Friday, July 30, 2010

Badlands: Range Wars by Eldridge James

I giggled with glee (for real and no pun intended) when I tore open an envelope that arrived recently. Lo and behold, a cowboy story...with kids as the main characters. Why didn't I think of that? Quickly read the back and it went thus:

"Get your hands up in the air! Keep your guns on 'em, men! If they move, shoot 'em!"

"What's going on?" demanded Jess angrily. "We ain't done nothin'!"

The Drygulch gang have been thrown out of their shack with nowhere to go. When they hear of settlers looking for cowhands they think their luck has changed - but it soon becomes clear that someone doesn't want to share the open range. And they're willing to kill for it.

Can the boys stop the bloodshed or will they be next?

You may have seen me waffle on elsewhere on MFB about how I grew up reading Westerns - the only books my dad ever bought, apart from the occasional Wilbur Smith. I still have a deep abiding love for Westerns in print and in movie format. There is just something about a mysterious hero, riding in on a horse, with guns strapped to his hips and that big question of: is he a good guy or a bad guy, hovering in the back of your mind.

Personally I don't recall ever reading or seeing any kids' Westerns, until Badlands: Range Wars, that is. And reading it, made me realise that here, what the author did, was create the origin stories of any of those heroes I've come to know in adult fiction.

I was, needless to say, instantly smitten. B:RW is the second book in the series and I had no problem strolling in and reading it. The opening pages deal with the local mayor of Drygulch evicting the four boys, Jess, Shane, Billy Joe Ford and Andy (and Patch, the dog) from their ramshackle hut they've been living in on the outskirts of Drygulch. The boys are all hard workers, doing odd jobs around town, making sure they never beg, that they never get into trouble. They are proud and careful never to be in anyone's way or to cause any trouble. So for the mayor to evict them, and treat them like common criminals is too much. The sheriff intervenes, trying to help the boys but the mayor has the law on his side but with the sheriff''s insistence, the boys get a bit more grace. At least they can pack up their things properly before being evicted.

Between the four of them, they come up with a plan. Some families have moved into the area to farm and they are needing help as no cowboys have bothered taking up roles at their farms. The boys may not be fully grown, but they are hard workers and they decide to give things a go. They borrow a small trap and some horses from one of their friends in town and head off to the farm of the Amberson family.

As they near the farm, they see two men beating up a third. After a confrontation with the two hoodlums, it turns out that they've been sent to the Amberson's farm to beat up Mr. Amberson and to warn him to stop fencing in his farm and also to stop stealing cattle from his nearest neighbour Colonel McVie. Naturally the boys stand their ground, Billy Joe reveals he has a gun which he keeps trained on the two scruffs. Jesse's not pleased with this but has to admit having guns helped them in this situation. They send the two cowboys packing, after taking their guns from them. They make Mr. Amberson comfortable in the back of the buckboard and head towards the main house.

The Ambersons decide to take in the boys to help around the farm in exchange for food and lodging. It suits the boys fine as they are tough and hard working and in need of somewhere to stay.

Within the first two chapters the entire story and action is set in motion. This is really rare, pared down, interesting storytelling for younger readers. I was taken by the four boys, their honesty and courage in the face of adult wrath and nastiness. Jesse, Andy, Shane and Billy Joe stand by each other and work together to help the Ambersons. What I liked is that Jesse, the defacto leader as he is the oldest, is against violence, preferring to try and sort things out logically and verbally without resorting to violence first. And only looking at the more violent options to resolve conflict at the last moment.

It's strong clever storytelling and I really felt myself liking these four characters. The author gives us a snapshot what it was like growing up during this period in the American west. It wasn't pleasant or easy and the land only got tamed by strong individuals who had courage and foresight.

It was a quick read - I read it in say maybe two hours. It would suit young readers who are keen to tackle something on their own. There may be some question about the colloquial language use, but once you "get" it, it's no problem to zoom through. The chapters are short and snappy and work well. A lot is packed into this slender volume and I can't wait for the third in the series. Or in fact, to read the first.

Also, I'd like to mention the cover as it really drew me in. I liked the side-look of the kid above the title. And the two cowboys racing across the bottom of the page tells you more than anything else what this is about.

Badlands: Range Wars is out now. Find his publisher's Catnip Books website here.

Raine Benares - Bewitched & Betrayed by Lisa Shearin

I just finished re-reading an excellent book and thought I would share the series with you.

Blurb from

New from the national bestselling author of "The Trouble with Demons" Raine Benares is a seeker. She finds lost things and missing people- usually alive. But now she's been bonde with the Saghred, a soul- stealing stone of unlimited power, and must hunt down its escapees. Especially since one of them is also hunting her...
(I know, not very detailed)

This is book 4 in one of my all-time-favourite fantasy series. Raine is an elf and lives in a world where magic is the norm. But don't think 'Lord of the Rings', these elves know how to have fun. Another species Lisa has reinvented are the goblins. Usually, when you hear goblin, you think short, ugly, big nose (or maybe that's just me). Oh no, one of the main characters is a goblin and he is sexy as hell, with long dark hair, a body to die for and venomous fangs that can have all sorts of interesting side-effects...

Just to give you a little bit of context, Raine is a Seeker, meaning she finds and returns things, people, lost puppies; whatever she gets paid for. Unfortunately, in book 1 she linked with the Saghred, a stone that sucks the magic and the soul right out of people. Because the Saghred also gives immense power to its bond-partner, Raine now has everybody and their dog after her in an attempt to use her (or kill her) and dominate the world with the Saghred.

Assisting Raine are Mychael (team Mychael, team Mychael), an elf and Paladin of the mage-city Mid, and Tam, goblin and former dark mage to the goblin queen. The chemistry and the dialogue between these three alone make the books worth buying for, but Lisa Shearin has created a fantastic world with characters that jump right off the page. Everyone, be it hero or villain, is well developed and so believable. In each book the reader gets a chance to learn a little bit more about the characters' history and motivation.

Raine's adventures are swashbuckling (the family business is piracy), action-packed adventures, with twists and turns that keep you guessing until the last page. I won'y give anything away, but more than once I gaped at B&B and nearly screamed at the characters;).

Book 1 is Magic Lost, Trouble Found, book 2 is Armed & Magical and book 3 is The Trouble with Demons. Lisa's website is here. If you are looking for something new and different, a story that will suck you in from page 1 and not let go until you've finished the ride, Raine Benares is for you.

The only negative is that Lisa writes one book a year. The wait can be very lloooonnggg...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Firespell: The Dark Elite by Chloe Neill


As the new girl at the elite St. Sophia's boarding school, Lily Parker thinks her classmates are the most monstrous things she'll have to face.
When Lily's guardians decided to send her away to a fancy boarding school in Chicago, she was shocked. So was St. Sophia's. Lily's ultra-rich brat pack classmates think Lily should be the punchline to every joke, and on top of that, she's hearing strange noises and seeing bizarre things in the shadows of the creepy building.
The only thing keeping her sane is her roommate, Scout, but even Scout's a little weird - she keeps disappearing late at night and won't tell Lily where she's been. But when a prank leaves Lily trapped in the catacombs beneath the school, Lily finds Scout running from a real monster.
Scout's a member of a splinter group of rebel teens with unique magical talents, who've sworn to protect the city against demons, vampires, and Reapers, magic users who've been corrupted by their power. And when Lily finds herself in the line of a firespell, Scout tells her the truth about her secret life, even though Lily has no powers of her own - at least, none that she's discovered yet . . .

Forget the House of Night, it's time to join the Dark Elite . . .

When I read the blurb for Firespell I was reminded of the House of Night but also of Hex Hall so I was interested to see how this book differed. Initially, it didn't seem to differ that much. Lily is sent to a boarding school, much against her wishes. Once there she carves a place for herself with Scout her snarky new best friend who shows her around. Almost immediately Scout starts disappearing and soon Lily follows her only to discover that Scout is not just a privileged girl at a posh school. She has a secret and Lily is drawn into her world out of concern for her new friend.

I'm not sure if it's my respect for the underdog but I love that Lily has no powers. It allows the reader to empathise with her amazement and confusion at the new world she finds herself thrown into. Lily's determination to find out what Scout is up to gets her involved in a strange world of magicians. I love the new breed of magicians that Neill has created; each one has a specialist power like the control of fire. Powers first show themselves at puberty but once the magician reaches adulthood they need souls to keep their powers from draining them. Scout's group fights against these magicians and try to stop innocent people being harmed.

I love this idea and it gave the book a real core of good against evil. The array of secondary characters are great too like the sexy-with-a-secret Jason or the hideous Mary Katherine. I especially like head teacher Mrs Foley who was suitably scary. The dialogue was quite snappy and sarcastic but not annoyingly so - I quite enjoyed it. The only bad thing I can say is that there wasn't enough book for me. I don't mean that it's too slim; it's a solid 246 pages. I wanted more of the characters, more information on the evil magicians, more on Jason and Lily. The book has a satisfying conclusion but I wish I'd read it when the second book was available so that I could go straight onto it to get a bit more depth on how Lily copes with all the changes that she's experienced. I enjoyed Firespell, I just want more of everything in the sequel.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Loving the Library

Photo is of the British Library, mine is a little smaller.

In real life I work in a small(ish) library and love it. Off and on I've worked in libraries since I was around twenty and find them intriguing places. In my past is the university library and a couple of college ones before finally working in an open-to-the-public, real-life library full of crime stories instead of medical text books. So, what have I learnt about these special (and under threat if the whispers are true) places and the people that frequent them?

Crime is king; if someone isn't being stabbed, strangled or generally mishandled then most borrowing adults aren't interested. I love helping a seventy-year-old eager to reserve the next Dexter book before telling me about her grandchildren. Historical crime is even more popular; monks solving crimes are very relaxing I'm told. Agatha Christie still gets borrowed regularly, a friend of mine told me that my town reminds him of somewhere in an Agatha Christie novel so possibly I shouldn't be surprised by her ongoing popularity with all age groups.

I'm a bit obsessed by YA novels, especially urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Dark romance is insanely popular at work - no surprise there. I recently made a Teen Noir display (inspired by Foyles) and watched the books melt away. Breaking Dawn's waiting list was 168 deep at one point last year and Meyer's books are rarely on the shelf for long. Say what you like about her but she's brought people to books in the same way that J. K. Rowling did/does. I love the challenge of finding something for a fifteen-year-old who's finished the Twilight series and has nothing to read. Thankfully, there's plenty to move on to and I get the satisfaction of seeing someone enjoy a book when they hated reading before.

Part of my job is reading stories to 0 - 3 year-olds. It can be a tough crowd but I find that the right amount of picture book (preferably something like Tabby McTatt or my current favourite Where's Tumpty?) and colouring can prevent murderous boredom. I watch these children grow up and start choosing books for themselves. One minute they're doing the Summer Reading Challenge and then something strange happens. The boys disappear at around age 13/14 never to be seen again until they have children of their own and then they're rarely taking books out for themselves. Girls continue to read and indeed there are tons of books for every conceivable type of girl from 1 to YA. There's plenty for boys too but I'm constantly being asked for recommendations by mums who can't get their sons to read anything at all. I'm spoilt for choice: there's the hugely popular Adam Blade books for the 8 - 12 age group and then the fantastic Artemis Fowl series or Rick Riordan, Robert Muchamore, Garth Nix and Darren Shan. There are many, more clever people than me who will understand exactly what happens to boys during this time and what takes them away. Suffice to say that I try not to punch the air when a fifteen-year-old asks to reserve a Warhammer book.

One of the jobs of the library service is to hook readers from the first few months of their life and then keep a hold of them. We do this with cunning and free stickers, muah-ha-ha! If we can hang on to them through the tricky mid-teen years then we tend to keep them for life; a habit of reading has begun. Today I meet people of my own age who never read, don't like it and don't believe that people actually visit libraries. I smile through gritted teeth when they ask me what I do all day in an, "empty," building they've never visited but also feel a little sad - for some reason they missed out.

Not wanting to sign off on a downer but the chances are that many of these places will be staffed by far fewer people in the coming months due to cuts. I hope I get to carry on, but if I don't I just hope that kids continue to have the chance to be lured in by stickers and then stay a lifetime.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Thief-Taker's Apprentice - Stephen Deas

Berren has lived in the city all his life. He has made his way as a thief, paying a little of what he earns to the Fagin like master of their band. But there is a twist to this tale of a thief.
One day Berren goes to watch an execution of three thieves. He watches as the thief-taker takes his reward and decides to try and steal the prize. He fails. The young thief is taken. But the thief-taker spots something in Berren. And the boy reminds him of someone as well. Berren becomes his apprentice.. and is introduced to a world of shadows, deceit and corruption behind the streets he thought he knew.

We meet the young Berren as he worms his way through the crowd of spectators who have gathered to watch an execution, helping himself to a few purses en route. It’s there that he spies the man who brought the prisoners to justice, and sees the fat purse given to him, a purse containing a veritable fortune.

Berren finds his attention flitting between the spectacle of the executions and the bulging purse, and somehow he finds himself following the thief-taker.. It’s the start to sometimes rocky relationship, one that ranges across the tangled streets, knifeblade alleys and teeming squares of Deephaven as Master Sy begins to reveal hitherto unknown facets of the city Berren's known all his life.

Berren’s a genuinely interesting character; he’s a thieving, skittish boy, his cynicism the product of a life on the streets. It’s what he’s grown up with, and siding with the thieftaker doesn’t mean he’s going to change his ways overnight. It’s no easy transition either; conspiracies aside, some of the members of the gang Berren has to walk away from aren’t all too happy with his new found apprenticeship, and find very pointy ways of making their displeasure known. It's a thread that insinuates itself into various aspects of the story and Berren's development, and is deftly handled.

His character develops organically as the story unfolds, shaped by the events he finds himself caught up in and the grim realities that are an integral part of his new role. It’s subtly done, and the moment when he passes beyond the threshold of his childhood is both poignant and bittersweet.

What I liked about the storyline, aside from the bumpy relationship between Sy and Berren, is that it didn’t stray too far into the realms of the fantastic. Yes, a magical heritage is alluded to, but the meat and gravy of the story is the investigation into a smuggling ring, carried out in a gritty, stab-you-in-the-kidneys environment that makes the scattered allusions of something fantastical glitter that much brighter; I get the feeling Stephen is laying of the groundworks for more of a spectacle in the next instalment, but this subtlety is well suited to the story at this point.

Taken with Stephen’s sharp dialogue and the rich setting, this is a cracking fantasy that deserves to be widely read and enjoyed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan


Mae Crawford always thought she was in control. Now she's learned that her little brother Jamie is a magician and Nick, the boy she'd set her heart on, has an even darker secret. Mae's whole world has spun out of control, and it's only going to get worse. When she realises that Jamie has been meeting secretly with the new leader of the Obsidian Circle and that Gerald wants him to join the magicians, she's not sure how to stop Jamie doing just that. Calling in Nick and Alan as reinforcements only leads to a more desperate conflict because Gerald has a plan to bring Nick down - by using Alan to spring a deadly trap. With those around her torn between divided loyalties and Mae herself torn between her feelings for two very different boys, she sees a chance to save them all - but it means approaching the mysterious and dangerous Goblin Market alone...

I enjoyed The Demon's Lexicon and was blown away by the twist at the end. I was curious to see how the Demon's Covenant moved the characters on given that the big surprise had been revealed. Mae and her brother Jamie are now back at home in Exeter, back in school and supposedly back to a boring, regular life. However, it doesn't take long for Jamie to be drawn back into danger and temptation by wizard Gerald. It appears that Jamie's powers are great and if Gerald doesn't draw him into the Obsidian Circle then another (the Aventurine Circle) has got their eye on him. When Mae calls on Nick and Alan they come immediately but something between them appears strained.

With the arrival of Nick and Alan events become unpredictable and dangerous. Mae had started seeing a boy at school, Seb, but finds herself drawn to Nick who in turn directs her towards Alan who still has feelings for her. I enjoyed reading Mae's point of view. She is supposed to be the least talented, most normal of the group but doesn't feel left out. Her very human concerns mixed with her alarming experiences in Demon's Lexicon have shaped her into an intriguing character. Whilst Nick's motivation could at times be difficult to follow in the previous book (although totally understandable retrospectively) Mae is engaging, loveable and resourceful. I especially enjoyed her times with Nick attempting to explain to him how to be more human. She has a love for slogan t-shirts and above all - dancing.

I know I'm not alone in being intrigued by the Goblin Market. I'm pleased to say it forms the basis of a complicated plot and Mae is soon dancing there with Sin, calling up demons. When Mae discovers that Alan is keeping secrets, awful secrets, she goes to the market to arrange her own plan. The Goblin Market is as beautiful and terrifying as ever. Although Mae isn't magical she feels a strong connection to the market that goes deeper than just her love of dancing. As we're following Mae we get a better understanding of Jamie and his and Mae's shared background. I loved the banter between these two, it almost reminded me of Black Adder in some parts. Jamie's attempts at friendship with Nick is both amusing and touching. We also get some insight into Alex and Nick's childhood through the diary of Daniel Ryves. This brings me to Nick who is as gorgeous, bad and compelling as ever. I'm not sure how Sarah Rees Brennan manages to make him both vulnerable and untouchable at the same time but I spent most of the book worried for his safety.

The Demon's Covenant is a wild read; the plot races and twists, the characters have deepened and there's a strong underlying strain of humour throughout. As a result I can honestly say that I would be happy for any of the characters to be the main point of view for book three. There are plenty of unanswered questions to be resolved, I'm looking forward to the final instalment.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Troy High by Shana Norris


Homer's Iliad, the classic tale of love and revenge, is shrewdly retold for teens in Troy High.

Narrated by Cassie, a shy outsider who fears that an epic high school rivalry is about to go up in flames, the story follows the Trojans and Spartans as they declare war on the football field. After the beautiful Elena--who used to be the captain of the Spartan cheerleaders--transfers to Troy High and falls madly in love with Cassie’s brother Perry, the Spartans vow that the annual homecoming game will never be forgotten. The Trojans and Spartans pull wicked pranks on each other as homecoming approaches. And the Spartans' wildcard football star, Ackley, promises to take down the Trojans' offensive line. But the stakes are raised when Cassie is forced to choose between the boy she loves (a Spartan) and loyalty to her family and school. Troy High will seduce readers with its incendiary cast of mythic proportions.

When Abrams Publishers contacted me to ask me if I would be interested in reviewing Troy High I jumped at the chance. I love reworkings of classics and fairy tales and the Iliad is one of my all-time favourite stories, hand in hand with the Odyssey.

The novel opens with Cassie thumping her best mate (and Spartan) Greg during a video game. Its an easy going camaraderie and we are easily brought up to speed with the animosity between Troy and the Lacede, both the longtime-ago history as well as the current history. We are also introduced to Elena and Lucas who is Greg's brother.

When the district lines are redrawn, and Elena moves from Lacede to Troy, everyone knows there is going to be friction. No one expected Elena to fall for Perry, Cassie's older brother or for their oldest brother, Hunter to uphold his claim to Elena. Elena and Perry's romance is swift and excludes everyone else. They are unable to see the ramifications of their being together.

Cassie, never one to hang out with the cool kids anyway, is bemused when Elena decides to become her fake best friend and insists she hang around with her and some of the more popular kids and cheerleaders. Cassie isn't sure she's cut out for it - she's a band geek and she likes it. She doesn't have many friends, counting Greg as her BFF since they met at band camp several years before. Their friendship has grown regardless of them being in enemy schools. Greg's brother, Lucas is in a bad place after Elena breaks up with him to be with Perry.

As homecoming nears, the two schools play wilder and wilder pranks on each other, each time escalating the stakes slightly. Cassie finds it hard to deal with her feelings for Greg (who she "stupidly" kisses near the start of the book) and her loyalty to her family and school. More than anything, she doesn't want to be part of it. But she loves her brothers and she realises that even though she shouldn't have to, people expect her to choose sides. Now, Cassandra in the Iliad sadly had prophetic dreams but no one believed her. And in Troy High, Cassie has one awful prophetic dream but when she speaks about it, no one believes her. She has to live with the dream, the vision, on her own and it makes her deeply miserable.

Through a variety of misunderstandings and negativity in general, her relationship with Greg deteriorates and she becomes an isolated figure in a crowd of people going about their business of disliking each other. To tell more would be to spoil the story and I'm never ever keen to do that.

Troy High is a vivid retelling of the original Troy story. There are similarities in names and characters on occasion but the author is very careful modernising the story, making sure it still retains its classical heart.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. As with the original Iliad I became hugely annoyed with Elena and Perry for their thoughtless behaviour, causing all the ruckus. And I loved that Hunter, (Hector), is the one who made Perry stand up in various instances, insisting that he man-up to what he'd done and face the repercussions.

It's clever, it's different and to be honest, I'm looking forward to re-reading it and telling more people about it. Find Shanna Norris's website here and Abrams Publishers website here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Random House Kids Blogger Event

Along with a whole bunch of other bloggers, that girl Kaz Mahoney and I went to visit Random House Kids' office in Ealing Broadway earlier today.

We were ushered through to the "secret basement meeting room" where a handful of other bloggers were already neatly ensconced. It was fab to put a face to Nayu as she and I are forever chatting on Twitter and via the blog - it was great to meet her in Real Life too. I also got to meet Caroline from Portrait of a Woman website, a new to me blogger but one I think I will be watching closely as her reviews are pretty darn cool. The lovely Bookette (Becky) was there too and a whole swathe of others - I will be updating this blog with links to everyone's blogs, as soon as I can, I promise.

Once everyone was there, Clare, the publicity director welcomed us all. I think she sensed how wildly excited we were being there and handled all our shining faces as we stared at her with open hunger very well. First up Lauren (senior press officer) chatted to us about the covers for Malorie Blackman's upcoming novel Boy's Don't Cry. Just look at these pictures! They eventually decided on the cover on the bottom to the right.

Claire chatted about the new upcoming Terry Pratchett novel and she had a very appreciative audience. It was like we were at a panto, actually - a lot of OOOOH and AAAAH went around the table.

We had Corinne talk with passion about The Necromancer by Michael Scott which really has me deeply interested. She won me over when she explained how he used a lot of mythology and legends. I need to get hold of the other books in this Nicholas Flamel series because I think it's right up my street.

Well, I think it's easier if I put this picture up and you will be able to see what we got talking about, then I'll upload more photos and give commentary about the books and such, it will make more sense.

From the names / titles of books listed on the flipchart I am particularly excited about Ring of Solomon, Dark Touch, and Long Lankin.

Corinne showing off The Necromancer by Michael Scott.

Claire enthusing about a new Terry Pratchett. Notice the Justin Bibier book and the Gleek book. I have Gleek to review. So be very afraid.

Oooh, top secret things were revealed to us. Shhh. You may not ask what was revealed. We were all given ninja lessons to guard these top secrets very well until we can share.

Of course there was some utterly delicious cake to be consumed. Books and cake and strawberries and snacks. RHCB can be glad they managed to get rid of us!

RHCB publicity team from left to right: Rosie, Claire, Kelly, Corinne, Lauren.

Loot 1 - All the Jonathan Stroud books I could lay my greedy little mitts on. Om nom nom!

Loot 2 - some books for younger readers which I am keen to review, also a teaser glimpse of the NEW John Boyne. Oh, and Michael Scott's The Necromancer.

Loot 3 - the teen / older fiction pile. Torment and Hear the Dead Cry just looks utterly amazing! Also, the new Margo Lanagan...yum!

And to round off, the teaser shot of the cake and snacks the team laid on for us bloggers. How lovely and delicious?

We were taken upstairs to their offices (some which were beautifully tidy) and we were let loose on their shelves. Muah ha ha. Little did they expect the scary locust-like process we were planning for weeks on end. Actually, it was more like an orchestrated Oceans 11 swoop and grab operation, to be honest. All of us had to beg for extra carrier bags to carry all our loot home. We left, feeling utterly spoiled and very brat-like. I fear to say: we were gloating.

We had an absolutely blast and it was so great being able to dawdle and ask questions of the team about upcoming books, content of books, storylines and such. It was a fantastic opportunity where we could see behind the scenes of the labyrinth otherwise known as the Random House offices in Ealing Broadway.

To Clare, Lauren, Corinne, Rosie and Kelly: thank you so much for taking time out from your Saturdays to invite us over to squeal over books. You have made a group of bloggers very happy indeed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles) by Rick Riordan


Carter and Sadie have nothing in common but their parents: their father Dr. Julius Kane, a brilliant Egyptologist, and their mother, a famed archaeologist who died under mysterious circumstances when they were young. The siblings barely know each other, but one night, their father brings them together at the British Museum, promising a ‘research experiment’ that will set things right for their family. His plans go horribly wrong. An explosion unleashes an ancient evil – the Egyptian god Set who banishes Dr. Kane to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives. Now orphaned, Carter and Sadie must embark on a dangerous quest – from Cairo to Paris to the American Southwest, to save their father and stop Set from destroying everything they care about . . .

Rick Riordan is a complete hero in my book. I love his actioners for boys (and girls) and think he is a very imaginative and creative writer. The Percy Jackson books really swept me away and I really liked the movie too - the look and feel of it was pretty epic. Also, the soundtrack rocked.

But I digress. My heart sank a bit when I read that he was doing books based on Egyptian mythology. It is SO done and most of it is done so badly, it's not even worth reading. But of course, this is Rick Riordan and I really should have known better.

It took me ages and ages to get into The Red Pyramid because of my own stubborness but once I overcame it, it went quickly and relatively smoothly.

When Carter and Sadie meet up after being apart for ages, it is clear that they don't know and don't really like each other. Carter had the opportunity to travel with his dad to various places all over the world whilst Sadie was forced to stay with her grandparents in London. The siblings see the other as having the more exciting or cool life: Sadie is jealous and resents Carter from escaping school and tedious routine, for getting to go on digs and adventures. Carter sees Sadie and is jealous of her time with the grandparents, of the stability she has had, of her education and her friends. Their animosity to each other raises trust issues when all they really should do is run, hope for the best, and have faith in each other.

It would have made for interesting dynamics had Sadie and Carter been stronger characters. It really pains me to say it, but I didn't like either of them, very much at all. Oh, I had empathy for them because of the scrapes they got into after their father's research went south, but I couldn't bring myself to think of them outside of the novel. It is an odd situation but I feel that if I am going to invest time in hanging around with a group of people for an extended period of time, I want to have a vested interest in them and like them. However, having put that across, I am now wondering that if I re-read it, and I focus on the story and their adventures more, I would be less bothered by Sadie and Carter?

The story is told in alternating chapters, between Carter and Sadie. In some instances the chapters crossed over a bit but that was no big problem for me, as it gave a slightly different perspective of events taking place. However, having said that, Carter and Sadie's voices were so similar at some points that it didn't matter whose chapter I was reading, and that made me feel a bit low about the whole experience.

The action and settings are wonderfully over the top, as are their helpers and hinderers along the way. You can tell that the author slowed down some parts to give his characters and readers a chance to catch up with matters, before he goes ahead and sling-shots them into another predicament or action set-piece. The story is very visual, relying on the reader's imagination and growing knowledge of Egyptian mythlology so that you can picture the images and glyphs etc.

I read this book last month, in June and it's taken me ages to get my words in order to write the review. I am very conflicted about The Red Pyramid. It is good storytelling but readers should know that it isn't Percy Jackson. It is still enjoyable but it there is a lot of backstory and history and younger readers may be put off by it. On the other hand, it may encourage readers to grab some mythology books and read up about the various gods and goddesses of Egypt. It really is a marmite book, I think. Probably the second one I've ever come across in the five years I've been reviewing. Some readers will love it, some readers will be pretty ambivalent about it.

Having said that, I am now thinking that the second book in the series will be where everything will kick off full blast. This has definitely been the scene setting, the character introduction, the backstory and the origin story all rolled into one. So perhaps this is the start of something grander and more epic than PJ? Who knows! Only time and book 2 will tell.

Published by Puffin, The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan is out now.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dead Boy Talking by Linda Strachan


Josh has 25 minutes left to live. Lying alone in a pool of blood, Josh has not much time to think. Yesterday he stabbed his best mate, and now it has happened to him. But there are questions he cannot get out of his head. Like, how did he get into this mess? Will anyone find him in time? Will his girlfriend forgive him, and what really happened to his older brother? As his life slips away, the events of the last 24 hours start to look very different.

I read DBT yesterday during my morning commute and finished it off at lunch time. I'm not even a particularly fast reader and this isn't really a very short book - it is however a page turner and it drove me forward, making me want to find out what happened, and how it happened and why it happened.

Opening the book, on page 1 starts with this line:

In 25 minutes I will be dead.

The first page isn't even a chapter page, it's just there, written in Josh's voice, first person point of view. The tone is slightly shocked, not entirely sure what's just happened, the description of the act is a bit removed from reality, distanced. It's just me, Josh, you know me.

The author writes convincingly in Josh's voice, as the chapters alternate between then (the past 24 hours) and now. The now posts are all done in first person, making Josh's predicament immediate, in your face. His voice is a constant reminder that he's in trouble, that things went very wrong very quickly with little enough reason behind it. The then chapters follow Josh and his friend Danny as they try and stay away from Harry and his gang of aspiring criminals. A chapter is also dedicated to Skye who isn't really Josh's girlfriend, they are more really good friends with feelings for each other.

As the story progresses we find out the story behind Josh's actions the day before, when he stabbed his friend Ranj. We learn the backstory to the intense dislike that Harry, the leader of the YHT gang has for Josh. We find out more about Josh's friend, Danny and his situation at home. We learn about Josh's family who is no longer a family, not since his older brother Gary left, anyway.

The author weaves a strong story, filling us with empathy for these broken and misguided characters. We come to understand why the attacks happened and the author makes a point of not belittling the characters' emotional drive as just "teenagers mucking about". To each one of them, what they are going through is immense and scary and personal. The full story gets told but the story is not an apologetic one. Stabbings have consequences and we are made aware of that, as we are with Josh, every step of those 25 minutes he lies bleeding out.

It's a powerful story made more so by the author's understated style of writing. Linda Strachan has managed to tackle a variety of tough subjects in Dead Boy Talking and never once does she veer into being preachy or a told-you-so tone which would have teens running for cover.

Deeply thoughtful and sad, Dead Boy Talking, had me sobbing like a little girl into tissues over my lunch - thanks Ms. Strachan - as I read the last few pages. I really did enjoy the book. Yes it's sad and tragic but you know what, the ending lifts it just that bit, so that you are left feeling a bit optimistic.

Find Linda Strachan's website here and those of her publishers, Strident, here. Dead Boy Talking is out in

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

By Midnight by Mia James


April Dunne is not impressed.

She's had to move from Edinburgh to Highgate, London, with her parents. She's left her friends - and her entire life - behind. She has to start at a new school and, worst of all, now she's stuck in a creepy old dump of a house which doesn't even have proper mobile phone reception. Ravenwood, her new school, is a prestigious academy for gifted (financially or academically) students - and the only place her parents could find her a place, in the middle of term, in the middle of London, on incredibly short notice. So she's stuck with the super-rich, and the super-smart . . . and trying to fit in is when the rest of the students seem to be more glamorous, smarter, or more talented than she is, is more than tough. It's intimidating and isolating, even when she finds a friend in the conspiracy-theorist Caro Jackson - and perhaps finds something more than friendship in the gorgeous, mysterious Gabriel Swift.

But there's more going on at Ravenwood than meets the eye. Practical jokes on new students are normal, but when Gabriel saves her from . . . something . . . . in the Highgate Cemetery, and then she discovers that a murder took place, just yards away from where she had been standing, April has to wonder if something more sinister is going on.

. . . and whether or not she's going to live through it . . .

When I initially heard about By Midnight I was a little cynical. I mean, is there really anything left that hasn't already been written about teenagers and vampires? Well, as it happens, yes there is. Not only that but I found I was pleased to be found wrong, ecstatic in fact. Much like Liz's review of Dark Goddess I also had to take a few days out before writing this so I didn't gush too much.

April Dunne has been relocated to London and is hating it, her new school is elitist and unfriendly. Alongside this her parents are arguing constantly and April can barely get a reception on her phone. A murder of a famous rock star just around the corner from April's house means she has to be home straight from school which is a disaster for her social life. Fortunately April ignores good advice and soon finds herself exploring the cemetery at night. She discovers a dead fox and blood - too much blood to belong to one fox - only to be saved by the uncommunicative but gorgeous Gabriel from school.

Things improve for April as she befriends conspiracy nut Caro who fills her in on her theories behind Ravenwood. Students have been disappearing but no-one seems too worried about finding out about it. April's dad, a journalist, is also investigating something weird - vampires. When April takes some photos at a party she discovers that some of the most popular kids in school don't show up on film. Then, another murder takes place and April finds herself being questioned by police and more involved than she wants.

So, what's so good about By Midnight? First off, the setting of Highgate in London. I love Highgate cemetery, have been on the tour and often mull over if I can afford to be buried there (I can't - bah). The real-life mystery of the Highgate vampire is explained and this forms the basis of the story. As a result the whole book is dripping in Gothic horror; from the architecture to the parties. Even the autumnal weather gives the By Midnight a kind of shadowy, murky glamour. I also loved the characters who were all "real" teenagers. Parties have alcohol and people have sex - there's none of this skirting around the issues pretending that they don't happen. The most perfect part of it for me was that it encapsulates the whole confusion of being a teenager. April remembers when she got on with her parents and when they got on with each other. Now they hiss at each other in corners whilst April's life is a closed book to most of the adults who surround her. She feels alone and confused but unable to turn to anyone except her friends to find the answers.

The pace of By Midnight is perfect too, just the right amount of action and reflection and April is instantly likeable and relateable. I found myself whizzing my way through, desperate to find out what it was that made April different and why she was being held in suspicion by her peers at Ravenwood. There's some wonderful dialogue and one-liners throughout. This little quote gives you an idea of where April and By Midnight differs from other vampire stories.

'You're certainly different, April Dunne.' He chuckled, holding his side.

'What's so funny?' said April, still annoyed.

'Well, most people confronted by a vampire for the first time scream or beg for their lives. You, on the other hand, stab the vampire and then start telling him off.'

Now I've finished I'm left drumming my fingers wondering when I can get more from April and Ravenwood.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Unit by Terry DeHart


Jerry Sharpe is an ex-marine and, for him, survival means protecting his family by any means necessary.

Susan is learning just how far a mother will go for her children. But how far will she go for a man she doubted before the bombs fell? As Jerry's training and instincts take over, she is certain of one thing - her children need her.

Melanie was going to go to college. Now, she is struggling to find a way to live in a world gone mad without losing sight of what she believes in.

Scotty has a new mission - more than survival. He was saved, and he'll be damned if he won't fight for what's right.

And Bill - Bill was locked up, but the power went out and the guards left. Now he and his fellow inmates have realised that everything is free for the taking . . . if you're strong enough to hold on to it.

The Unit starts us off in the middle of a gun battle between a group of identified men and a group of survivors traveling by road, trying to get to safety. There are women, children, elderly people, men with guns. They have cattle and food and are moving openly along the road. Dangerous and stupid, especially when the world has gone haywire since nuclear bombs have gone off over several major cities in the States.

We see the gun battle take place through the eyes of Jerry and his family. He urges them to stay low, to keep still, whilst he watches the slaughter down below. It is not something he relishes but by watching we come to realise that it is something he has to do. It keeps him focussed and grounded. He has to look after his small family, his unit, and ensure their survival, even it it means following a group of survivors, using them to clear the road for them.

It is difficult to put yourself in a place such as this. Where you have to be pragmatic, sensible and brutal. Where it is a kill or be killed scenario. Where you both admire your father for forging ahead, to try and get you somewhere to safety, whilst disliking him at the same time for what he is and what he is forcing you to do: to keep on marching, for hours on end.

The novel is gritty is and brutal, and exercise in warfare and survival. It doesn’t come near the starkness of The Road but it’s pretty damn close. I found myself reading on and on, almost against my will. I was fascinated, worried, repulsed by the depravity depicted in the novel. It raised, to me at least, the question: how far are you prepared to go to survive? And by doing so, what amount of your humanity will you be prepared to lose in the process?

Dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels are finding homes everywhere at present and I have to say, it’s a sub-genre I find myself interested in and I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with that. But, it is what it is.

Terry DeHart’s The Unit is a strong reminder that we are tougher than what we give ourselves credit for. All of us have untapped reserves and that when pushed, those reserves are what keeps us alive.

As the novel progresses and the small family gets split because of a various reasons, the narrative becomes more insular. Each chapter is told from another person’s perspective but once they aren’t with each other any more, we have a lot of internal questioning dialogue and observations about themselves and the world. We are filled in on the back story, about what life was like before the bombs, what they were like after the bombs, how long they’ve been on road, how people have degenerated in such a short period of time.

It is the daughter, Melanie’s story, that really bothered me the most. It stayed with me the longest. I disagreed strongly with the author for putting her in such an awful situation, being raped and degraded in such a fashion. It would put anyone’s back up, but once I finished the novel and sat back and thought about it, I felt that I understood why he wrote the story the way he did. It was inevitable and awful, but it was an avenue that had to be explored, to showcase Melanie and Jerry’s bond and strength of character whilst showing the cravenness of the group of delinquents who did capture Melanie.

The writing is tense and holds the attention. I had to force myself to stop reading because I know how involved I sometimes get with stories, especially hyper-realistic stories such as this one.

I took a few days off after reading it to recover. It’s an odd book for me - I both loved it and enjoyed for various reasons but then it also made me very uncomfortable and deeply unhappy. So, from that point of view, the author has succeeded in his job. He’s taken me out of my comfort zone and shook me around a little, making me think. I’m not sure I liked that.

The Unit by Terry DeHart is a book that has great pace and vivid descriptions. It is not a comfortable read, it is a good read but it should not be tackled lightly.

The Unit is out later this month from Orbit. Find Terry DeHart’s website here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors

Blurb from

Meet Homer Pudding, an ordinary farm boy who''s got big dreams-to follow in the footsteps of his famous treasure-hunting uncle. But when Uncle Drake mysteriously disappears, Homer inherits two things: a lazy, droopy dog with no sense of smell, and a mystery.

Why would his uncle call this clumsy dog his "most treasured possession?" And why did he put a gold coin on the dog''s collar?

And who will continue Uncle Drake''s quest-to find the most coveted pirate treasure in the world?

Join Homer, his sister Gwendolyn, and Dog on an adventure that will test their wits and courage as they leave their peaceful farm and head into a world where ruthless treasure hunters hide around every corner. Where they discover that Dog has a hidden talent and that treasure might be closer than they ever imagined. . .

'Smells like Dog' is a fabulous 9-12 adventure that will stretch your imagination to its limits. Homer lives on a goat farm and has no friends due to the fact that he can read a book while walking and tends to get a little carried away when dreaming about treasure hunting. When a terrible accident puts him into deep, deep trouble, he decides to brave The City (so very different from The Country and by far more dangerous) and find out what happened to his beloved uncle.

What follows is an amazing adventures with a lady who cannot ride in an elevator or a rollercoaster, a man who travels in a cloud, a soup-selling girl who helps him find the museum, a secret society and a treasure beyond belief. And lets not forget Dog, who can't smell (and is no good for farming), but who becomes Homer's best friend and saves him from something you would not have anticipated.

This a fun-filled adventure that is so twisted and unexpected, I looked like a pretzel reading it;). It has been out in North America since May and will be published in the UK in September 2010. Suzanne's website is here.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Stunt Bunny: Showbiz Sensation by Tamsyn Murray


Once upon a time, there was the cutest fluffy bunny-wunny called Flopsy. She lived in a house with a little girl called Susie and her family. Flopsy spent every day staring out of her cage and nothing exciting ever happened to her. The End.

Awwww, now wasn’t that a lovely story? In fact, that’s probably how things did turn out for the other rabbits in Noah’s Ark Pet Shop the day the Wilson family came in to buy a bunny. But from the moment The Wilsons got their new pet home it be came clear that she was no ordinary rabbit. And she wasn’t putting up with a wimpy name like ‘Flopsy’, either. Harriet Houdini had hopped into their lives and things would never be boring again.

After winning the village pet show, Harriet is whisked into the world of show business and finds herself competing in a talent show. If she wins, she’ll be a national star but there are other pets with their eye on first place. Can Harriet compete with an opera singing Poodle? And who is the mysterious man who offers to buy her?

Stunt Bunny, Showbiz Sensation is one of the younger books I've received to review and you know, it was no hardship as we know Tamsyn from her excellent debut novel, My So-Called Afterlife. I knew Tamsyn could do humour for teens but could she do it for younger folk?

Yes, she can. Laugh out loud funny, Harriet Houdini is the kind of pet I would have loved to have had growing up. Creative, intelligent, daring and most of all brave and very clever, Harriet gets into all kinds of trouble in her new home. She constantly escapes and is renamed Harriet Houdini as Flopsy just did not suit.

Her star quality is apparent and soon a tv personality spots her at the pet show and things get a bit out of hand - of course! And further crazy giggling adventures ensue.

Harriet narrates the book. Its confidential and chummy tone and irreverent and tongue in cheek comments will thrill younger readers and amuse parents. Harriet's voice is true and mature, making Stunt Bunny a good read for confident readers and the humour will appeal and hold the attention of reluctant readers. I definitely think Harriet's adventures will appeal to boys too and as the chapters are short they are perfect for parents to sit down and read with the young folk.

I definitely need to mention the artwork. Dotted throughout the novel we have some wickedly funny bits of artwork from Lee Wildish, invariably depicting the chaos Harriet manages to effortlessly to leave in her wake.

Lee also illustrated the utterly cool trump bunny cards that Tamsyn created. I put my - obviously - two favourites below.

I love that Tamsyn has jumped onto the publishing scene and within a short span of time we're getting several books from her. Her writing is fresh and different, filled with humour but also well written. I am looking forward to the next Stunt Bunny. I love that it's entitled: Stunt Bunny: Tour Troubles, with special guests Spike-tacular!

Stunt Bunny: Showbiz Sensation is out now.

Stunt Bunny

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda


After the death of her soulmate Kay by her very own sword, Billi SanGreal has thrown herself into the brutal regime of Templar duties with utter abandon. There is no room for feelings any more - her life is now about hunting down the Unholy.

But when Billi and another Knight Templar are caught at the heart of a savage werewolf attack, only Billi survives - except for a young girl at the scene who Billi unthinkingly drags away with her as they escape. But Vasalisa is no ordinary girl. She is an avatar with an uncontrollable power - and it's not only the werewolves who want her.

Billi has to flee to the frosty climes of Russia, with a human timebomb who, it seems, could destroy the world . .

Did you guys see how I lied? Last week I promised a review of Sarwat Chadda's The Dark Goddess but it never transpired.

You may well wonder why. The honest truth is I felt that my review would not do it justice. I wrote it, fangirling like a fangirl, shortly after I read the manuscript. Yes. The Manuscript. See the pic below. It's now slightly mangled from living in my bookbag for a while but it is precious to me and will get SC to sign it for me.

My review read like a twihard's stuttering after meeting RPatz in person of even Steph Meyer. Nothing wrong with that, true, but not the type of review I wanted to convey my feelings for The Dark Goddess.

So I deleted the whole thing, gave myself the weekend to get over myself. I now feel that I am now distanced enough to give a balanced review.

What struck me overall is how much Mr. Chadda has matured as a writer. There is a clear escalation of writing - both in story arc, conflict and character development. In The Devil's Kiss Billi was not a likeable character, not to me anyway. Oh, I admired her guts and had a lot of sympathy for her, but I really didn't want to hang out with her. She was self-absorbed, selfish, moody and a bit unpleasant to be around. However, she needed to be for her story to be told, for us to get to know her.

In The Dark Goddess we see a different side of Billi. At the end of TDK a Bad Thing happens. She loses someone very close to her. But as is the nature of real life, you have to go on. Especially so for the handful of Templars left. Billi is still a squire in the Templars and she's still the one that has to do drudge work. But her father, Arthur and the rest of the Templars, see her as a valued member of their team and not a liability. Her head is in the game. Probably too much so. She holds herself aloof, aware that if she fails at anything she does from now on, it can and will have disastrous consequences.

The novel opens with a fight against a group of female werewolves (the Polenitsy) who are keen to steal away a little Russian girl. The Templars fight them off and the little girl is saved. But her grandparents were killed during the attack, so the only thing they can do is take her with them back to Temple.

We soon realise that the girl is someone special. We witness it when she brings dying plants back to life before their disbelieving eyes. Arthur and his team realise that Vasilisa is an oracle, a visionary / psychic. And the werewolves want her so that they can sacrifice her to their goddess.

Fantastically fraught and an awful concept to conceive but honestly, the author makes it work. We suspend our disbelief, in his hands this world is real, we are hunted for our humanity and only Billi and her Templars can save us.

Slowly, the story is pieced together. It necessitates a trip to Russia to rescue Vasilisa and an opportunity to sort things out with the Polenitsy and hopefully stop the destruction of the world. You know, the usual events in Billi's life.

In Russia they team up with a band of warriors called the Bogatyrs lead by a chap called Koshchey. Billi also meets Prince Ivan Romanov, the last of the Russian royal line. He's Billi's age and he sounds like such a fantastic character and I am really looking forward to hearing more about him. Go and have a look at Sarwat's interview where I ask him about Ivan. He stands out in YA fiction to me - he has great potential and he needs guidance and someone to help him grow from being a stubborn, little bit spoiled, tough teen into an independent young man.

Well - saying more at this point will reveal too much of the story. But needless to say everyone does not go off and live happily ever after. There's a plane crash, there are wolves, there are fights, there is sneaking, there is betrayal on an epic scale and there is also death. The book runs a gamut of emotions and through Billi we get to experience all of it. She's such a fantastically cool creation and she is to be admired - holding her own in a nasty and unsympathetic world.

I can't urge you enough to give this book a try. It is unique in scope and character. A worthy urban fantasy for the YA market.

Also. Werewolves still rule. In my opinion. Even if they are sometimes a liiiiiitle bit bad.

The Dark Goddess is now out in all good book stores. Go, buy.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Heist Society by Ally Carter

I have fallen off the edge of the world for a little while, busy with my writing and other life issues. As my comeback I would like to introduce you to one lovely lady who has written an amazing new book.

Heist Society by Ally Carter

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own--scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat's father isn't just onthe suspect list, he isthe list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat's dad needs her help.

For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family's (very crooked) history--and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, especially as I've read it after wading through a large number of deep, dark, paranormal teen books. 'Heist Society' was such a breath of fresh air (apologies for the cliche). It has a fantastic main character, is fast-paced and action packed and has one very intriguing young man in it. It also takes the reader on a journey across Europe and introduces some facts about art history which are slowly being forgotten.

I had the opportunity to meet Ally at a signing the other day and she is absolutely lovely. She is working hard on 'Heist 2' and I can't wait for her to finish.

I would recommend 'Heist Society' to everybody who is looking for something different with a lot of fun thrown in. Ally also writes the Gallagher Girls, an all-girls school that trains spies and is run by an ex-CIA agent (what more could you ask for;). Her website is here.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Simon & Schuster Blogger Event

I've just staggered home, laden with goodies from a fantastic afternoon and evening with the folks at Simon & Schuster.

We were make welcome in their lovely offices on Grays Inn Road. Ally and her colleague Amanda did a presentation, highlighting some lovely new upcoming books for the next few months.

Really pretty shinies from well know authors as well as debut novelists were covered too.

Then we had the fiction panelists who came on:

Suzanne Baboneau - Publishing Director
Maxine Hitchock - Fiction Editorial Director
Sarah-Jade Virtue - Special Sales Manager

They chatted enthusiastically about Simon and Schuster as a whole, their ethos and how they bully colleagues - in a good way - into reading books they are really excited about. I was fortunate enough to grab a seat right in the front - am tired of not being able to see / hear people properly - and so got to snap a few shots whilst they were chatting.

I found the talk very interesting indeed. Ally asked Suzanne what sells a book to her when she reads a manuscript. Suzanne didn't hesitate for one second to say "premise". If a book has a strong premise and the writer can carry that through, all the way to the end, then she's sold. She singled out Tom Rob Smith here, saying she had a frisson of excitement when she started reading his manuscript. She said that overall they look at what authors have to offer as they are always keen to nurture relationships with their authors, wanting them for the long run.

Maxine said that sometimes, the first page doesn't sell a book and that you have to persevere with it. But what carries a story for her is the characters and world building, getting lost in them and through them.

Sarah-Jade said that as a long-time reader of "chick-lit" she has gone through various stages but most importantly, she wants to fall in love with the main character in a book. Her reading styles have changed, as she's grown older and it also meant that different stories now appeal.

After the panelists answered a handful of questions from their rapt audience, we all scooted next door for snack, books, talking, drinking and uhm, more books.

From left to right: Suzanne, Maxine, Sarah-Jade

Maxine, Sarah-Jade and Ally

The cake and the snacks.

The brief welcoming speech by Suzanne after the talk.

A table LADEN with books by Paige Toon (MY new BFF), Chris Carter and Tara Hyland.

Loot 1 - I am particularly excited about the JL Bourne books and also Christopher Golden's Of Saints and Shadows.
Loot 2 - Am looking forward to reading Infidel as well as Place of Secrets. These are my first Philippa Gregory's since I read almost all of her books in one go during a summer not too long ago. I was thee-ing and thou-ing for ages afterwards.

Loot 3 - A bit of YA, chicklit and travel writing. Also a bit of literary action and well, thriller action.

I am really pleased with the treasures and will be doling them out to Sarah and Mark respectively and of course keeping some for greedy little me.

Thanks to everyone over at Simon & Schuster who looked after us today and who were such gracious hosts. We are all very excited about your upcoming books and feel very special indeed for getting the chance to hang around at your offices.

I know that Jenny from Wondrous Reads, Carolyne from Book Chick City, my friend and soon to be published novelist Caroline Hooton, Amanda from Floor to Ceiling Books and a whole host of others had a fantastic time too.