Friday, December 31, 2010

Mark's Highlights of 2010

Is it really that time of the year again? Yeesh. It's been one helluva year all round. Between the daytime job and finishing the first draft of my manuscript (wooohooooo!) I've realised that I haven't read as much as I'd hoped to at the beginning. But that realisation is tempered by knowing that the books I have managed to tackle have been real brain candy and wonderfully entertaining.

The Enemy by Charlie Higson was a fantastic, zombie infested treat that combined relentless tension, take-no-prisoners action and followed a strong cast of young characters as they sought to survive in the shell of a London brought low by a viral epidemic that turns adults into cannibalistic killers.

I discovered Horns by Joe Hill, a beautifully crafted story that was impossible to put down once I started reading - not that I wanted to. Ig was always something of a natural born loser, but after a night of drunken rage on the anniversary of his girlfriend's murder, he wakes to find a pair of horns growing from his forehead. As they grow, so does their influence, and he discovers that while the truth may set you free, it comes at a price.

The Black Library has had a storming year and deserves a special mention overall. They've scooped the Gemmell Award, seen three Horus Heresy novels shoot onto the New York Times bestsellers list and have surged ahead with digital and audio releases.

Graham McNeill's 'Empire' took the honours at the 2010 Gemmell Awards - it made my best of 2009 list, and it was good to see that so many others shared my opinion.

Graham grabbed the headlines again when his Horus Heresy novel 'A Thousand Sons' shot onto the New York Times bestseller list, followed by James Swallow's 'Nemesis' and Aaron Dembski-Bowden's 'The First Heretic' (I've no doubt that Dan Abnett's Prospero Burns will follow suit in short order once it's released in January).

It is so heartening to see these dynamic, character driven novels being given some long overdue recognition as so much more than 'just tie in fiction', and my personal quest to get more people to look beyond that archaic stigma will continue into 2011.

So long 2010, and thanks for all the great reads.

Now it's time for a new decade and new books!

2010 in Review - By Gav

I'm a little bit of a silent partner in MFB at the minute. I don't plan on being that quiet for too much longer. That's the thing about taking a holiday. They are nice for a while but soon you're looking at getting back to work (not that is really work). I have been reading but not actually written any thoughts up but one or two of those reads might get a mention here.

My surprise of the year I read very early on. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemsin. Is not something I should really like as it focuses heavily on the romance between the main character, Yeine Darr, and the strongest and darkest of the gods, but the way the story is told through Darr's eyes makes you feel it the way she does. I will readily admit that if you don't get sucked in at the start you are unlikely to get much out of it. The world-building and its strengths rely on you believing in the gods with their neutered powers and their attempts to be freed through Darr's actions.

An underrated book for me this year is Florence & Giles by John Harding, which is a haunting and gothic tale that really does deserve more attention. The orpahned girl at the centre makes a powerful focus as we see her fear and her attempts to read, which she banned from doing. Instead she is left to explore a remote and crumbling New England Mansion, which has become her home. But the creepy phenomena start soon after the sudden and violent death of her first governess and the arrival of a replacement. This is another tale where it is the power of the narrator that draws you in and keeps you hooked. It is a slow build in terms of drama but it is more than worth it when you get to the end. I'm still shocked by it.

One of the most controversial and award winning books that I've read was The City & The City by China Mieville. Mieville's tale of a two cities that co-exist has caused a wide range of opinions. Some positive and some negative. Most I think hinge on the 'reality' of the situation. It's a crime story that is used as a device to explore what humanity will accept when if they don't comply there are harsh and untalked about consequences. The business of 'unseeing' the other city does take some getting your head around. But science fiction (even if it is a social science) is supposed to challenge and explore our understanding though most of the time as a genre it sticks within it's well worn tropes as does fantasy, which is a shame really, though it's good to see a novel like this pushing the hornets net.

In terms of mix though I'd say that Yellow Blue Tibia beats The City & The City. This made-up story of science fiction writers in Russia was so slight in its manipulation that it was so believable, at least to me. Adam Roberts is an amazing liar as great writers should be. It reads like a literary novel, in that its focus seems to report real lives and situations but ones with science fiction reality around them. If I had to choose an outstanding science fiction novel of the year then Yellow Blue Tibia would be it especially when you know what the title means.

Charlie Stross released another Laundary title this year but to my delight. The Fuller Memorandum moved things on nicely. Stross kept the timeline moving so the time between the books is reflected in the lives of the characters. We see most of the events retold directly through Bob's (the main characters) own experiences but he also adds in things he couldn't have known at the time, which rounds off the story and as it is a retelling it doesn't feel out of place. The story again focuses on The Laundry's (British Secret Services division tasked with preventing hideous aliens gods from wiping out all life on Earth) agent Bob's attempts to stop the end of the world again, something that is getting harder and harder to avoid. It's the mix of supernatural and mundane along with Stross's excellent characterisation skills has me crossing everything that we'll see the next two, The Armageddon Agenda and The Nightmare Stacks, come into the full light of day.

Speaking of moving things along Paul Magrs does that same thing in The Bride That Time Forgot. The main thing I love about Paul's Effie and Brenda Mysteries is that that everything has consequences in the end. The adventures that these characters go through alter their relationships, and sometimes not for the better. In The Bride That Time Forgot each of the main cast take turns telling the story, which is makes for a nice change in the structure of the series and it allows for us to get to know all of them a little differently. What's heart wrenching is that for most of the novel the usual bond between Effie and Brenda is streched and fraying so rapidly that it is almost irreparable. This time they get involved in the comings and going of a book group that is devoted to the mysterious place called Qab, and I was surprised when I found out what it truely was. This is another series that I can't wait to where it goes next. It looks that Effie and Brenda are off on their hols abroad and I bet that trouble won't be far behind.

I'm a big fan of EuroCrime so I was chuffed when I discovered a love of Camilla Lackberg after I read The Ice Princess, The Preacher and The Stone Cutter earlier in the year one after another. I do like the domestic element to Scandinavian crime. You get to know who the characters are and how they are connected. Not that it's limited to Scandinavia as I'm enjoying the translations of French writer Fred Vargas, whose Adamsberg makes for a very unique Policeman indead.

And a big of classic crime. I started my exploration of Gladys Mitchell's Mrs Bradley books this year. Vintage have re-released six so far with another 3 on the way. I'm two books in and I can tell that I'm going to enjoy exploring the rest of the series. Mitchell comes across as a very clever writer, not only from the way she constructs her crime and the way they are solved but also in the creation of her characters. Mrs Bradley makes me smile contantly. She's very pushy though if she wasn't the crimes wouldn't come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Now I fell for Mrs Bradly straighy away but I've just started to read the Agatha Raisin series, and the main character at the start is anything but lovable, coming from London into a cosy little village it takes her the whole of The Quiche of Death to breakdown that hardshell into something more agreeable. But by the end I was quite taken with her. M. C. Beaton it seems has more than enough crimes for her to deal with as #21 was just released.

I've been a little light on horror this year, though I've dipped into End of the Line, which really didn't make my trip to London and travels on the tube more comfortable after reading a few short from it I can tell you. But one horror novel that does need to be read is Horns by Joe Hill and one of the reasons why is that it's a horror story about people and how if you demonise them they can turn them into exactly that. After the death of his girlfriend Ig is demonised by this own community so much so that when he wakes up one morning he has devil horns on his head. Not that everyone can see them at first but their pressence does seem to bring out the worse in people. What really makes this novel though is exploration between Ig, his dead girlfriend Merrin and his best friend Lee. Hill past the difficult second novel test with ease. I'm eager to see how he does on his third one.

A man that past his second novel quite a few books ago is Terry Pratchett. I've had a bit of break stopping at Monstrous Regiment, which for some reason I just didn't want to tackle. I have this thing about war stories. I don't enjoy the idea of war but I should learn that writers can take what is a horrible situation and instead of glorifying it can humanise it and make you see it for what it really is. Pratchett manages that and again reaffirms that makes him one of the best fantasy authors out there. The setting is a device to explore that characters, the setting might lead to places and situations that we don't normally experience but it doesn't make the characters or their experiences any less real. Plus I'm really in the mood for the Hogfather, it is my Christmas book that I've re-read for quite a few years around about now.

And there we have it a twisty journy through my reading year pointing out a few interesting landmarks along the way.

MFB Best of 2010 - Liz's Choices

Artist: Andre Martins de Barros
We've all had a great year on MFB what with books bought and books received from various publishers.  It's really difficult looking back over the 12 months to decide which favourite to choose, where in some instances it seems glaringly obvious.

I'd also like to point out that the MFB 2010 favourites don't necessarily have to be from 2010, just reviewed during this year.

Books that have stood out for me this year are:

Jeremy de Quidt's The Toymaker - a dark eerie fairy tale set in an unknown European country just drips menace and scariness.  It was a great read for January this year when things were pretty dark and grim.

Pretty Bad Things by CJ Skuse - a contemporary novel set in Vegas with a foul mouthed heroine who has two people she cares about in the world: her dad and her twin brother and nothing is going to stop her from tracking down her dad, even if it means robbing every sweet shop in Vegas and dragging her brother with her into a life of crime.

Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt - a sweet original contemporary fantasy about a young girl who makes a wish, discovers that wishes do come true, much to her surprise.  The writing is excellent and the story is sweet and gutsy and Desi is a fantastic heroine.

I loved The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X Stork and can't recommend this enough to readers who are looking for something completely different.  It follows the story of Pancho as he's trying to come to terms with death, his sister's death especially and the fact that he has sworn an oath to find her killer.  It also deals with a boy he meets at the local orphanage called DQ who is busy dying and the strange humourous angry friendship he strikes up with Pancho.

Michael Ridpath's Where the Shadows Lie really rocked my world. It's not just the quality of the author's writing which verges on literary crime fiction, it is also the plotting and the overall storytelling and the story itself.  A lost manuscript and the lengths people would go to to either hide it, steal it or reveal it to the world is just fantastic.  Set in Iceland with its eerie landscapes it genuinely turned me into a fan of Mr. Ridpath.

Linda Strachan's Dead Boy Talking really took me by surprise.  Told from the dying boy's point of view, the novel does not shy away from being brutal and honest about knife crime.  It's gripping and thoughtful and told within a short space of time, we invest so much in the character and his situation that the ending comes too soon, almost abruptly.  A clever novel written for teens and adults and one to make us think.

Dead Man's Cove by Lauren St John is my first ever novel I've read by Ms. St John and she really swept me off my feet.  A charming nostalgic story set in St Ives with a main character called Laura who fancies herself a bit of a detective, the story is deceptively layered and clever and one I'd go out of my way to recommend to younger readers.

My first ever Diana Wynne-Jones novel, Enchanted Glass took me ages to get into and then once I did I couldn't stop raving about it. It really took me by surprise, sneaking up on me.  Richly rewarding it is a story told by a consummate storyteller of great skill - it makes you feel all glowy and happy inside.

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver.  I could write an ode to this book - mostly it would read: how the heck did you manage to freak me out that much? It was just snow, for heaven's sake! Oh and darkness. Let's not forget the encroaching darkness.  Wonderfully creepy Dark Matter deserves to be on the list of several of the 2010's best of / favourites lists.  It is horror at its best.

Mezolith by Ben Haggarty and Adam Brockbank has to be one of my favourite graphic novels of all time.  The artwork is sublime and the story of Poika as he grows up in his tribe where superstition and the supernatural are part and parcel of hunting and gathering is rich with lore and archetypes.

I'd like to conclude withThe Painted Boy by Charles de Lint - packed full of mythology and some of CDL's best writing, this story makes me want to pack my bag and travel to the States to go walk around the desert and howl with coyotes.  It's fresh writing from the man who started the urban fantasy trend and what's more is it is the perfect cross-over novel to be enjoyed by readers of YA and readers of adult urban fantasy who want more mythology and lore than sparkly vampires.

Resolutions for 2011:

Well, MFB have joined the British Books challenge as put together by her fabness The Bookette.  I know we are all incredibly excited about this prospect. I know that we will EASILY make at least 50 Brit Books next year.  (Watch me fall flat on my face with that brag!)

Personally I am still on my kick to keep on reading science fiction.  Thanks to John Berlyne and SFREVU as well as Gollancz publishers, that's happened for me in 2010.  I've learned to love new authors (Ian McDonald and Stephen Baxter) in this field and I'm tentatively thinking that maybe my brain didn't get fried reading Asimov at too young an age.

I also want to get to reading some series books that I've neglected these past few years:

- Harry Dresden Books by Jim Butcher.  Having read up to around book 4 or 5, I suspect I may have to reread them all from scratch, for completeness sake, of course.
- Philip Reeve's books, starting with the Mortal Engines sequence
- Finish my my Skulduggery Pleasant books
- Read more Spooks books by Joseph Delaney
- Lord of the Rings - read all the books, including The Hobbit (feel my pain)

I also want to make sure I read more crime and thrillers as I genuinely do love these genres.  Also MORE fantasy.  These are things that are my true loves, yet I feel as if I've not read enough of them in 2010.

Reflections of 2010:

We've been busy this year - a lot of publisher and blogging events, cons and author meet-ups and book launches.  Needless to say it is an amazing experience to realise that we are taken seriously by the publishing industry, receiving invites to attend launches and being asked for opinions about various things.  And of course receiving exclusive content to share online is so superb.  We were spoiled rotten.

Mark and I would like to say thanks to Sarah (essjay) for joining the team.  Holy smokes, without this girl MFB would be a lot poorer.  She stepped in with her love of the YA genre and took stacks of reading off my hands.  I've watched her grow as a reviewer and I am incredibly proud and very grateful to her for being there and for keeping me (personally) sane when sometimes I wanted to run and hide.

As for Mark - well, he's my writing and reading buddy.  He's read a shedload of Warhammer and horror for MFB this year and I'm hoping he'll continue doing that in 2011.  Also more commercial fantasy.  I know he's very excited about me reading Lord of the Rings.

And Gav asking to join MFB was a big surprise.  It's going to be great as I suspect that 2011 will see him throwing his weight into reviewing everything he can lay his grubby little paws on, including crime and a few literary books.

In other words, MFB had a fantastic 2010 which means that 2011 is going to work extra hard to surpass it.  But something tells me that it will happen as we have strong dedicated team.

Lastly, a big thanks to all of our readers, new and old for sticking it out with us, for reading our blog posts, for commenting and entering our competitions.  It means a helluva lot and you guys rock.

Here's to a fab 2010 and here's looking forward to an even more fab 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

MFB Best of 2010 - Sarah's Choices

Tricky, tricky, tricky. As this is my first year on MFB and blogging I've never done one of these before. After much deliberation I've managed to narrow it down to a select few. As you've probably realised by now I'm passionate about paranormal young adult fiction so it'll be no surprise that it dominates my list. So, with no further ado let's crack on.

By Midnight, Mia James

I love Highgate Cemetery. It's one of the most atmospheric, gothic places I've ever visited so I was excited to read about it. The book caught the feeling of Highgate for me but more than that, it captured London too. I've lost count of the amount of American paranormal fiction I've read and By Midnight's very Britishness was refreshing. I also appreciated the, "real," way that teenages were depicted. They drink! They smoke! They generally carry on like reckless young 'uns. There was also a delicious mix of great dresses, snarky kids at school, geeky best friends and the whole thing was a glorious read.

Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare

Clare is one of my favourite authors but I couldn't imagine the world of Shadowhunters in the Victorian era. I needn't have worried as the murky atmosphere of gas-lit Victorian london is perfectly suited to to the world of Mortal Instruments. Heroine Tessa arrives in London and is immediately swept into the disgusting world of the Dark Sisters. It becomes apparent that Tessa isn't just a sweet, innocent girl over from America but has a secret that even she didn't know about. A great collection of characters plus a chance to get to know the fabulous Magnus a bit better made this instantly addictive.

Nevermore, Kelly Creagh

Dark, moody, addictive - I loved, loved, loved this book. The stereotypes are there; the goth and the cheerleader forced together for a class project. However, everything else about Nevermore is incredibly unique. Varen, outsider at school, is obsessed with the works of Poe - perhaps too much? Outwardly, Isobel has it all; popular, jock boyfriend, top flyer in the cheerleading squad. However, she's started to feel that there's more to life than putting up with her bullish boyfriend. Varen intrigues her and she finds herself questioning the way her life is going. Varen is a tortured soul and I was willing them to get together. Aside from the goings on in the physical world there's also the world of Poe which adds a wonderful air of mystery to the whole novel. As the real and imaginary worlds begin to bleed into one another the story reaches its climx. I can't say enough good things about Nevermore, it goes beyond most Young Adult novels I've read and got me reading Poe. Enough said.

Nightshade, Andrea Cremer

Nightshade has just snuck in at the end of the year enabling me to include this in my list. I was a little worried when I read the synopsis that this would be somewhat reminiscent of Bitten. I needn't have worried as Nightshade is a completely different animal (sorry). Calla is an alpha Guardian (she can switch between human and wolf forms at will) who's purpose in life is to protect the ancient Keepers. Calla is also promised to a fellow alpha, Ren so they can form a new pack under their control. However, the appearance of a new boy at school throws Calla's life plans into disarray. The massive strength of Nightshade for me was the carefully planned mythology that Cremer had used as the base for her story. However, none of it seems forced and you discover bits here and there until the whole becomes clear. Like By Midnight, I liked that the teenage desire seemed authentic and the book fairly sizzled from start to finish. The world of Nightshade felt fresh and was deliciously creepy at times too.

Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books, Francesca Lia Block.

I started this book on a long car journey and after a few pages stopped. I really wasn't sure about the language but I dove back in determined to give it a proper chance. The world of Weetzie is, I found, very hypnotic and addictive. Soon I was finding the language beautiful and descriptive rather than alien. The edition that I read was a bind-up of the whole series and they cover all the members of Weetzie's family in each separate book. What I also loved was the subject matter that the books covered. It was a little tricky to put an era on the books but they seemed to cover anything from the 1960's to early 1990's and focus on the serious side of life. I actually made a note of some of my favourite lines and that's not something that I often do. Dangerous Angels is a lyrical gem.

2010 was an important year for me and this piece wouldn't be complete without thanking Liz and Mark for inviting me to join MFB and let me post rambling, gleeful reviews of amazing books. Guys, I've loved it and am looking forward to getting stuck in to some great releases for 2011. Thank you for everything, you've made my life richer - honestly.

Okay, bring on the new books - grrrr!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer


Forbidden flowers can be deadly. . .

While other teenage girls daydream about boys, Calla Tor imagines ripping out her enemies’ throats. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. Calla was born a warrior and on her eighteenth-birthday she’ll become the alpha female of the next generation of Guardian wolves.

But Calla’s predestined path veers off course the moment she saves the life of a wayward hiker, a boy her own age. This human boy’s secret will turn the young pack's world upside down and forever alter the outcome of the centuries-old Witches' War that surrounds them all. . .

I'd like to say that I'm never swayed by covers but, oh my word, how gorgeous is this? I also bought the US hardcover as I'm a sucker for those rough (deckle) edged pages. So, cover love aside what's it actually like? If I were to sum it up in a few words or phrases it would be; sexy, amazing research, great mythology. Cala is a Guardian, a race that can shift from wolf to human appearance at will. Guardians are a warrior race whose job is to protect the Keepers,an ancient race of witches. Cala's also the alpha of her pack and is promised to fellow alpha, Ren. Their union is planned for Samhain and will herald a new pack which Ren (with Cala by his side) will run. However, despite these long-held plans Cala saves a human, Shay, from a bear attack which starts a forbidden relationship. Now, when I say sexy I mean it. There's a thrilling, under the surface longing that runs throughout the book which inevitably bubbles up to the surface. After all, Cala is a seventeen year old girl who's expected to live a nun-like existence in a modern world. Nightshade is so well written that I never felt that the kissing scenes were unnecessary or overdone.

Cala is an enigma. Although she's a Guardian and extremely strong she has to abide by strict rules of the pack and of the Keepers. While Ren is free to do what he likes Cala must keep herself pure for their union. The rest of her pack aren't expected to live by such archaic laws but of course Cala is different. Initially I couldn't see the attraction of Shay. Although he's the forbidden he doesn't quite have the, erm, animal charm of Ren. I found I quite liked Ren despite his many failings and felt as sorry for him as I did for Cala. A thread of threat runs through Nightshade and the pack are always trying to avoid upsetting the Keepers. The passages where the Guardian's and Keepers interact where quite creepy and unsettling which made me want to know more about the traditions that brought their relationship about.

Shay, of course, is the human outsider and as confused by their world as the reader. The information about this strange world becomes clearer as Cala begins to trust him more. Shay is a great cynic, he needs evidence before he's prepared to accept something at face value. The use of the beliefs of Thomas Hobbes is used by Shay to show how far from accepted philosophy Cala's world is. A great deal of research lies behind the story of Nightshade and it's this that makes it not just another Young Adult paranormal novel. The mythology is flawless, intricate and absorbing. Shay encourages Cala to ask more about the world she inhabits and as they research it together they grow closer and we get to learn more through their discoveries.

The book becomes more tense as Cala and Ren's union gets closer. Cala begins to question more and more and her situation becomes impossible. The two packs are great secondary characters and their stories are almost engrossing as Shay and Cala's. The pace is fast which barely a chance to catch your breath before the next big event. Did Shay win me over in the end? I must admit that he did - I loved his rationality and genuine concern for Cala. I read this book in two sittings and would recommend it. It's one of my favourite reads of this year, up there with Nevermore, Clockwork Angel and Angel.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Guest Blog: Andrea Cremer

We're very excited here on MFB about the release of Nightshade by Andrea Cremer and to be part of the blog tour. Andrea has been kind enough to write us a brilliant piece about pack etiquette and the mythology behind the book. We hope you enjoy it!


In the weeks leading up to Nightshade’s release I’ve been thrilled by the number of reviews and the amount of excitement my book has generated – it’s more than any debut author could ever hope for. A common response to Nightshade from readers is the comment that it’s one of his or her favorite werewolf books. As much as I understand where that idea comes from, I think it’s time for me to take and stand and say Nightshade is not a werewolf book. Here’s what I mean:
I’ve lived long in the realm of paranormal/fantasy proudly bearing my badge of vampire girl. That’s right; I came on board as a fan of vamps, not werewolves. I was Team Edward for all four books of Twilight. I prefer Bill and Eric to Sam in True Blood. But before you start throwing tomatoes, let me tell you why.

Friends who knew I was a vampire girl presumed that meant I love ALL forms of paranormal, so they’d push werewolves at me enthusiastically. I wasn’t interested, and I couldn’t figure out why. After all they were fierce, strong, magical – all things I liked. So what was the problem? And then it hit me – I didn’t like werewolves because I love wolves.

That’s right – I’m a wolf girl, but a real wolf girl. I grew up so far north in Wisconsin that it’s practically Canada. Wolves roamed the forests of my homeland. I also loved National Geographic television specials even more than cartoons. So by age 9 I could rattle off biological and ecological info like a pro. Wolves to me were beautiful, intelligent, social, and graceful.
Werewolves seemed to be none of these things. The werewolves I’d encountered on page and screen were hideous – half man/half beast, usually ugly, often unintelligent, driven only by rage or bloodlust. And worst of all: they didn’t want to be wolves. Lycanthropy occurs as a curse, or a disease. The endgoal of most werewolf tales was to kill the wolf or free the affected person of the wolf curse. I couldn’t come to grips with that idea. If someone asked me – hey wanna turn into a wolf? I’d say “heck, yeah!” Wouldn’t you rather be a wolf? From what I know of wolves, the answer is indisputably YES.

Nightshade’s Guardians are my way of coming to terms with my love of wolves and my trouble with classic werewolf tales. Calla – the alpha female who narrates Nightshade – is powerful and revels in her life as a wolf. Her troubles arise not from her ability to shift, but from the ways in which her masters try to limit her power, to restrain her freedoms. Calla started it all because I wanted to write a story about a female character who wasn’t being pulled into a magical world – she was already in the middle of it, a leader and a warrior. The world of Nightshade came as I tried to figure out how someone like Calla, a girl who I knew was incredibly powerful, could be afraid and angry. What was controlling her? Why would she be fighting against her own destiny? I realized that she was facing off with something even more powerful than herself.

That’s where my background as a historian came in. I teach early modern history (1500-1800) – a period of immense, violent change in human societies. This is the time of witchhunts, religious warfare, colonization, the Inquistion; all types of cataclysmic social transformation that turned the lives across the globe upside down. The more I thought about Calla I thought about the ways in which wolf warriors and witches could have intertwined lives. The mythology in Nightshade is a blend of history and lore, new twists I invented along the way…and wolves in the wilderness the way I always imagined they would be.

Wolves also inspire me because of their sociability.
Pack relationships offered a wonderful way to explore a world of friendship, servitude, loyalty, and betrayal. While Nightshade is about Calla’s journey, it’s also the story of her pack. The other wolves in the book play key roles throughout the trilogy. Wolves offered a wonderful framework around which to explore relationships, love, fear, and rivalry.
I still love vampires, but I have to say I think I’m switching teams. Wolves carry a magic and mystery to me that captured my heart and hasn’t let go. It was just a matter of finding my own way to tell their story.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Some self congratulation and Season's Greetings

Just a quick note to apologise for it being a bit quiet.  We haven't forgotten about you or the lovely bookie reviews.  No, instead we've been very busy.  

Mark, Essjay and I have had some epic writing sessions to get our first drafts done on our various projects.  Essjay finished hers earlier this week (huzzah!) and Mark and I finished ours last night.

I am really proud to be part of this team - we did really well.  Although none of us have agents or publishers, we set ourselves deadlines and worked ourselves into the ground to stick to the deadline and we made it.  So, huge congrats to Mark and Sarah - you guys rock.

Our respective rewards: massive Yule feasts with friends and family and a few days off to enjoy our presents and relaxing.  And luxuriating in the time to just read without feeling guilty about not writing! 

Next week we'll be back to normal with reviews, book tour news, guest blogs and of course, our annual list of MFB Favourites of 2010. 

In the meantime:

A big merry old happy Yule to all of you guys - thanks for your unwavering support and enthusiasm for all our craziness on MFB in 2010.  

I saw this via twitter yesterday and thought I'd should really share it - it is both hilariously funny but also a bit sad.  

 Remember folks: support your indie bookstores and libraries and most importantly remember that books aren't just for Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

1348.  Plague has come to England.  And the lies you tell will be the death of you.  A scarred trader in holy relics.  A conjuror.  A musician and his apprentice.  A one-armed storyteller.  A young couple on the run.  A midwife.  And a rune-reading girl. 

A group of misfits bands together to escape the plague.  But in their midst lurks a curse darker and more malign than the pestilence they flee. 

I've seen Company of Liars around for a while now and I eventually succumbed to buying it in desperation - I wanted something different to read.  Something historical with little or no romance in it.  Something dark and gritty.  I thought this would be it.  And I was right.

The novel opens with a group of unknown people in an inn/pub discussing how best to kill a witch.  The conversation goes backwards and forwards and there is this underlying sense of awful menace that it's real, it's something they're definitely going to do. But we leave them behind for the opening chapter in which we meet the character who will be the narrator of Company of Liars.

We know very little about him.  We never learn his name, we only know him as Camelot, which is not actual name as we know it, but more a name for someone who is a peddler or hawker of goods that were not always genuine or thieved from somewhere else.  We know his face is badly scarred from a battle long ago and he's lost an eye because of it.  But he is our narrator and such he is our guide to this era and to those he meets along the way, who ultimately come to form the Company.

Camelot forms an easy friendship with the Italian musician Rodrigo and his handsome apprentice Jofre after he helps them find lodgings at an inn. He learns that Rodrigo and Jofre have been let go from the household of a noble lord and that they are keen to find somewhere to over-winter.  Camelot is hesitant to do so, but eventually agrees to have Rodrigo and Jofre accompany him for a while.  He soon realises that they are very much unprepared for spending time on the road.  Next to join the company is Zophiel, a thoroughly nasty piece of work.  He is the conjuror.  He is single minded and selfish, suspicious of everyone else, rude and antagonistic.  He is also a huge bully and seems to dislike women and anyone who does not conform to what he sees as right. Zophiel's joining of the loose company is not so much a joining for friendship as it for convenience sake.  He has a wagon and a horse and with the help of Rodrigo, Camelot and Jofre, they manage to keep the wagon on the road and the horse fed and in a straight line along the treacherous paths.  Shortly after Zophiel the lovers join the company, Adele and Osmond.  Adele is far gone with child and she is weak, undernourished and of delicate constitution.  Osmond is handsome, brave, thoughtful and caring of his young bride.  They discover that he is a painter and is good with making things, such as wooden toys.  Next to join the company is Pleasance, a mid-wife and a woman of even temper and caring nature.  With her is a young girl called Narigorm, the rune-reader.  Camelot meets Narigorm very early in the book, in the first chapter, before he even meets Rodrigo and Jofre and the child is too eerie for words.  She freaks him out a bit and he's none too pleased when she turns up again.   The final person to join the Company is Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller.

It's a pretty mixed bunch of people - a lot of rivalries and arguments take place as they try to outrun the plague.  They travel north, then east, then north again for a while, stopping off at various villages and towns to trade goods or buy food and supplies.

I had the impression that Ms. Maitland had a blast stripping away the "handsome clean peasants" image we tend to carry of medieval life thanks to movies and tv-shows.  Here we are knee deep in the mud and mire with the characters.  They are cold and wet for say 98% of the book as the weather during this time was dire - there was no summer to speak of and the plague spread fast in the wet unpleasant weather.  Everyone hoped that the cold of winter would stop the plague, that was the big gamble most people took.  The crops died in the fields, entire villages were decimated by sickness and those fields who did survive to bear crops were left to wither / grow mouldy and die.

But, having said that, the focus of the novel is not the plague but the characters and their respective stories.  It is a story with many other stories contained within.  Some of the stories are bleak and unpleasant but for instance Adele's story was wonderful and heartwarming and sweet even if it was full of heartache.  The stories represent the characters they belong to and it must have taken the author ages to get these to fit the cast so well.

There is a twist in the tale - of course there is! - but it is done so well that if you're not paying attention really closely, the twist comes as a pretty big surprise.  But it is the last page that is the kicker and your insides clutch and you go: oh crap, no!

Someone asked me to categorise Company of Liars into a genre.  I can't do that - it is a literary historical with elements of crime (more than a bit) and a bit of fantasy (the stories within stories).  But even more important than this is that it is a fantastic read and one I unreservedly recommend to readers who are in the mood for darker grittier historical fiction.

Find Karen Maitland's website here.  She has another book out at present: The Owl Killers.  I'll be looking to buy that to read too as I think I've just come over all fan-girly!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper


It is Midwinter’s Eve, the night before Will’s eleventh birthday. But there is an atmosphere of fear in the familiar countryside around him. Will is about to make a shocking discovery – that he is the last person to be born with the power of the Old Ones, and as a guardian of the Light he must begin a dangerous journey to vanquish the terrifyingly evil magic of the Dark.

I thought I'd do a review of one of my favourite books to read at Christmas time. The cover I've posted is the one that I've got. It was handed down (or perhaps I pilfered it) from my brother and I think that my mum passed it on to him. Mine looks a little dog-eared now and has the odd page hanging out of the binding. You can get a much more up-to-date cover now and I'm glad that this is still in print.

Will discovers that he is one of the Old Ones and it is his job to help the others hold back evil from taking over civilisation. Will is the seventh son as was his father and up until his eleventh birthday he'd lived a normal life but things start to get very odd as his birthday approaches and beyond it. Evil has already got the country in its grip. Snow begins to fall and soon it gets deeper and deeper cutting off the village where Will and his family live. Will is given the first sign of power and it is this which enables him to fend off the Dark Rider, a terrifying figure of evil. He is found by Merriman Lyon who explains that he needs to find the other signs to beat back evil and loosen its grip on the countryside. To find them, Will has to pass through time and finds that the present day and that of the past is intertwined. We also meet The Lady, another of the Old Ones, who helps Will on his quest.

As the book progresses things get worse and worse for the inhabitants of the village who don't understand the appalling weather. Will begins to understand more about the Old Ones predicament, the sacrifice they've made. The stakes for some of the characters are high and retribution harsh. Although a children's story the author hasn't shied away from some serious messages. The mythology behind the book adds an extra element to it. There's Merriman, a Merlin-ish character, who appears in Over Sea, Under Stone, another of the sequence of books. I can't say more as I don't want to give away the ending but it blends together a great story with some pagan tradition.

There's so much to praise in this book. Aside from the fantasy part of the novel, Will's family is brilliant. I felt that I was in their house amongst all the bustle as they get ready for Christmas. Will is a great kid from the beginning. It's not as if he needs to improve himself or learn to care for others more - he already does. He grows in confidence as the book progresses and he learns how to be more independent but he's thoroughly likeable throughout. There's a great deal of underlying threat in The Dark is Rising and I read it the other weekend in my darkening lounge as snow fell softly around the house. Dark, atmospheric and beautiful - I can't image ever becoming tired of it. If you haven't ever come across this book or the sequence to which it belongs I'd recommend it. There's not many books that can stand being re-read, year after year for, ahem, quite a few years but this is one. I'm so glad it's now being published as a modern classic and I'm always steering kids to it at work who are looking for a fantasy series.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Back in 2009, during the Frankfurt book fair, I remember seeing a note on The Bookseller website about a book called A Discovery of Witches.  And I quote:

Headline has fought off competition from five other publishers to acquire the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair's hottest fiction title, The Discovery of 
Witches by Deborah Harkness.

And further more:

The Discovery of Witches is aimed at the adult market and set in a world where four species—vampires, witches, demons and humans—co-exist. A young woman discovers a book in the Bodleian library with strange magical powers, changing her perception of the world around her, so that she can see the other species. Although there is a covenant preventing inter-species relationships, she falls in love with a vampire.

Headline deputy m.d. and publisher Jane Morpeth, who acquired the title, said: "It's just brilliant . . . it will be a major title for us", comparing the style to Anne Rice...

This was enough for me. I couldn't wait to read this new book.  Fast forward to maybe a month ago when this gigantic parcel arrived.  It was a proof copy of A Discovery of Witches.  I remember thinking that it sounded familiar and then of course, I read the PR sheet and went: zomg, this is IT!

I am SO incredibly pleased to be part of the blogtour for this book.  The writing is solid, the premise is cool, the research will blow your mind and the characters are engaging and I missed them and their story when I had to put the book away for work or to sleep.

But here, without further fuss, is my exclusive extract of the book.  My extract is the final extract of this tour, and it is the fourth extract. 

Be sure to visit the following sites for the first three extracts:

1. Book Chick City
2. Floor to Ceiling Shelves
3. Dot Scribbles

Chapter Extract

    The manuscript let out a soft sigh.
    A quick glance over my shoulder assured me that the room was still empty. The only other sound was the loud ticking of the reading room’s clock.
    Deciding not to record ‘Book sighed,’ I turned to my laptop and opened up a new file. This familiar task – one that I’d done hundreds if not thousands of times before – was as comforting as my list’s neat checkmarks. I typed the manuscript name and number and copied the title from the catalog description. I eyed its size and binding, describing both in detail.
    The only thing left to do was open the manuscript.
    It was difficult to lift the cover, despite the loosened clasps, as if it were stuck to the pages below. I swore under my breath and rested my hand flat on the leather for a moment, hoping that Ashmole 782 simply needed a chance to know me. It wasn’t magic, exactly, to put your hand on top of a book. My palm tingled, much as my skin tingled when a witch looked at me, and the tension left the manuscript. After that, it was easy to lift the cover.
    The first page was rough paper. On the second sheet, which was parchment, were the words ‘Anthropologia, or a treatis containing a short description of Man,’ in Ashmole’s handwriting. The neat, round curves were almost as familiar to me as my own cursive script. The second part of the title – ‘in two parts: the first Anatomical, the second Psychological ’ – was written in a later hand, in pencil. It was familiar, too, but I couldn’t place it. Touching the writing might give me some clue, but it was against the library’s rules and it would be impossible to document the information that my fingers might gather. Instead I made notes in the computer file regarding the use of ink and pencil, the two different hands, and the possible dates of the inscriptions.
    As I turned the first page, the parchment felt abnormally heavy and revealed itself as the source of the manuscript’s strange smell. It wasn’t simply ancient. It was something more – a combination of must and musk that had no name. And I noticed immediately that three leaves had been cut neatly out of the binding.
    Here, at last, was something easy to describe. My fingers flew over the keys: ‘At least three folios removed, by straightedge or razor.’ I peered into the valley of the manuscript’s spine but couldn’t tell whether any other pages were missing. The closer the parchment to my nose, the more the manuscript’s power and odd smell distracted me.
    I turned my attention to the illustration that faced the gap where the missing pages should be. It showed a tiny baby girl floating in a clear glass vessel. The baby held a silver rose in one hand, a golden rose in the other. On its feet were tiny wings, and drops of red liquid showered down on the baby’s long black hair. Underneath the image was a label written in thick black ink indicating that it was a depiction of the philosophical child – an allegorical representation of a crucial step in creating the philosopher’s stone, the chemical substance that promised to make its owner healthy, wealthy, and wise.
    The colors were luminous and strikingly well preserved. Artists had once mixed crushed stone and gems into their paints to produce such powerful colors. And the image itself had been drawn by someone with real artistic skill. I had to sit on my hands to keep them from trying to learn more from a touch here and there.
    But the illuminator, for all his obvious talent, had the details all wrong. The glass vessel was supposed to point up, not down. The baby was supposed to be half black and half white, to show that it was a hermaphrodite. It should have had male genitalia and female breasts – or two heads, at the very least.
    Alchemical imagery was allegorical, and notoriously tricky. That’s why I was studying it, searching for patterns that would reveal a systematic, logical approach to chemical transformation in the days before the periodic table of the elements. Images of the moon were almost always representations of silver, for example, while images of the sun referred to gold. When the two were combined chemically, the process was represented as a wedding. In time the pictures had been replaced by words. Those words, in turn, became the grammar of chemistry.
    But this manuscript put my belief in the alchemists’ logic to the test. Each illustration had at least one fundamental flaw, and there was no accompanying text to help make sense of it.
    I searched for something – anything – that would agree with my knowledge of alchemy. In the softening light, faint traces of handwriting appeared on one of the pages. I slanted the desk lamp so that it shone more brightly.
    There was nothing there.
Slowly I turned the page as if it were a fragile leaf.
    Words shimmered and moved across its surface – hundreds of words
– invisible unless the angle of light and the viewer’s perspective were just right.
    I stifled a cry of surprise.
    Ashmole 782 was a palimpsest – a manuscript within a manuscript. When parchment was scarce, scribes carefully washed the ink from old books and then wrote new text on the blank sheets. Over time the former writing often reappeared underneath as a textual ghost, discernible with the help of ultraviolet light, which could see under ink stains and bring faded text back to life.
    There was no ultraviolet light strong enough to reveal these traces, though. This was not an ordinary palimpsest. The writing hadn’t been washed away – it had been hidden with some sort of spell. But why would anyone go to the trouble of bewitching the text in an alchemical book? Even experts had trouble puzzling out the obscure language and fanciful imagery the authors used.
    Dragging my attention from the faint letters that were moving too quickly for me to read, I focused instead on writing a synopsis of the manuscript’s contents. ‘Puzzling,’ I typed. ‘Textual captions from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, images mainly fifteenth century. Image sources possibly older? Mixture of paper and vellum. Colored and black inks, the former of unusually high quality. Illustrations are well executed, but details are incorrect, missing. Depicts the creation of the philosopher’s stone, alchemical birth/ creation, death, resurrection, and transformation. A confused copy of an earlier manuscript? A strange book, full of anomalies.’
    My fingers hesitated above the keys.
    Scholars do one of two things when they discover information that doesn’t fit what they already know. Either they sweep it aside so it doesn’t bring their cherished theories into question or they focus on it with laserlike intensity and try to get to the bottom of the mystery. If this book hadn’t been under a spell, I might have been tempted to do the latter. Because it was bewitched, I was strongly inclined toward the former.
    And when in doubt, scholars usually postpone a decision.
    I typed an ambivalent final line: ‘Needs more time? Possibly recall later? ’
    Holding my breath, I fastened the cover with a gentle tug. Currents of magic still thrummed through the manuscript, especially fierce around the clasps.
    Relieved that it was closed, I stared at Ashmole 782 for a few more moments. My fingers wanted to stray back and touch the brown leather. But this time I resisted, just as I had resisted touching the inscriptions and illustrations to learn more than a human historian could legitimately claim to know.
    Aunt Sarah had always told me that magic was a gift. If it was, it had strings attached that bound me to all the Bishop witches who had come before me. There was a price to be paid for using this inherited magical power and for working the spells and charms that made up the witches’ carefully guarded craft. By opening Ashmole 782, I’d breached the wall that divided my magic from my scholarship. But back on the right side of it again, I was more determined than ever to remain there.
    I packed up my computer and notes and picked up the stack of manuscripts, carefully putting Ashmole 782 on the bottom. Mercifully, Gillian wasn’t at her desk, though her papers were still strewn around. She must be planning on working late and was off for a cup of coffee.
    ‘Finished?’ Sean asked when I reached the call desk.
‘Not quite. I’d like to reserve the top three for Monday.’
    ‘And the fourth?’
    ‘I’m done with it,’ I blurted, pushing the manuscripts toward him. ‘You can send it back to the stacks.’
    Sean put it on top of a pile of returns he had already gathered. He walked with me as far as the staircase, said good-bye, and disappeared behind a swinging door. The conveyor belt that would whisk Ashmole 782 back into the bowels of the library clanged into action.
    I almost turned and stopped him but let it go.
    My hand was raised to push open the door on the ground floor when the air around me constricted, as if the library were squeezing me tight. The air shimmered for a split second, just as the pages of the manuscript had shimmered on Sean’s desk, causing me to shiver involuntarily and raising the tiny hairs on my arms.
    Something had just happened. Something magical.
    My face turned back toward Duke Humfrey’s, and my feet threatened to follow.
    It’s nothing, I thought, resolutely walking out of the library.
Are you sure? whispered a long-ignored voice.


Isn't it fab?  A Discovery of Witches is out in Feb 2011. I'll be posting a few other things in the next few weeks. 

But in the meantime, there is a competition!

I can offer 3 signed copies of the finished A Discovery of Witches.  And then the BIG prize: 

An opportunity for one lucky winner to travel to either London or Oxford to meet the author Deborah Harkness, for a cup of tea and a bit of chat.  You'll get a signed copy and a bottle of wine, as recommended by the author.  Headline will pay travel expenses only - no overnight accommodation, should you win.  Which I think is a pretty fabulous prize.  The prize will be for either Monday 7th / Tuesday 8th / Wednesday 9th March.

The competiton is open to UK residents only and you will have to be over 18 to win.  The competition will run until end of January 2011.  A winner will be chosen from each of the blogs taking part in this blog tour.  The winner's name will then be sent to Headline's offices and the overall winner of the meet and greet with the author will be announced.  All four of us will be doing the announcement so it's unlikely that you'll miss it if you've won. 

Leave a comment below to enter for either of the two prizes (book / author meet and greet) and tell us about your favourite city in the world.  Just out of curiosity.  The 3 winners of a copy of the book will be announced at the end of January on MFB. 

To find out more about The Discovery of Witches go to the UK site and do visit Deborah's website here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Matched by Ally Condle


On her seventeenth birthday, Cassia meets her Match. Society dictates he is her perfect partner for life.

Except he's not.

In Cassia's society, Officials decide who people love.

How many children they have.

Where they work.

When they die.

But, as Cassia finds herself falling in love with another boy, she is determined to make some choices of her own.

And that's when her whole world begins to unravel . . .

Dystopian novels scare me a bit ever since I read 1984. They give me a strange, claustrophobic, sinking feeling. So it was with some trepidation that I started Matched. The book opens with Cassia attending her Match Banquet to find out who she'll marry when she reaches twenty-one. I found Cassia so endearing, excited to find out who her future partner will be despite only being seventeen. Everyone else at the banquet is introduced to a face on a screen in another part of the country. However, Cassia finds herself matched to her childhood friend Xander - a rare occurrence.

Everything in Cassia's society is controlled by Officials. From the clothes they wear to the food they eat which is delivered through food ports to their homes each evening. House visitors are forbidden, as are pens, brightly coloured clothes and choosing your own mate. Despite all of this I was saved from feeling tight-chested by Cassia whose voice is honest and open. Although she's been controlled her whole life she, with the help of her amazing grandfather, learns to question everything. Her grandfather and father are not against twisting the rules and I think this is where she gets her rebellious spirit from. Society also controls the arts and Cassia frequently refers to the One Hundred Poems which are the few which have survived from the past and they play a touching part in this book.

When Cassia finds out that her perfect match isn't the real one she's thrown into a state of confusion. Once she begins to question what she does and why she does it there's no stopping her. Despite the threat of severe repercussions for herself and her family, Cassia forges her own way with disturbing and thought provoking results. Ky is the one who she believes she should be matched with. Due to the restraints on their actions their relationship is one made up of tiny, subtle actions: a word, a brush of a hand, a glance - all these become super-charged. Part of me was screaming inside for her to go back to her safety of life within society's confines but I think that says far more about me than courageous Cassia.

At times I wasn't sure if Ky was worthy of Cassia, if he was charismatic enough that she would risk everything. After all, she's incredibly close to her parents and little brother Bram. But in a way I hardly think this matters as the story is bigger than just their relationship. For me the strength of the book lies in Cassia's journey of discovery - watching her seeing things as they really are rather than what she's supposed to see. The strongest relationship that seems to be a thread through the book is the one with her grandfather and I was crying by page 79. The future portrayed in Matched is suitably terrifying but despite my fear of alternative future societies I'm interested to see what happens to Cassia in Crossed out next year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Glass Demon by Helen Grant


The first death: Seventeen-year-old Lin Fox finds a body in an orchard. As she backs away in horror, she steps on broken glass. The second death: Then blood appears on her doorstep – blood, and broken glass.The third death: Something terrible is found in the cemetery. Shards of broken glass lie by a grave.Who will be next? As the attacks become more sinister, Lin doesn’t know who to trust. She’s getting closer to the truth behind these chilling discoveries, but with each move the danger deepens. Because someone wants Lin gone – and won’t give up until he’s got rid of her and her family. Forever.

In The Glass Demon's opening pages we are confronted with a dead body.  Right. There.  It was weird.  It freaked me out a little.  No, what freaked me out was Lin, Tuesday (her mum) and her dad's reaction to the dead body of the German farmer in his orchard.  They were being very British by walking away from it because they didn't want to be involved - getting involved meant a delay in getting to where they were moving to, it meant questions from the police and to be honest, it would just be really very inconvenient.

Lin is our narrator and we are very quickly appraised of the situation.  Her dad is a well known scholar in medieval history but due to the unfortunate success of his book, (you read that right) he was passed over for promotion at the university.  So in a huff he decides to uproot his entire family and head off to Germany where he can do hands-on research about a series of glass windows created by a master craftsman in medieval times.  But the thing about the windows is that no one quite knows where they are, or if they exist or anything concrete.  They are, as Lin explains to us, an enigma, the holy grail of medieval scholars.  And of course, her dad believes that their discovery would mean fame, fortune, tv-shows and a lot of media attention.

Lin's older sister Polly is the quiet one, the one who does not like confrontation.  She prefers taking care of their baby brother Reuben.  She only has a few weeks with them in Germany before she takes off for a gap year to Italy.  Tuesday is a fashionista diva and together with Oliver (the dad) they form this bizarre bubble of selfish self-absorbededness that really and truly irritated me.  Lin and Polly are in ways far more mature than their parents but it's not done in the way a lot of YA novels are done where the parents are completely off-screen.  Tuesday and Oliver are very much present but they seem to struggle to realise that they have children that need taking care of.  They are so wrapped in their own lives, their own struggles, that when they notice the kids, they don't deal with them as kids, they are treated as miniature adults.  Lin, because she is the only one in the family who can speak German, is asked to translate conversations and she does her best to steer clear of her dad whom she knows would like to lure her into helping him translate some research books.

Lin starts school and strikes up an odd relationship with Michel, who lives on a farm near the ruined castle Lin and her family inhabit.  Michel seems completely star struck by Lin and it becomes clear quite early on that he likes her.  Lin's horrified at this - Michel isn't unattractive but she finds the idea of having a boyfriend a bit much and she does initially try and ward him off.  But various things happen and Michel and Lin grow closer but it's not a comfortable closeness.

There are various incidents that happen to Lin and her family that made me deeply uncomfortable and itchy between the shoulder blades.  The legend of the demon in the glass really freaked me out - especially when we consider how in modern times we are surrounded by glass, unlike in medieval times when it truly was expensive and unique. The author makes tremendous use of suggestion and foreshadowing and setting the ruined castle Lin and her family stay in, in the middle of a darkly mysterious forest, effectively isolating them from the outside just works.

I have to warn you, dear reader, that The Glass Demon is deeply Gothic with characters who are very real - they aren't always likeable and their actions are questionable but they remain true to themselves in their own selfish, self absorbed, damaged human way.

It should also be noted that Polly and Lin's relationship deteriorates as Lin suspects for some time that Polly is hiding something.  When it is revealed that Polly has a eating disorder, Lin is all for telling her rubbish parents but Polly manages to bamboozle Lin into believing lies of things getting better.  I felt here that Lin really should have pushed harder and made her sister see sense.  It really broke my heart, the whole thing with Polly.

One thing about TGD is this sense of impending doom. You cannot get away from it.  You know something bad and awful is going to happen, you just don't know what it's going to be - not even to the very end.  It makes for tense reading.

I didn't have the chance to read Ms. Grant's first novel: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden but I will definitely be doing so in the New Year.  What can I say, I always do things differently.

Find Helen Grant's website here.  The Glass Demon has been out for some time here in the UK through Puffin, so if you're after something to cut through the saccharine sweet of Christmas, this will be right up your street! Just a personal note: it's recommended for slightly older teens - there is some gore, it is not gratuitous but some of the things stayed with me and I'm not a squeamish person at all, so if you are a bit delicate and not too keen on psychological scares, pick this one up knowing that it stays with you long after you've closed the pages.