Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stephanie Meyer brings us a new novella

From the PR sheet I received today:

Atom, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group UK, has announced that it will release the first new title from Stephenie Meyer in nearly two years. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is a novella told from the point of view of Bree, a character originally featured in Eclipse. The novella (at 192 pages) will be released on both sides of the Atlantic at 5:05 a.m. BST on Saturday 5th June, 2010 in hardback priced £11.99.

“I’m as surprised as anyone about this novella,” said Stephenie Meyer. “When I began working on it in 2005, it was simply an exercise to help me examine the other side of Eclipse, which I was editing at the time. I thought it might end up as a short story that I could include on my website. Then, when work started on The Twilight Saga: The Official Guide, I thought the Guide would be a good fit for my Bree story. However, the story grew longer than I anticipated, until it was too long to fit into the Guide.”

As a special thank you to fans, Meyer is giving them exclusive access to the novel on a dedicated website, http://www.breetanner.com/, from 7th June to 5th July 2010, where fans from around the world will be able to read the book online in English. “I’d always considered The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner as something for the fans,” said Meyer. “They have been so supportive of all things Twilight.”

Ursula Mackenzie, CEO and Publisher of Little, Brown Book Group commented: "The prospect of a new book from Stephenie Meyer has been tantalising readers for a very long time. We're thrilled to be able to announce that the waiting is over and Stephenie's millions of fans will soon be able to read this exciting new work."

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is the riveting story of Bree Tanner, a newborn vampire first introduced in Eclipse, and the darker side of the world she inhabits. The novella chronicles the newborn vampire army’s journey as they prepare to close in on Bella Swan and the Cullens, following their encounter to its unforgettable conclusion.

The character Bree not only features prominently in the book Eclipse, but in the upcoming movie from Summit Entertainment. “Stephenie was gracious enough to let me read a draft of the novella while we were prepping the movie The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” said Director David Slade. “I thoroughly enjoyed the story and it gave us great insight and inspired location choices and the tailoring of scenes. I think fans are going to love the fascinating details involved in the loves, fears and actions of an emerging vampire.”

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner will also be available as an ebook from 11a.m. BST on 5th June 2010. Additionally, more information about the previously announced The Twilight Saga: The Official Guide, including publication date, will be released by the end of the year.

In less than five years, Stephenie Meyer has become a worldwide publishing phenomenon. The Twilight Saga’s translation rights have been sold in nearly 50 countries and 100 million copies have been sold worldwide.

So, I've not read anything Twilight for ages and ages but I do have a copy of the graphic novel, which, I will be fair, looks stunning. I'll be reading that later in April to review. But, I have to admit that I'm a bit perplexed about the Bree story as I genuinely don't remember her at all! Am I going crazy? Maybe it's time for a re-read?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rynn's World - Steve Parker

The Space Marines of the Adeptus Astartes are fearless champions of humanity. Genetic modification and psycho-conditioning has made them superior to Men in all respects. These Superhuman weapons of war are mankind's most elite fighting force, and as such, their battles are iconic tales of xenos purges and desperate last-stands. Their deeds have become legendary, and the Space Marine Battle series recounts their most notorious front-line stories of heroism in graphic detail.

When the Ork hordes of the Warlord Snagrod, Arch Arsonist of Charadon, lay waste to the planet of Badlanding and devastate the Crimson fist forces sent to stop them, Chapter Master Kantor is forced into a desperate defence of the Fists’ home planet, Rynn’s World.

Tragedy strikes. An errant missile destroys the Space Marines’ fortress-monastery, killing most of the number outright. With a handful of battered survivors in tow, Kantor must cross a continent and reunite with his Second Company if he is to have any hope of defeating Snagrod’s orks and preventing his Chapter’s total annihilation.

Rynn’s World centres on the Crimson Fists’ desperate battle to defend their homeworld against the planetary assault launched by the devious Ork warlord Snagrod, a cunning adversary that will give them and the Imperium a shattering and unforgettable lesson in the dangers of underestimating your enemy.

The viewpoint is shared between several of the Space Marines, with the lion’s share split between the hot blooded Captain Cortez and Kantor, the beleaguered Chapter Master who must bear the burden of his devastated Chapter and a ravaged homeworld. This approach works as the Marines are scattered in the wake of the disaster that befalls their fortress and as the true extent of the Ork assault becomes evident.

To be honest, Cortez and Kantor’s characters aren’t perhaps as developed as you’d like them to be, but this is more than compensated for by the visceral, bonesnapping action that erupts as battle is joined and the surviving Marines give vent to their burning need for vengeance. It’s good to see an author showing Space Marines’ abilities off – sometimes it feels that some people gloss over their decades of training and the fact that they are deadliest warriors mankind has ever fielded. Cranium shattering headshots are de rigueur, and bolter shells rupture torsos and sever limbs by the score. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the close combat – it’s one thing to say that an Ork is put down with a powerfist, but when you start describing it as an uppercut it opens a whole new box of images and gives a far more satisfying idea of how that Marine is fighting.

Rynn’s World is part of the Space Marine Battles series, and it certainly does exactly what it says on the box- it's 536 pages stuffed full of explosive, graphic action and Space Marines doing what they do best.

And most importantly, it's damned fun to read.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sasha - A Trial of Blood & Steel - Joel Shepherd

Spurning her royal heritage to be raised by the great warrior, Kessligh, her exquisite swordplay astonishes all who witness it. But Sasha is still young, untested in battle and often led by her rash temper. In the complex world of Lenayin loyalties, her defiant wilfulness is attracting the wrong kind of attention.

Lenayin is a land almost divided by its two faiths: the Verenthane of the ruling classes and the pagan Goeren-yai, amongst whom Sasha now lives. The Goeren-yai worship swordplay and honour and begin to see Sasha as the great spirit—the Synnich—who will unite them. But Sasha is still searching for what she believes and must choose her side carefully.

When the Udalyn people—the symbol of Goeren-yai pride and courage—are attacked, Sasha will face her moment of testing. How will she act? Is she ready to lead? Can she be the saviour they need her to be?

For all that we’re introduced to Sasha in the midst of a fight, albeit a sparring bout, and it’s clear that she’s someone to be reckoned with when she has a blade in hand, it’s quite some time until we find out exactly how she copes in open combat. But it's the route from the opening to the moment that blood is first shed that's so important here, as it fleshes out her character and lays the foundations of the world that she inhabits, something which is fundemental for the rest of the story. Despite the threat of war being a constant subtext, the violence within the story never feels gratuitous, even though it's bloody and well executed.

Joel deals with the roots of the civil uprising that Sasha is swept up in very well, feeding the information through as the characters themselves make the connections, so it never feels contrived. You’re left with a clear sense of the smouldering powderkeg of the Goeren Yai ‘s long repressed anger and how it threatens the foundations of the kingdom.

Ably supported by a cast of distinctive secondary characters, Sasha’s journey from a rebellious, free living student to military commander and rebel leader is believable, gripping and very more-ish, setting the bar very high for the rest of the trilogy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Celebration Time

Dear MFB friends and followers

Today is a pretty big day for me (Liz, just in case you woz wondering who this was).

I'm happy to announce that my first ever professional publication is now out and about and roaming bookstores.

The Mammoth Book of Special Ops Romance anthology is out in the UK and my short story "Good Guys" is stuck in there, amidst some of the coolest of contemporary romantic suspense writers such as: Rinda Elliot, Sydney Croft, Shannon K Butcher, Marliss Melton, Laura Griffin, Rachel Caine, Charlene Teglia, Cheyenne McCray, to mention just a few. Well, and then there's me, writing as Liz Muir.

And I've decided to pull out all the stops and throw a bit of a party and offer a lucky winner - anywhere in the world post can reach - the chance to win a copy of The Mammoth Book of Special Ops Romance. And if you wanted to, I'll even autograph it! Your choice.

So, the only thing to do is comment below. I'll let the competition run till 2nd April, Good Friday, when I'll announce the winner. Get commenting!

(prays that people will enter!!)

Oh, and because the books are so pretty, I'll put some gratuitous hot book covers on here too so you can SEE with your own eyes, the hotness that may be yours...if I choose your name!

***edited to add: please make sure your comment is linked to a blog profile / website so that if you do win, I can contact you that way! Or even if you're on Twitter, tell us your name and we can follow you back!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz


They're young, fabulous and fanged.

And they rule Manhattan from the trendy uptown clubs to the downtown boutiques. Fifteen-year-old Schuyler Van Alen has never quite fit in at her exclusive prep school - she's more of a vintage than a Versace girl - but all that's about to change ...

Because Schuyler has just found out she's a Blue Blood. The Blue Bloods are the city's glamorous and secret vampire elite. They're young, beautiful and powerful. But now they're being murdered. And Schuyler must find out who - or what - is behind it, before she's next.

I have to admit that I wasn't sure about Blue Bloods at first. I'd seen it in my local bookshop and admired its (fabulous) cover and liked the blurb. But I wasn't sure if there was anything new to be had from vampires so sat on the fence a little. However, I read an extract in a magazine at work (tBk I think) which made me think again. I was glad I did, Blue Bloods has much to offer the vampire genre.

The action takes place in New York. Schuyler's family was once one of the most powerful in the city but have fallen on hard times. Whilst most of the students at The Duchesne School (established 1869) wear designer jeans, Schuyler wears vintage clothes - layers and layers of them. She has one friend, the cool but slightly possessive Oliver, and is ignored by most of her peers. She's quirky and once you've met Mimi and her gang you appreciate Schuyler's selective taste in friends. Mimi is the most powerful and popular girl at Duchesne, she's a gloriously hateful character. She only cares about herself and her brother Jack and throughout the novel she manipulates and twists everyone around her. We meet Bliss and Dylan too, the latter is a rebellious character who hates all the pretension at Duchesne, has a shady past and has attracted the attention of wealthy Bliss.

Early on a Duchesne girl is murdered. Shortly afterwards Schuyler is inducted into a select club and is told she's a Blue Blood - a vampire. She's already noticed changes in her body but now has to face up to the fact that she's immortal. Jack and Schuyler form a connection, much to the disgust of Mimi, which takes Schuyler away from the safe pattern of her former life. Soon she's ostracised Oliver and living a new and confusing life even attracting attention from modelling agencies. Her powers are strong too, stronger than the other new Blue Bloods.

There's much to enjoy in Blue Bloods. Melissa de la Cruz's style of writing flows along and pulls you in - it's so effortless. The references to designer labels, clubs and the behaviour of the elite give it a current flavour. There are some great references to how old money makes itself felt; Bliss is new at Duchesne and has come from Texas so we can look over her shoulder as she negotiates her way through her new school. I laughed when she arrives at school on her first day in, "A pastel Ralph Lauren sweater with a plaid Ana Sui kilt ... with a honking white leather Chanel purse on a gold chain," to find that everyone else dressed down.

Running through the plot is a layer of historical information, book and diary entries that refer to events of 1620 and as the story progresses these tie in to current events. More Blue Bloods are murdered and things become gradually more fraught. The only negative thing I can say is that I thought the ending was a little rushed - I wanted to know more about what was going on. However, having started the follow-up book, Masquerade, I can see that this is probably because it's part of a larger plot that runs through the series. These vampires have a different kind of history which I thought was a clever idea which I can't tell you as it would spoil the plot. The relationship between Oliver and Schuyler is intriguing too - I'm looking forward to that developing in future books.

I expected Blue Bloods to be a guilty pleasure; like eating a bar of chocolate while watching ANTM and it is that but also has much more to offer. I enjoyed Blue Bloods so much I've gone straight on to Masquerade.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Avatar - My Thoughts (by Liz)

I admit to falling under the "oh my gosh, this is the worst movie in the world, it's racist, derivative, mostly cgi based therefore not really any good, a remake of Ferngully blah blah" spell when it first came out. I watched the trailer, rolled my eyes and was like: oh my gosh, Kombat Smurfs, how lame. Or even, Dances with Smurfs, as someone else called it.

So I turned a blind eye to good reviews and the general dialogue about the movie, thinking that we'll hire it from Blockbusters once it's released and I'll no doubt fall asleep watching it and that would be that.

But I didn't reckon with Mark who had been chomping at the bit to go and see it. So I capitulated with a heavy heart and moving heaven and earth to get there on time, we went to go and see it at Greenwich Odeon in 3D.

I have a problem with 3D. It makes me feel sick, dizzy, as if I have a dent in my face. Yes, I know. I'm weird. But, much to my surprise we got actual specs, not the flimsy paper things that don't really work, to view the movie in. So this already made me feel better about things. (Moving ahead I'm happy to report no ill-effects of the 3D glasses - no headaches, nausea or dizzy spells, so if that's put you off, do try it!)

My initial thoughts were that the movie is a homage to so many 'Nam war flicks we've seen in the past. The jungle, the hostile territory, the antagonistic natives. The wholesale destruction of an area by the invading force. How the invading force always sees themselves as doing the right thing, clamping down on the natives' barbarian behaviour, wanting to give them new lives, socialise them and bring them up to "our" westernised standards.

It was the whole colonisation thing between Britain, Spain, France and other other European countries all over again, spreading over the new world, but set in the future. And like in the past, it's sole aim is selfish: trade and commerce. Not necessarily trade with the natives, but stripping the land of its natural resources and then selling it for a vast amount of money to corporations on Earth and elsewhere. Sound familiar?

In this respect, Avatar shines a bright light on both our past and future. Where do we draw the line between respecting indigenous tribes and their habitat, doing research without being invasive and utilising natural resources without actually destroying the world / a world.

So, enough navel-gazing in that respect. It is what it is in the movie: a way to introduce conflict within its characters and within the audience. Being shown a beautiful place being destroyed by seemingly heartless corporations is due to get some kind of emotional response!

Onto fluffier things: I fell in love with the pure spectacle of the world of Pandora. The fauna and flora is astonishingly beautiful, well thought out and just amazing to see and experience on the big screen. You feel a deep sense of awe and it's mostly attributed to the apparent scale of the world and how exotic it seems. I was waiting for David Attenborough's voice over to start telling us about the Hallelujah Mountains, or the Toruk / Great Leonopteryx /Direhorses and whatever else. It looked like a nature documentary most of the time.

I felt that James Cameron was showing us something truly exceptional and I believe that his team he had working with him couldn't have done a better job to bring his mind-images to the big screen. The Na'vi are beautifully rendered - yes, they appear as slightly simplistic natives, elves, if you wish, in the traditional sense with little technology but living close to the earth and believing like most indigenous people do that everything is part of everything, and if one thing is out of balance, it means an unhealthy broken world.

The story of our hero's growth as a character and his realisation that he's not being one of the good guys, is one we've seen many times, before. It's a simple tale. It's part of the Christopher Booker "Seven Plots" thing: overcoming the monster (yourself) and your standard quest of boy is sent off on a hazy adventure, inadvertantly falls in with the "enemy" has a change of heart, and goes "native". Yep, it's all there but you know, it doesn't really matter at the end of the day because all movies (and stories) follow a formula, this one more blatantly than others, but dammit, it looks pretty. If you wonder what other movies are like this think of Dances with Wolves, Four Feathers and a heap of others.

I conclude to say that I really and honestly enjoyed Avatar - I don't know if that makes me weird or whatever, but I felt that my money was well spent and instead of hiring the movie, I'll probably pre-order it for future watching. Regardless of it's faults, of playing on sympathies and perhaps simplifying a race of people, the gist of the story is that everything comes at a price and that if you're brave enough, and stand up for yourself, you can perhaps change things. And by doing that, you experience change within yourself. Oh look, yet another of the basic seven plots!

Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer


Television reporter Riley Spartz is recovering from a heart-breaking, headline-making catastrophe when a long-time police source drops two homicide files in her lap in the back of a dark movie theatre. Both cold cases involve women named Susan strangled on the same day, one year apart. Last seen alive in one of the poorest neighbourhoods, their bodies are each dumped in one of the city’s wealthiest areas. Riley senses a pattern between those murders and others pulled from a computer database of old death records. She must broadcast a warning soon, especially to viewers named Susan, because the deadly anniversary is very fast approaching.

But not just lives are at stake – so are careers!

I fell into reading Stalking Susan because it was slender, it looked interesting, I've not read crime for ages and also, I liked the fact that it was not a police procedural.

Julie Kramer's writing style is pared down and unfussy. Riley is a character readers will like, vulnerable because of an ugly incident in her past, something she thinks she's to blame for, yet strong enough to face up to her past, realising that her future is at stake if she doesn't sort herself out quickly.

Riley is an interesting mix of hardnosed pragmatic journalist who hungry for ratings, her next story and vulnerable single woman with a lot of history. I liked her. I liked her voice, her attitude and her outlook. I particularly liked that she didn't sell herself short or make martyr-like compromises.

Stalking Susan plays out within a few weeks' time, so the pace is fast but not so that you feel rushed. Riley has enough down time to make a solid impression on you. A lot of crime and thrillers are plot driven with paperthin characters and I'm happy to say that Stalking Susan is exactly the other way around - strongly character driven so that the plot feels natural. There are several sub-plots, with other cases being investigated, not just the Susans case so we have a chance to see how tv stations work behind the scenes and how clever thinking and a nose for a story is an investigative journalist's best assets. The fact that the author took the time to explain how script was written for newscasters to read lured us deeper into the story.

Needless to say, I enjoyed Stalking Susan - I thought it was something fresh and new. How Riley goes about putting the case together from very few (well, no clues, really) to building a solid case, was an incredible journey. It went hand in hand with her own story of survival as we meet her in a not very positive place at the beginning of the story.

A theme throughout the novel is that of how grief changes people, how it impacts on the lives of the investigators and those directly affected by the deaths of these various women. The author handles it well, withholding too much heart searching and introspection by giving us a character that has a job to do who has both empathy and understanding for those whose lives she affects when making her news shows.

It's clever, it kept me wondering: who is the suspect? And it wasn't until the last couple of pages that I figured it out. It's a job well done from an author brand new to me, so I'm keen to find more books.

Stalking Susan is out now here in the UK. The second novel featuring Riley Spartz called Missing Mark is being released later this year from Piatkus. If crime's not something you're fond us, give Stalking Susan a try - it's different and new enought to perhaps lure you to the crime-side! (uh, in a good way, not turning you into a criminal or anything!)

Find author Julie Kramer's website here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin


Yeine Darr is heir to the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. She is also an outcast. Until, that is, her mother dies under mysterious circumstances.

Summoned by her grandfather to the majestic city of Sky, Yeine finds herself thrust into a vicious power struggle for the throne. As she fights for her life, she comes ever closer to discovering the truth about her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history – as well as the unsettling truths within herself.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate are bound inseparably together, for both mortals and gods alike.

I have been dragging my feet on writing this review for ages. And ages. Maybe a month of procrastination and displacement activity - I've tidied, I've read, I've reviewed other things...but not this one.

This one is a major problem for me. Can it be that you enjoy a book too much? That although your brain tells you that it's not the most perfect book ever written, your heart over-rides it and tells you that yes, it is. Well, see, that's my conundrum. I've spoken to Gav at Nextread about this, I've even spoken with Ana at Booksmugglers about it. I don't know what it is about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that's gotten under my skin - I can't stop thinking about it either, the characters and story line, specifically.

Firstly, our main character Yeine is by all counts not spectacularly beautiful or vastly talented in magic or anything we'd have become used to in the normal fantasy fare. She's small, has brown skin and dark hair, cut short to her scalp. Her people are fighters and are looked down upon by practically everyone else in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and they are seen as uncouth and barbaric. This actually doesn't bother her all that much, because through her story we realise exactly who the barbarians truly are.

The novel is written in an almost conversational style. It gives the reader the impression of an immediacy and intimacy that is startling. The world building is excellent - you suspect that the tip you see is only a miniscule amount of what the author has stored away in folders and that's the part that I loved - there were no extraneous bits thrown in. The story was the story. Pared down, solid, interesting.

As I started reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms I initially thought that maybe the editor had made some kind of mistake because there were some sections that were told in a different voice, and it was a dreamy, hypnotic voice. But THEN I figured it out.

I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and
torn out my heart. I do not know who I am anymore.

I must try to remember.

My people tell stories of the night I was born. They say my mother crossed her legs in the middle of labor and fought with all her strength not to release me into the world. I was born anyhow, of course; nature cannot be denied. Yet it does not surprise me that she tried.

See what I mean? This is how the book starts. How could you not be drawn in to wanting to know who the speaker is? Either one of them? Was our narrator insane, did the editor screw things up, what was going on here? As much as I liked this, it also worried me. A reluctant reader may very well left the book to the side as the author has done something very different here - starting at the end, going backwards and forwards in the narration, interspersing it with personal asides from the dream-voice. Before this puts you off, I'll prompt you to try it, to stick it out and see what happens!

Determined to stick it out, I plowed ahead. Yeine's journey from the North to Sky and her grandfather's court, is covered briefly and swiftly at the opening of the book. She's being brought to the tower and the city to become her grandfather's heir. He already has two other heirs, her two cousins, and to be honest, I felt that Yeine should have walked away completely as it was a nightmare situation. One cousin was perpetually drunk and in a state of high anxiety whilst the other was a ruthless and ambitious harpy set to destroy everyone in her path to becoming the ruler of Sky.

The Arameri - the ruling clan which Yeine now belonged to as a full-blood - has a hierachy: those who are Quarter, Half and Full Bloods. The Quarter and Half-bloods are servants to the Full Bloods and well, the Full Bloods are pretty twisted. They also control a group of gods whom they treat as slaves.

It's not unusual in fantasy to have gods featured prominently within a society, but you've not seen gods treated quite this way. They are almost indentured servants, forced to do their handler's will, with very little to no free will of their own.

There is a lot of story to tell in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It's strong, it's solid, it works for me.

So instead of reading my no doubt dull review, pop by Graeme's blog and also The Booksmugglers to read more coherent reviews on this excellent novel and then go out and buy it. Read it, and come back and tell us what you think!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters


Kyoto 1978. Fourteen-year-old Sarah Rexford feels like an outsider when she returns to Japan for the first time in five years, to stay with her mother's family. As Sarah begins to reacquaint herself with her relatives and learn more about the culture she came from, she discovers a secret that stretches across three generations, its presence looming over the family home. She quickly learns that personal boundaries are firmly drawn in traditional Kyoto, and actions are not always what they appear ...

When Liz offered me a chance to review this book I couldn't wait. I love books on Japan; when I first read Memoirs of a Geisha I thought it was an autobiography (shh, don't tell anyone!).To cover up my mortification I read Mineko Iwasaki's book Geisha of Gion and by this point I was addicted to the genre. The Favourites covers a period from 1978 to 1988 which, like Geisha of Gion, depicts a time of massive change. Japan is wrestling with tradition and the influx of Western ways that seem to affect everything from food to behaviour.

Sarah is a child of mixed race; half Japanese and half American. Upon her return with her Japanese mother on a family visit she feels her differences keenly. She's a plucky and sensitive heroine who barely recognises her mother, Yoko, once they arrive to Japan. The author shows us through Sarah's memories how she argues with her mother back in America over fitting in, wearing the right clothes and eating Western food. Once in Japan, Sarah realises that her mother is regarded as successful, a member of the elite and full of confidence. We watch Sarah question herself as she sees the close relationship between Yoko and her mother.

Sarah has more to learn too. Her Grandmother's sister-in-law lives in an adjoining house with her daughter and two grand-daughters. These close relations lead to a complex ritual of behaviour and hide a family secret. As this secret is revealed and played out we watch Sarah change from a child to maturity dealing with the difficult realities of being both a stranger in her homeland and at odds with the structured rules of etiquette. We jump ahead twice in the novel; once by four years and then again by six. It is these changes in time that make the book so beautiful and bitter sweet. As Japan changes and Sarah grows we see the complex family ties from different angles.

Apart from the gorgeous language the structure is stunning too. We go from season to season with changes in flowers, food and table ware which is mirrored in the characters going through the various seasons in their life. We move backwards and forwards through the aid of photo albums that Sarah flips through to reminiscences from the older characters. This must have been well planned but it flows in a way that makes you appreciate it without it feeling contrived.

I can't do justice to this book in my review; it's a perfectly structured rare thing. I can't remember when I read a book that contained such beautiful writing that it gave me a lump in my throat. From the descriptions of the different meals and types of fish, the changing seasons that match perfectly with the ageing characters to the self-realisation of Sarah herself. The whole thing is stunning, just read it and see.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tamsyn Murray - aka Pepper Potts of the YA scene - chats to MFB

We've been chatting to Tamsyn a few months now on Twitter (TamsynTweetie) and of course said yes when we got invited to the launch for her excellent new YA novel "My So Called Afterlife" published by Piccadilly Press. (I would have had photos of this, but my Mac decided to eat the photos as I downloaded them).

After that, we unexpectedly stalked her at two other events (during which time she managed to pull off wearing the most incredible shoes) and found her to be charming and lovely - but of course, we wanted to know more. We fell a bit in love with her and Mark immediately renamed her Pepper Potts (from Iron Man, check out the similarities in look and attitude and you'll know why) and so using this flattery we proceeded to dazzle her with with some free juice and wine at an event and got her to agree to an interview.

1. Please introduce yourself to us (feel free to grandstand here!)

You mean you haven’t heard of me already? Where have you been?? I’m a London based writer who doesn’t like to take anything too seriously. My first novel, a bittersweet paranormal story titled My So-Called Afterlife, has just been published by Piccadilly Press Ltd. I live with my husband and daughter in a house where there are more pets than people and when I’m not working or writing, I like to pretend I’m someone completely different on stage with an amdram group. Oh, and I can lick my own elbow. I count this as my greatest talent.

2. Why did you decide to tackle writing a YA novel with a supernatural twist?

This is where I wheel out some spooky experience, right? I could tell you that I became a writer because a psychic told me to fifteen years ago (this is actually true) but the truth is that I didn’t really have a lot of choice about the kind of novel I wrote – Lucy Shaw turned up in my head one day and demanded I tell her story! Up until then I’d never considered writing for younger readers; I was working on short stories when the idea came to me and I knew Lucy was a ghost from the very first line. She brought with her a host of characters, some supernatural, others still living and make the book a joy to write. It was fun to write about sneaking into London Zoo without paying!

3. What came first for you with MSCA? Character or plot?

My main character arrived first, definitely, shaking her Uggs with disgust and making herself at home in my head. The plot wove itself around her and I didn’t have a clue about some of the things which happened – I certainly didn’t plan them in advance, although I knew roughly where we were going. I did have rough chapter notes though, which came in very handy when I lost my way a little bit halfway through.

4. Lucy is such a genuine personality on the page – she feels very real. How did you manage to keep her voice true?

I was the kind of teenager who always had to have the last word and that desire has never really left me so I identified with Lucy immediately. She’s smart and very funny and her voice was crystal clear from day one, which made it easy to keep her realistic. My daughter was also very helpful in ensuring I didn’t put my deeply unfashionable feet into my mouth – she was my credibility guru.

5. Tell us about music – did you have a playlist for Lucy? Or rather, did you have an overall playlist for writing MSCA?

Now how did you know that? Lucy’s IPod is chock full of awesome tunes – she’s a massive Muse fan (like me) so there are several tracks by them on there, from Unintended to Supermassive Black Hole; All I Need by the French band, Air; Beasts by Slow Moving Millie; Great DJ by The Ting Tings; Blame it on the Boogie – Michael Jackson and pretty much anything by Dizzee Rascal. Lucy has great taste in music.

6. Jeremy has to be one of my favourite characters in MSCA – he comes across as a bit hapless but determined to help Lucy. Were you ever worried that readers may not bond with Jeremy, who is the oldest person in the novel for teens?

It didn’t really occur to me, to be honest. Lucy and Jeremy might be unlikely friends but they do get on really well, in spite of Jeremy’s extreme lack of any kind of cool. It was important for Lucy to have an adult to help her in her afterlife and it needed to be someone who had no link to her old life, because it would have been too painful to have a constant reminder of what she’d lost. I think readers will see Jeremy as an older brother or an uncle – often embarrassing, mostly annoying but sometimes handy.

7. You have chosen to set the story in and around Soho and Oxford Street. How important was setting for you when you wrote MSCA?

I fell in love with London at the age of eighteen, when I came to visit University College London, and it’s been a love affair that’s lasted. Lucy is a Londoner born and bred so it was a no-brainer when I was deciding where to set the story. And there are so many great London places for readers to visualise – who can’t conjure up an image of Leicester Square or the London Eye? It’s one of the coolest cities in the world and fits Lucy perfectly.

8. What can we expect next from you in the Afterlife series?

I’ve just handed the manuscript for the follow up to My So-Called Afterlife over to my publishers. It’s called My So-Called Haunting and has a new main character called Skye. She’s a fourteen year old psychic who finds that settling in at a new school is the least of her worries once she starts helping a teenage ghost who is inextricably tangled up in the gang culture of East London. On top of that, she’s somehow caught the attention of the mysterious Nico, officially the most gorgeous boy in school. As things heat up between her and Nico, her psychic ability threatens to come between them and Skye struggles to keep her secret safe. Can she stay true to the spirits around her and have some kind of life at the same time?

9. What wise words of advice do you have for aspiring new authors?

The single biggest price of advice I’ve ever received is to be patient once you’re submitted your MS. Agents have a lot of manuscripts to read so no matter how desperate you are for them to get to yours, give them time to appreciate it without nagging for a response. Ditto editors. The publishing world is all about the waiting.

And please don’t write about vampires or angels unless you have a really fresh and original idea - like SpaceVamps (In Space, No-one Can Hear You Suck – hey, I might have something there…); they might be super hot now but they’ll be old news in the twelve months or so it takes to get a novel to print. And face it, you’re never going to beat Edward Cullen.


Thanks "Pepper" Tamsyn for visiting with us! Read My So Called Afterlife's first chapter here and I dare you not to want to rush out and buy it to read it! Find Tamsyn's website here. She also has some books coming out later this year for younger reads, but more about that then! But if you're interested, it's also all on her website!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guest Blog - James Lovegrove - Writing For Barrington Stoke: The Complexity Of Simplicity

Many thanks to James who has taken out time from his schedule to talk to us about writing for Barrington Stoke and to tell us more about his Five Lords fo Pain sequence with them.


Barrington Stoke has been publishing books for reluctant readers and young people with reading difficulties since 1997. Based in Edinburgh, the company has scooped up countless awards in its 13 years of existence and has managed to attract work from some of the top children's authors in the country, as well as some of the top writers of adult fiction. And me.

My first book for Barrington Stoke was Wings. They approached me in 2000 asking if I would adapt my short story of the same name into a book for them. I, being a freelancer, and therefore one who never knowingly turns down an offer of work, said yes. Little did I realise this would be the start of an ongoing and deeply satisfying publishing relationship.

They provided me with a style sheet listing difficult grammatical constructions, tricky names and the like. Basically, the aim is to make the prose as straightforward and readable as possible, avoiding convoluted sentence structure and confusing phrasing. Certain words are very hard to read for those with dyslexia or other reading problems, so should be steered clear of if at all possible.

Following these "rules" was tricky at first but I got the hang of it soon enough. It challenged me to step back from my usual logorrhea and fanciness and strip my prose down to its bare essence. And my writing, I found, improved because of it.

After Wings I adapted another short story, "The House Of Lazarus", and then, for my third Barrington Stoke title, I created something out of whole cloth. This was Ant God, a tale of two boys, one normal, one strange, and of a Lovecraftian horror lurking at the periphery of perception. Another three books followed, all written to order -- Cold Keep, Kill Swap and Free Runner -- all of them fast-paced adventures, short-story length but structured as mini-novels, with chapter breaks and cliffhangers. In addition, I contributed to Barrington Stoke's adult line, with a tale of zombie soldiers called Dead Brigade. All of the books have sold well, and I continue to get royalties from them, as well as a decent return from library borrowings, which is the icing on the cake.

Barrington Stoke books are printed on off-white paper, to reduce the glare between text and background that can jar with certain readers and interfere with their reading. They're typeset in a special font whose serifs prevent the accidental "flipping" of letters such as "b" and "d".

The company's unique and inimitable attribute, however, is that the process doesn't end with the initial drafting of the story. That's only the beginning. The manuscript is then sent to a group of "consulting editors", schoolkids of the right reading age, who critique both the style and content of the text, underline bits they can't easily follow, and flag up references they don't understand. It's peer review of the highest quality, and it can be frank bordering sometimes on brutal. One author has described it as "being done over by Barrington Stoke". Teachers are also involved here, offering their own experienced insights and commentary.

The final step sees the manuscript coming back to the author, who then goes through it with a fine tooth comb with one of the company's language editors. In my case, I've worked on every one of my books with Barrington Stoke's very charming and wry founder Patience Thomson. She lives up to her given name, in that she's prepared to sit on the phone with me for anything up to three hours, helping me recast sentences and tease out new ways of saying what I'm trying to say in my prose without compromising style and rhythm or over-simplification. It's exhausting, often aggravating, but, although I'd never admit this to anyone, I love it.

Back in 2008 Barrington Stoke came to me wanting to know if I'd do a five-book series for them. I didn't even hesitate. Would I? Try and stop me! The editor, Kate Paice, said she wanted something either with zombies in it or ninjas. Without thinking, I said, "How about zombie ninjas?" She said, "Great," and I then had to dream up an idea into which I could fit undead martial-arts assassins. I managed to, and the result is The 5 Lords Of Pain.

I can't describe how much fun it was to write this five-book sequence featuring kung fu, mysticism, demons, possible apocalypse, and a smart-mouthed 15-year-old protagonist. It took me barely six weeks to complete and was a blast from beginning to end. I cribbed a bit off Frank Miller's Daredevil comics of the 1980s, and also off just about every martial arts movie I've ever seen, but for all that the series is, I believe, unlike anything else out there on the market. Barrington Stoke are promoting it with a website [http://www.fivelordsofpain.com/], postcards, posters, point-of-sale displays, and lots of other good wholesome stuff not necessarily beginning with the letter P. Plus, the books have awesome covers by Daniel Atanasov.

They're coming out at two-monthly intervals all this year. If you know anyone, particularly a young boy, who isn't into books and finds reading a chore, give them Book 1 in the series, The Lord Of The Mountain. Get them hooked. They'll thank you for it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

City of Ships by Mary Hoffman


Isabel Evans has just made a very surprising discovery: she is a Stravagante, somebody who, with the help of a talisman, can travel in time and space to the country of Talia in a parallel world. When faced with the extreme danger that Talia presents, the normally shy and quiet Isabel is forced to dig deep and find strength she never knew she had, as she is plunged in to a world of pirates, ferocious sea battles and deadly adversaries.

I have to start by admitting that this is the first Stravaganza novel that I’ve read. As this is the fifth in the sequence I’m a little late to the party. I was interested to find out if this would leave me at a disadvantage or whether I’d be able to slot straight in. It’s the character of Isabel who makes that possible; she’s as clueless as me! She knows nothing of the world of the Stravagante and has problems much closer to home to keep her occupied. Her twin Charlie is the first born and the high achiever at school, sports and everything except art. Isabel has even created an imaginary twin that she can be better than to enable herself to cope. She spends the rest of her time trying to slip through life being invisible.

She spots a velvet bag full of mosaic tiles o
n the floor, unknown to her this is ticket to Talia (like our Italy but over four hundred years ago). From this moment Isabel (and the reader) is propelled into another world. She arrives in the city of Classe which is in imminent danger from attack. It’s Isabel’s job to find out how she can help and what her purpose is. The lovely thing about this novel is the way that her emotional journey perfectly matches the action. Initially, it’s as if she’s on holiday but as her time in Talia lengthens her understanding of exactly what’s at stake matures her.

Alongside the world of Talia, Isabel finds herself moving in a new circle at school. She has all the other Stravaganzas to get to know. There’s Georgia, Nick, Sky and Matt who welcome her. Each of these have been stars of their own book in the series. Soon Isabel is growing in confidence, has her eye on Sky whilst trying to keep her old friends happy and keep Charlie’s suspicions at bay. I have to admit that I struggled slightly to understand the how characters have died in one world but then lived in the other but soon caught up. Also, if you’re a newbie to Talia like me it’s a good idea to check the character list at the back of the book to get everyone straight.

If I had one criticism of this book it would be that everyone is classified as pretty, beautiful, stunning, or ugly. Isabel gets prettier as she grows in confidence. I understand that self-belief makes a person more attractive and that the language is appropriate to the age group but I’d prefer to make up my own mind if I find a character beautiful or not.

I enjoyed the sea theme of this book. From the moment Isabel arrives the writing whisks you away; I could hear the seagulls. The attention to detail is amazing and the world building immaculate. This book also has a gritty side though, the detail on boat warfare and the amount of damage that these sort of battles can cause is made clear. For those who have been following the whole series, favourite characters progress and there’s good continuation. It definitely made me want to check out the rest of the earlier books

Monday, March 08, 2010

Norse Code by Greg Van Eekhout


The NorseCODE genome project was designed to identify descendants of Odin. What it found was Kathy Castillo, a murdered MBA student brought back from the dead to serve as a valkyrie in the Norse god’s army. Given a sword and a new name, Mist’s job is to recruit soldiers for the war between the gods at the end of the world—and to kill those who refuse to fight.

But as the twilight of the gods descends, Mist makes other plans.

Journeying across a chaotic American landscape already degenerating into violence and madness, Mist hopes to find her way to Helheim, the land of the dead, to rescue her murdered sister from death’s clutches. To do so, she’ll need the help of Hermod, a Norse god bumming around Los Angeles with troubles of his own. Together they find themselves drafted into a higher cause, trying to do what fate long ago deemed could not be done: save the world of man. For even if myths aren’t made to be broken, it can’t hurt to go down fighting…can it?

It's taken me ages to review Norse Code. I know, it's bad of me, but in my defense, it's because I've read it twice more then lent it out to someone else to read.

I've not read anything quite like it before. It's a pure homage to writers and stories of a bygone era. I loved it. It's a bit Odyssey, it's a bit Beowulf, it’s a story about a broken world, and it’s also a story that’s packed with hope adventure and excitement. In other words, it's all it's own creation. Mist is a strong female character and although she kicks butt, her character is not over the top, mouthy or unpleasant to be around. She’s a tough girl and the thing is, she doesn’t have to act out to show this. She wouldn’t have been chosen as a Valkyrie if she was a milksop.

Greg van Eekhout's writing is solid and effortless. He tells the story of Mist, a Valkyrie, whose job it is to collect brave warriors to fight on the side of the gods in the war between the gods...and those who decide not to fight, she has to kill.

The world that’s been created by Mr. VE is an interesting one. It’s light on science fiction rigmarole, heavy on plot and adventure, and character too. It introduces the Norse gods like you’ve never seen them before - scheming, amusing, devious - a true family trying to come to grips with the destruction of the world(s) and their roles within it.

Mist’s quest to find her sister (who died, but who was supposed to be the real Valkyrie as she was the fighter, the warrior) is a deeply emotional journey. Along the way she starts a rebellion, asists in overthrowing the way things are supposed to be done and thwarts other Valkyries from carrying out their goals. In other words, she does what a true rebel does: she becomes a nuisance.

I’m a fan of dystopian novels - I know, who would have thunk it! - and Norse Code takes place in the near future where things have gone to the dogs. Or should that be Fenris? Van Eekhout plays with mythology, showing his competence as a real modern day skald, embroidering on old stories, giving it a new spin, making it his own, blending it with a dry humour and honesty I sometimes fail to see in urban fantasies, when it seems that the author is trying that bit too hard.

Norse Code is the type of book that lives long in your memory because it's clever and fun and unique. There is a smattering of romance added to the dash of chaos and it's handled with ease. There are bigger things going down than an unexpected romance between a Valkyrie and a fallen god.

Sadly, if you want to read Norse Code, you have to buy it in via one of the online stores or if you visit an indie bookshop, I’m sure they’ll be able to buy it in. I know that Forbidden Planet in London has copies in stock. I make sure to check each time I go in.

I hope that if you do buy Norse Code to read, you come to the blog to tell me what you think about it - or better yet, contact Greg to tell him.

Norse Code’s been published over in the States by Ballantine Books - SPECTRE - and is out now, having been released in May 2009.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Vampirates - Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper


Connor and Grace are twins, recently orphaned after their widowed father's death. Rather than being adopted by the town's busy-bodies, they decide to set sail for new pastures in their father's last single possession, his sailing boat. But a vicious storm sees their boat capsize and the twins separated. Two mysterious ships sail to their rescue - each picking up one twin before disappearing into the mist. Connor wakes to find himself on a pirate ship and is soon being trained up with a cutlass. Meanwhile Grace finds herself locked in a darkened room, as the vampirates await nightfall... Determined to find each other, yet intrigued by their new shipmates, the twins are about to embark on the biggest adventure of their life...

I'll make no bones about it. Vampirates surprised me. I actually told Mr. Somper's publicist this. I fully expected to be dragged into a book full of tongue in cheek pantomime escapades and high jinks. It would have had a big thumbs down from me if it had but I couldn't have been more wrong. Thank Poseidon!

Demons of the Ocean is the perfect primer for the rest of the Vampirates books. We are introduced to the twins - Conner and Grace - and shown their unusual upbringing by their father. a lighthouse keeper. When he passes away the twins are thrown at the mercy of the town they live near to. But instead of conforming to go and live with the wealthiest banker in the town or opt for the local orphanage, the twins decide to take their fate in their own hands. They steal their father's ship (which had become the property of the bank, as the dad had been declared bankrupt) and head out to sea.

An unexpected storm sweeps in, capsizing the twins and breaking their ship apart. Connor watches in amazement as this illusion of a ship nears out of a dank fog cloud, seemingly floating on air. He watches it come round, near him, then disappear. Shortly afterwards he's rescued by a young female pirate, Cheng Li and taken on board The Diablo where Captain Molucco Wrathe holds ultimate sway. Connor is distraught over his sister's disappearance, did she drown or has she been taken by the mysterious ship he saw whilst clinging to a rafter in the storm-tossed sea?

Connor makes friends with the much larger, more confident Bartholomew and (Cutlass) Cate and swiftly takes to pirate life. He's a natural athlete and easily enough picks up dueling skills. But something at the back of Connor's mind holds him back - the thought of murdering people for their rightful belongings seems wrong to him. This is a very interesting internal struggle and it's never over-played. I found myself very intrigued by Molucco Wrathe and the rivalry he has with Cheng Li, his deputy captain. She's the new type of pirate, the one who wants to follow the rules as set out by the Pirate Academy. Molucco is more the wild child, not liking rules and regulations. His crew loves him and he has a reputation of being a pretty bad man. Very little of this is shown to us in Demons of the Oceon, but it is implied in other pirates who come into contact with them. It's a very cleverly written piece of work.

Grace has of course been rescued by the mysterious ship. Her saviour was the deliciously sounding Lorcan (whom I developed a tiny crush on). Grace's part in this book is not a very active one, for a start. Things are happening to her. She's been taken on board by the dreaded Vampirates ship. For most of the part she feels helpless. Left in a lovely cabin, fed gloriously delicious food, with only Lorcan as her "outside world" contact, Grace is going stir-crazy. She hears music, people talking...but is not allowed outside her cabin. The mysterious Vampirate Captain speaks to her in her mind, urging her to stay calm, that all will be well, that nothing bad will happen to her. But Grace isn't the kind of girl who takes easily to being passive. She wants to find Connor, she wants to know if he's safe, she wants to figure out why she's been brought on board, she needs to figure out what's going to happen to her. A whole boatload of questions await.

Vampirates - Demons of the Ocean is a very chunky, very filling read. It felt like it's an origin story. It's laid the foundations very solidly, introducing us to a small cast of characters who felt very real and well thought out. I am starting book 2 this weekend and am feeling impatient about it. This is a good sign.

Find the official website to accompany the books here: http://www.vampirates.co.uk/

Below are my "Three Questions with Justin" to accompany each review for his Vampirates sequence.

1. Why did you decide to write for a younger audience?

I'd written for this younger audience before and find it comes pretty naturally to me. But overall, the audience I write for is dictated by the ideas I get. When I had the idea for VAMPIRATES - which arrived as a bit of a "Eureka!" moment - I realised that there would be a number of possible ways to tell the story and a diverse range of audience to do it for. With this idea, I knew from the start that I'd have more fun if I wrote it primarily for a younger audience (though I do seem to have picked up a few adult fans along the way).

2. What came first? The two characters, Connor and Grace or the overall story?

First came the word... VAMPIRATES. Then the shanty. Then the characters and then the story. The characters of Connor and Grace were quite sketchy at first, Connor especially. I think both have developed a lot as I've continued to write about them and from their perspectives. I certainly feel that I know them a lot better now.

3. How much research did you do into piracy, sword fighting, captaincy and rules of the sea (I’m tempted to say “arrrrr” here, but I won’t) oh, and of course, (vam)pirates?

I did loads of research ahead of writing DEMONS OF THE OCEAN. This was necessary as I knew very little about vampires and next to nothing about pirates when I embarked on this voyage. So I delved for some time into pirate history and vampire myth. On the whole, the pirate history was more useful. For instance, I found out that Julius Caesar was once kidnapped by pirates and was able to use this as Sidorio's "origin story". I did also get some advice regarding swordfighting - in fact, the character of Cutlass Cate began as an homage to the woman who helped me out with this. Some of the vampire research was helpful but at some point it was clear that I'd have to decide which myths to work with and which to leave aside. As I've gone on, there's always an element of research to writing - whether it's developing new characters or settings, finding out about new weaponry or, in the latter books, wine terminology. Thankfully, with wikipedia and the like, it's easy to research stuff quickly without having to leave my base.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Nearly Departed by Rook Hastings

Nearly Departed


I've seen a ghost," said Emily. "Well, not seen one exactly. Heard one. At least, I think I have…"

Everything has a rational explanation. Unless it doesn’t. Welcome to Weirdsville…

Woodsville is not like other towns. Night falls a little earlier there, the shadows are darker and denser, and everyone knows it's a place where strange things happen. Even if they won't admit it. Bethan would prefer to be anywhere but here. Jay has his theories, but isn't ready to share. Hashim sees more than he'll say, while Kelly's demons are all too flesh and blood. But Emily's freak-out brings them out of denial and face to face with the supernatural. Anywhere else, Friday night would be date night. But not in Weirdsville…

Ready to be freaked out? Thought so. This little number from Harper Collins Children's Department winged its way to me recently. Now, scary books have to be read at night. So that's what I did with this one. Not quite expecting to freak out quite as much as I did. (Case in point, Mark unexpectedly knocking on the door during the big-ass revelation towards the end of the book, as I was lying on the couch, close to midnight. I think I may have levitated a few centimetres off the couch!)

Our four main characters are swiftly introduced: Bethan, the intelligent girl with the black nailpolish and the wish to live anywhere but here; Kelly, scariest girl in town, quite pretty but with a mouth and attitude on her that scares everyone, except the guy who wants her dead; Jay, geeky kid who knows random things about random things and finally, Hashim, athlete and soccer star who's probably more clever than he lets on and also, a good guy.

It is when Emily, the most quiet, the most mousy and the most unnoticed girl in school pipes up with a confession during English class (they were discussing Hamlet, what with the ghosts and witches and such) and confesses that she's heard a ghost, in her home, that kickstarts Nearly Departed. Alarm bells went off in my head. For a shy character to do something so out of the ordinary, and out of character, knowing the ridicule and vitriol she was exposing herself to, jolted me out of my comfort zone and I realised as a reader, something “other” was going on here. No one will voluntarily say or do something like this to stand out from a crowd, not someone as painfully shy as this girl has been shown to be.

With some clever canoodling by the teacher, Kelly, Jay, Hashin, Bethan and Emily are grouped together to rewrite scenes from Hamlet - updating to be read in modern language. Of course Jay’s over the moon, here’s a chance to figure out if Emily has really heard a ghost. Using amazing persuasive powers, he manages to convince Emily, Kelly and Bethan to meet up after school to talk this through. Hashim legs it, not keen to take part in it.

I’d like to point out here that Ms. Hasting’s has managed to get the dialogue and attitude of these teens just right! I loved the sarcastic comments, snide remarks and temper tantrums - they felt fantastically real and fun to read. It lent a credibility to the characters which I enjoyed exploring.

Out of the whole group, my favourite character has to be Hashim. He just comes across as too cool - but down to earth at the same time, a tough contradiction to bring across. Kelly undergoes the biggest transformation as the story progresses and Jay has to come to terms with some hard family truths (which surprised me and pleased me) whilst Bethan realises that there is more to her than she expected and that Weirdsville needs heroes.

Nearly Departed is a clever book. I should have seen the twist in the tale a mile off but I was so involved, nose to the page, that it took me utterly by surprise. It’s definitely aimed at the older range of young adult readers - purely for the fright factor, I’d say. Also, is a lovely looking book and hopefully ones that boys won’t be too worried about picking up because, at it’s core, Nearly Departed is very much an adventure - an overcoming the monster novel and discovering your destiny type of novel.

To be fair, there is very little on the negative side I would even consider saying about Nearly Departed. Sometimes, you read a book and it just gels so well together, you look back at it and you think: wow, I wish I didn’t read that so that I can read it all over again, afresh, anew, because it’s such fun. This is the case here. My only gripe: I thought it started a bit slow but to be honest, after the initial slowness it picked up pace and shook me around like a ragdol.

A word of warning though: it’s scary. I’m not someone who scares easy but this one...it freaked me a little!

Nearly Departed is out now. Go buy a copy and love Rook Hastings before everyone else!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Witchfinder : Dawn of the Demontide - William Hussey

Jake Harker is an outsider, a loser whose nose is always in a horror comic. That is until horror stops being fiction and the Pale Man and his demon Mr Pinch stop Jake on a dark, deserted road. That night, under a tree called the Demon's Dance, Jake will learn the true meaning of terror . . .

Jake Harker’s always felt like an outsider, a socially awkward boy labelled as creepy because of his love of horror books and comics. His life isn’t perfect, but he gets on with it, blissfully unaware that his world is about to brutally and irrevocably collide with a centuries old battle between good and evil, courtesy of the sublimely terrifying Messrs. Quilp and Pinch. The time of the Demontide is fast approaching, a time when all the demons of hell gather together to try smash through the ancient seal that is all that stands between the world we know and hell to earth.

The battlelines become blurred as Jake beings to comprehend the scale of the conflict and the terrible reality of belief in the greater good. There’s little respite as the time runs out, and he has to swiftly come to terms with several nasty truths and use every ounce of his wits to not only try thwart the ruthless coven seeking to facilitate their dark master’s ascension (including himself) but to simply stay alive.

It’s a dangerous path, and with the memory of the books shocking opening in mind, it’s one whose destination is never a cut and dried certainty.

Witchfinder sports some wonderfully dark imagery and a cast of ruthless, utterly creepy antagonists set against a likeable, balanced main character and his mismatched friends. Even better is that the bad guys are allowed to be Bad- self serving, sworn to the forces of darkness and addicted to their demon-granted powers, it’s refreshing to see them acting accordingly and justifying the epithet of ‘evil’.

Witchfinder could have benefited from a bit of a nip and tuck in places, and no doubt the final version will have been trimmed accordingly. However, it doesn't detract from it delivering some haunting chills, wrapped up in a smart, punchy story that keeps you turning pages long after you should’ve turned the lights off.

You can find more info and cool stuff on the Witchfinder website.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Simon & Schuster Children's Event

Mark and I headed off to S&S's offices to attend their Young Fiction evening: Make 'em Laugh.

It was chaired by the ever charming (and funny) Graham Marks. He chatted with Jo Nesbo (yes, I know, who would have thunk that Mr. Nesbo excelled at kids writing too, not just crime writing!) Waterstones prize winner Katie Davies (exceedingly pretty and very clever) and new friend to MFB, Tamsyn Murray (she who wrote My So-Called Afterlife but who has a series of books out for younger readers from S&S later this year called Stunt Bunny).

We got front row seats, cos we are greedy like that. I asked two SCBWI friends along - Sue Eves and Mo Oakley and made them sit in the front row too. They were shocked by this but soon enjoyed themselves as they had an unobstructed view of the proceedings.

Each author read a piece from their books and Jo Nesbo stole the show doing a reading from his Dr. Proctor's Fart Powder - the prose, combined with his fantastic Norwegian accent, won us all over and we were literally rocking with laughter.

Both Katie and Tamsyn read extracts from their novels and I know I'm a bit biased but I'm really looking forward to Tamsyn's Stunt Bunny books - they sound very clever, i.e. the use of language and the play on words came across as quite good, for confident readers. I also quite liked the fact that the story's been written from the bunny's point of view - but before anyone rolls their eyes: it works, trust me! And I'm not someone who is fond of talking animals.

The dialogue ranged widely from how humour is perceived in novels to points of view in the books; how the adults in the books are supporting characters only, leaving the younger folk the chance to experience it all for themselves. I started writing down various answers but then got caught up in the conversation and uh, I didn't write down the rest! But, trust me: it was very interesting listening to these peeps chat about their work etc.

Some photos from the event:

Panel and moderator being introduced.

Authors chatting before getting down to business.

Tamsyn Murray showing off her Pepper Potts good looks.

Below: Jo Nesbo reading from his children's novel to great amusement from the audience.

Graham Marks did a wonderful job of putting everyone at ease during the talk. As moderator he asked questions of the panel and it was intelligent thorough questions about their books, their writing, and of course, the importance of comedy in novels.

The authors handled themselves truly well. I think everyone was a bit in awe of Mr. Nesbo who is terrifically charismatic and of course, amusing. But I think both Tamsyn and Katie definitely gave as good as they got and although nerves were apparent, especially with Katie Davies, you could tell all three authors were very passionate about their writing and had strong feelings about comedy being written into novels, but not used as gags.

Questions from the audience at the end of the evening was short and soon everyone mingled over drinks and various nibbles. It was a fun and relaxed evening, more like hanging out with some friends, to be honest. This is the way to do it.

Thanks S&S peeps for inviting us bloggery types along. It was a lovely evening and it was good being able to meet these authors and hear from them about what makes them and their books tick.

Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt

Synopsis (nabbed from author Lindsey Leavitt's website)

When a flawlessly dressed woman steps out of an iridescent bubble and wants to know, like, now if you’d like to become a substitute princess, do you

a) run b) faint c) say Yes!

For Desi Bascomb, who’s been longing for a bit of glamour in her Idaho life, the choice is a definite C–that is, once she can stop pinching herself. As her new agent Meredith explains, Desi has a rare magical ability: when she applies the ancient Egyptian formula “Royal Rouge,” she can transform temporarily into the exact lookalike of any princess who needs her subbing services. Dream come true, right?

Well, Desi soon discovers that subbing involves a lot more than wearing a tiara and waving at cameras. Like, what do you do when a bullying older sister puts you on a heinous crash diet? Or when the tribal villagers gather to watch you perform a ceremonial dance you don’t know? Or when a princess’s conflicted sweetheart shows up to break things off–and you know she would want you to change his mind?

In this hilarious, winning debut, one girl’s dream of glamour transforms into something bigger: the desire to make a positive impact. And an impact Desi makes, one royal fiasco at a time.

I was initially a bit worried about the exceedingly pink cover of Princess for Hire. I'm glad I persevered and overlooked the pinkness because Desi's story is - although a bit fairytale-like - anything but pink and overly girly.

Desi's character is smart, amusing and gutsy. She hands out flyers for the local pet store, dressed as furry groundhog and debates the merciless fate that's befallen her. She watches her erstwhile friend cosy up to her (Desi's) personal hearthrob. Then she gets humiliated by said erst-while friend and whilst her dad tried to help, he just doesn't seem to get Desi's true troubles.

Desi yearns to be different, glamourous, beautiful, not mundane. Not who she is now. The fact that her parents seem preoccupied with her very pretty baby sister, doesn't help either. So she makes a wish and that wish sends her Meredith - Princess Agent Extraordinaire - in a soap bubble. Meredith wastes no time in telling Desi that she has some MP (magic potential) and that she'd be perfect for the job as a princess sub. Her real life would be paused, whilst she subbed for these princesses (magic, darling!) then resume once her duties are over.

Desi weighs this up - her normal dull and boring life or a super glamourous job substituting for princesses who'd rather be off shopping than facing certain public engagements...with the lure of money to help pay for college tuition, Desi takes the logical step and signs up.

The jobs (three of them) don't go as planned. Desi learns quite quickly that subbing for a princess is not exactly great fun. Like with most very young girls, she didn't realise that the perfect life she assumes the princesses lead, is anything but. Valuable life-lessons are learned here. She stands up for her "charge" and causes a ruckus when she shows up her older "sister" in one instance (I personally cheered when this happened!) during a public engagement. It was perfect. I fistpumped the air. More girls should be gutsy like Desi and stand up for themselves. I heartily approve.

It's as if reticent Desi in her real life feels that she can fix her princess's lives by standing up for them in times of need. It's as if wearing someone else's face gives her the courage she lacks in real life. But then these things tend to seep through into her own life and unexpectedly she starts making headway in her own.

The agency is not happy with her, they assume she's messed up her three princess's lives by acting differently to how they would normally act and they haul her off to court. Desi stands up to her accusors, facing their accusations, strong in the knowledge that she did the right thing and that she helped her charges in each instance.

I enjoyed Princess for Hire. I liked the characters but felt that Desi's parents could perhaps have had a bigger role in the story progression. However, I suspect that we may see more of them in the upcoming novels. PFH is a good origins story - well thought out, the writing is good and Desi's character is such fun to read.

Princess for Hire is published by Egmont UK and is available in all good book store, having been released earlier in February. Find Lindsey Leavitt's website here and her LJ blog here.