forbidden Planet London

Legging it down to Forbidden Planet after work in time for a signing is always interesting. Last night I became quite intimate with a rather large man's smelly armpit in my face on the underground. I popped several mints and breathed out quite a bit, just to sort of "clean" the air. I think he thought I fancied him a bit, as my grimace may have been mistaken for a smile. I also tried not to think about zombie attacks, werewolf attacks or creature attacks of any sort. Thank you Hellboy, 28 Days Later and Mr. Romero and that other weird underground flick with the murderer in the underground...forget what it's called.

The upshot is I arrived at FP a little late. Mark Newton was doing his signing already. As I came walking around the corner everyone chorused: "There she is!" Am I a mini-celebrity or infamous? You decide...

I met Danie and John of FP, along with Graeme, legendary John Berlyne and two of the hardest working girls in the publishing industry, Chloe and Julie from TorUK, Mark's publishers. We chatted for a bit whilst Mark signed a STACK of books for a very avid fan.

Then it was my turn - I sidled up, introduced myself and immediately handed him something I had set up for Dave Brendon. Witness the coolness.

Then Mark signed our copy of Nights of Villjamur and I got his autograph in our tiny autograph book which is starting to aquire that really cool aspect of being well-thumbed and examined by various authors.

We chatted briefly (I spoke real words!) before Danie and John stepped in for a few photo opportunities and also to do a mini interview with Mark.

We retired to a nearby pub and I got a chance to chat to John Berlyne very briefly. I saw him several times at Eastercon earlier this year and I know he was promoting his book he wrote on Tim Powers. I had to confess and tell him about my epicfail at Eastercon when I asked one of the retailers in the Trader's Hall "Who is this Tim Powers?" ... and Tim Powers was standing RIGHT next to me. I kid you not. So once John found this out, he launched into a telling of who Tim is and what his books are about etc. I've resolved to buy in one or two, because I hate NOT knowing an author who has had such an influence on popular culture.

It was a lovely evening. Mark is incredibly funny and I think he and his editor, Julie, can quite easily pair up to do a comedy act. It was so nice to get a chance to chat to Mark the Author as I first got to know him in his role as the "face" of Solaris Books and the Black Library Guy (different to the Comic Book Guy in the Simpsons, Mark's much prettier) so we've only ever spoken "professionally".

Julie and I then legged it down to Charing Cross Station where we each went our way. A little bit high from lime and lemonade and from being around such witty and lovely people, I sat on the train, chatting to Karen, plotting our plan of action for the next few days as we are going to be together - a lot! Loads more signings and cool events coming up with YA authors.

Keep an eye out for a gushing blog post about meeting one of my personal heroes, Guilermo del Toro Forbidden Planet. I love Forbidden Planet!