Monday, January 31, 2011

Entice by Carrie Jones



Zara and Nick are soul-mates – they’re meant to be together for ever. But that’s not quite how things have worked out. For starters, Nick is dead, and has been taken to Valhalla, a mystical resting place for warriors. If they can find the way there, Zara and her friends will try to get him back. But even if they do, Zara has turned pixie – and now she’s Astley’s queen!

Meanwhile, more teenagers go missing as a group of evil pixies devastates the town of Bedford. An all-out war seems imminent and Zara and her friends need all the warriors they can find . .

Entice starts immediately after the events of Captivate and Zara is getting ready for the school dance. She's got a great deal to take on board, what with Nick in Valhalla, her own pixie status and finding out that another of her friends is not as human as she thought. As a result the start of Entice is a bit low key. Zara is quite literally not herself and is now leaning on Astley for support and to help her find Nick. To add to Zara's load, her friend Devyn is being a little frosty with her. More high school boys are going missing and it's fair to say that Zara and co are not coping with the Pixie onslaught.

I must admit that I found the first part of this book a little hard to connect with - for some reason it felt a little stop start, if that makes sense. Zara is searching for the road to Valhalla in the hopes that it'll lead her to Nick and, rightly so, this forms the main part of the plot. However, I didn't slip into the book as I had with the previous two. It would be easy to say that this was because the start was a little slow but it wasn't. Anyway, by the time I was halfway through I was hooked as Astley and Zara struggle to find a key to get them what they need. Initially I worried that I wouldn't warm to Astley as he clearly has high hopes of Zara but as the book proceeds I felt a great deal of compassion for him.

Another great thing about Entice is the world building. As Zara starts to trust Astley more we get to see how the politics of the pixie world work. I'd love to see more of this in the next book as it really adds a little extra something. Zara and friends become a little more adventurous too and we start to see more of the area where they live. Issie is adorable as ever and I still found her and Zara's friendship touching and genuine. The final chapters of the book were exciting and suitably dramatic. I started the book unsure if I wanted to read more but finished excited to see what happens next.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Sentinel Mage by Emily Gee

Her magic may be the only thing that can save a prince - and the Seven Kingdoms!

In a distant corner of the Seven Kingdoms, an ancient curse festers and grows, consuming everything in its path. Only one man can break it: Harkeld and Osgaard, a prince with mage's blood in his veins. But Prince Harkeld has a bounty on his head - and assassins at his heels. Innis is a gifted shapeshifter. Now she must do the forbidden: become a man. She must stand at Prince Harkeld's side as his armsman, protecting and deceiving him. But the deserts of Masse are more dangerous than the assassins hunting the prince. The curse has woken deadly creatures, and the magic Prince Harkeld loathes may be the only thing standing between him and death.

I read The Sentinel Mage within a few long luxurious sittings.  It came in and I fell under the sway of the cover and soon I was swept off my feet into the world of The Seven Kingdoms. 

It is traditional fantasy fare - shapeshifters, magic, princes, assassins, plagues, quests, undead things…you know, the usual.  But what lifts it high above the mundane is Ms. Gee's excellent writing.  I can't put my finger on it, but there is something incredibly readable about The Sentinel Mage.  I think may have to do with the author's talent of scene setting and characterisation.  We swoop in to be part of Prince Harkeld's party as they travel ever onwards, first to escape his father's soldiers as they run from the kingdom of Osgaard, then to escape assassins and various other creatures bent on killing the Harkeld before he succeeds in his quest. 

Next we are party to Harkeld's half sister Britta's life in the palace.  Britta is as much as a pawn in her father's game of expanding Osgaard as anyone else in the kingdom.  She is pawned off to Duke Rikard (in charge of the army)as wife and it is not something she has any say over.  Duke Rikard is as nasty a piece of work as Britta's father, the king.  It is only through Britta's bondservant Yasma's clever thinking that Britta sustains her sanity following the short weeks after her marriage as she is basically raped several times a day by her new husband.  I liked Britta, I loved her quiet but clever bondservant Yasma and I thought that Britta's armsman (bodyguard) Karel was wonderfully characterised.  

The three of them form a valuable counter-point to Harkeld's travels with the mages.  Even though Britta, Yasma and Karel are living in quiet opulence and luxury whilst Harkeld and the mages are travelling through some inhospitable terrain and seem to be in constant danger, you realise that it is actually Britta who is in greater danger throughout the novel. 

Back to Harkeld who is in theory the main character.  He is not at all happy with the situation he finds himself in.  Like everyone else in the Seven Kingdoms he dislikes the mages, whom everyone seems to call witches.  He has heard the rumours: they are dirty, animalistic creatures who rut with animals, who have no morals and who are one step away from being complete barbarians.  Much to Harkeld's own horror, it is revealed that there is some mage blood in him - he was engineered to be The One to stop the curse spreading through the land.  I'm not giving anything away as I state this, we learn this very early in the opening pages of The Sentinel Mage. 

The things that Harkeld knows about the mages turn out to be lies, of course.  And the author has a great time bursting the young prince's bubble as he travels with the mages and he comes to see them, not really as friends, there is too much animosity from his side, but as people to be trusted to a certain extent. He remains wary throughout the book and I loved this - there are several points in the novel where you really would like to shake him and tell him to get over himself.  But he remains in character throughout the novel and when the catalyst comes it jars everyone in the small group, but especially Harkeld and we watch how this character who has struggled to hold onto what he knows is completely wrongfooted and his world breaks all around him. 

But it is Innis, the youngest of the Sentinel Mages who is the one to watch.  She does not say much and it is from the reaction of the other mages in the group that we realise how strong she is, how unique her abilities.  She takes on the shape of Harkeld's armsman for most of the book but occasionally she is herself or a hawk, lion or even a dog, a lizard - basically whatever is required at the time.  But the big thing is, Harkeld does not know that his armsman Justen is a mage - Innis and two or three of the other mages, take turns to turn into his armsman, to guard him.  They chose to give him a "normal" bodyguard who sleeps in his tent with him and who is him and be with him at all times as they know how much he dislikes the mages.  They fabricate a whole story about Justen's background and it is a credit to Innis and her mage colleagues who keep this facade up the entire time, especially during times of battle. 

And there are deaths - and its not just the red-shirts that die either which I can commend. There is real menace throughout the novel, both from external threats as well as within Harkeld's group of mages.  Harkeld, although he is literally the only one in their world who can stop this curse, is not universally liked by his guardians and there is a lot of conflict because of this. 

Of course Britta's situation in the palace is awful as she uncovers some awful goings on herself and I rooted for her so much, it was unbelievable.  I have no idea where Ms. Gee will be doing with Britta in books 2 and 3 but I hope she comes out on top, along with her armsman and servant.  They are a great trio and I truly think they are my favourites in The Sentinel Mage.  

There is a lot that goes on in The Sentinel Mage and I genuinely fell for the characters.  I thought the plot and story was strong and the magic made sense.  As the first book of The Cursed Kingdom trilogy it is rock solid and well written.  Emily Gee is a fantastically talented writer that makes writing fantasy look easy. 

The Sentinel Mage is released in February by Solaris Books.  Do find Emily Gee's website here

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Those crazy people at Mills & Boon & some notebook love

Like most of the female population of the world I read quite a bit of Mills and Boons growing up.  There wasn't much else available in the 80's in South Africa, especially if you were a teen.  These books were never explicit, whatever hanky panky there was happened behind closed doors.  That was until we hit high school and we got lured in by Jackie Collins and Eric van Lustbader romps.  But even so, the books I read dated from the 60's and 70's and they were never new.  Always passed down or found from somewhere and pressed into my hands.  I remember it fondly.  But, having said that, I've not read a M&B title in many many years but it doesn't stop me loving them and remembering them nostalgically.

I received an email today from Time Out magazines about things to do in and around London and wouldn't you know...they mentioned a new pop-up shop in Selfridges, carrying Mills & Boons titles.

I had to go and look and got chatting to the lovely sales assistant there who gave me permission to take some photos of their display.  I whipped out my iphone faster than George Clooney could break a heart and started snapping away.

This is what I found:

 It really is such a great pop-up shop with some fabulous new modern titles.  Kudos to the marketing people at M&B for coming up with this.  Several other people were browsing the books and looking at those posters.  I reckon that they would sell a shedload of the pictures if they printed them on canvas / posters.  There were several I would have liked!

Then, I can't ever go to Selfridges and not ogle their notebooks.  You only need to talk to me for five minutes before you realise I am a notebook and journal nutter.

If it's not your thing, look away NOW:
I saw this one and immediately thought of Donna in The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

I hasten to add, that in no way shape or form do I work or have anything to do with Selfridges or Mills & Boon.  I am just a geek. Who likes shiny things. 

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

We've received some truly exclusive bits and pieces from Orion Children's Department about a debut novel coming from them this year.

I've read an early proof of Annabel's book after the publicity person, Nina, put it in my hands and said: read it, it's unlike anything you've come across since maybe The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

I was hesitant. I KNEW that reading it was going to turn me into a slobbering mess of tears and emotions and I was right. But it turned me into a sniffling girl for all the right reasons. It also made me laugh out loud. It made me want to punch a character in the book, it made me want to punch the air in victory as the story developed and I came to love the characters but most of all, it's made me talk (quietly for now) about it to everyone I've come across.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher is only out in on 1st March but I'm here to prod you to think about buying it. It is an amazing novel - the story is fabulous and heartwarming and the main character, Jamie, has not left me since I first read it. I've passed it onto Essjay to read because I needed to share it with someone so that I could talk about it. She read it in a sitting and we both just looked at each other and went: dear heavens, this is good.

But, before I waffle on even more, here is a personalised message to MFB readers from Annabel.

We are so very pleased that she's agreed to do this short clip.  We'll be hosting the actual book trailer soon as well as a guest post by Annabel in due course in which I've asked her to talk to us about her writing process.

In the meantime, we can share the cover with you and later this week I'll be putting up some photos and such from her launch later today, which I'm lucky enough to be invited to.  I may even be able to arrange a book or two (signed) to give away.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hailey's War by Jodi Compton

Twenty-four-year-old Hailey Cain has dropped out of the US Military Academy for reasons she won't reveal. She has had to leave Los Angeles and it would be too big a risk for her to return. Now working as a bike messenger in San Francisco, Hailey keeps a low profile, until a friend from high school wants Hailey to escort the cousin of a recently murdered gang member across the border to Mexico. It's a mission that will nearly cost Hailey her life, causing her to choose more than once between loyalty and lawlessness, and forcing her to confront two very big secrets in her past...

Not exactly the book I would have picked up to read in a bookshop.  The reason is mainly because of the cover - it didn't inspire me with confidence.  It was maybe a bit too generic but that is the only thing about this book that is generic.  Once I had read the blurb on the back, I was completely in the game, ready to be swept off my feet.  And I wasn't disappointed.

I had my own thoughts where it mentioned an old high school friend, now a career criminal, calls asking for a favour, I completely thought the following: drugdealing ex-boyfriend asks for a favour.  No, instead we have the fantastically named female Warchild (Serena) who runs the Trece Sucias, a Latino gang in Los Angeles. Serena and Hailey were nodding acquaintances  in high school.  They never really spoke but they were aware of each other.  Serena dropped out and of school and everyone thought she had gone back to Mexico with her family but it's only after Hailey leaves West Point and moves back to LA that she meets up with Serena and they become friends that she finds out what happened to Serena back in high school.

Serena got jumped in to a Latina gang but instead of being one of the goodtime girls that get passed around from member to member, she started her own affiliated gang of females, the Trece Sucias.  Fierce and independent they did the smaller jobs, pharmacies and car-jackings.  The bloodless crimes.  But never once did I as the reader ever fall for Serena - the girl was dangerous with strong affiliations and a surprisingly logical head on her shoulders, but the key words here are dangerous and uncompromising.  When she learns of Hailey's background at one of the forefront military schools on the East Coast, West Point, she asks Hailey to teach her girls how to protect themselves, how to be stronger.  Hailey refuses, she also refuses to be jumped in.  But she does make it clear to Serena that she is her friend and when she moves to San Francisco, she makes sure to exchange telephone numbers.

In real life, away from Serena and her girls, Hailey is one of the best paid bicycle couriers in and around San Francisco.  She has very little, and lives above the courier depot in a tiny apartment and she keeps her life uncomplicated.  Occasionally she'd go to the Golden Gate Bridge and look out over the bay area.  She would go out of her way to talk down any jumpers she may inadvertently come across.  And this small revelation is what startled me.  It is a brave and fearless and a very risky thing to do, but then that is Hailey.  The girl should have a sign that says expect the unexpected.

When Serena contacts Hailey to help a family member of one of her gang-members to get back to this tiny village in Mexico, Hailey reluctantly agrees. It will give her something to do - to get out of town, get her mind together.  She's realised she's drifting and not doing anything with her life.  She meets the young girl who seems to be quiet and shy and quite lovely.  They don't really have an immediate rapport but that's fine with Hailey.  She's looking at the trip to sort herself out.  But it is after they cross into Mexico that things go very wrong.  Nidia is taken and Hailey is left to die out in the desert.  But Hailey is a fighter.  And she survives her gunshot wounds and slowly but surely she begins to heal after several weeks in a coma in Mexico.  When it transpires that no one has reported her missing she realises the extent she's cut herself off from her family and friends.

She gets sent back to the States and hunts down Serena, convinced that the gangleader had set her up and that she had a hand in Nidia's abduction.  Serena and Hailey have it out and when it transpires that there is far more to Nidia's story and clues start falling into place, Serena, her team of girls and Hailey start formulating a plan on how to track down Nidia and these men who have taken her.

The action sequences are visceral and well written. There is an element of the Bourne and new Bond movies here - close quarter mean and dirty fighting.  Get in, get out as quick as you can.  And importantly, stay alive.

But getting Nidia is only half of the battle won.  As the novel draws to its conclusion with all the world seeming to want Hailey dead, the stakes are raised.  And she ends up making some tough choices and facing someone whom she had wronged quite badly in the past.

Hailey's War is wildly different to anything I have ever read.  Especially when it comes to thrillers.  Some of the regular beats are there, but the setting is completely different and it is so tightly plotted you can bounce pennies off its butt.

The writing is superb, the action sequences are refreshingly gritty and real and told with a matter of factness that makes you feel more than just a bit uncomfortable.  Hailey is such a wonderfully complex character that I lost my heart to her within the first few pages of this book.  If I close my eyes and think of ways to describe Hailey I would say the following: self-possessed, confident, bored, ennui, skilled, dangerous, intelligent, determined, volatile, centred.

Hailey's War is about friendship and family and honour and the ties that bind them all together.  And how far you would go to keep your word and to make things right. Hailey's War is out now in paperback, published by Simon & Schuster UK. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Pain Merchants by Janice Hardy

Nya has a secret she must never share… A gift she must never use… And a sister whose life depends on both. This astonishing debut novel is the first in the epic dystopian fantasy adventure trilogy, THE HEALING WARS.

Fifteen-year-old Nya is one of Geveg’s many orphans; she survives on odd jobs and optimism in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. Nya has a deadly secret. She is a Taker, someone who can extract pain and injury from others, but with unusual differences. Her sister Tali and other normal Takers become Healer’s League apprentices and put their extracted pain into enchanted metal, pynvium. But Nya can’t dump pain in this way. All she can do is shift it from person to person. When Nya’s secret is revealed to the pain merchants and the Healer’s League she is flung into danger. Then a ferry accident floods the city with injured, Takers start disappearing from the Healer’s League and Nya’s strange abilities are suddenly in demand. Her principles and endurance are tested to the limit when Nya’s deadly powers become the only thing that can save her sister's life.

Good fantasy for the YA market is always such a treat to read. Especially when it is done as well as The Pain Merchants. The writing is super easy to read as it flows and draws you in and before you know it, you're a hundred pages in and you realise you've not blinked enough.  And then you make excuses to catch a few more pages of reading by taking a longer commuting route to work...

Nya's predicament is that she has the ability to take in a lot of pain when healing people who are injured. She can then pass this pain onto another person and it's generally called shifting the pain and it makes her a Taker. It is a rare ability and one that is frowned on by the authorities. Nya's younger sister, Tali, is being trained as a Healer at the League. There are different levels of healing and Tali is still quite young, but she is good at what she does. The healers empty the pain they absorb into a large stone called pynvium and trouble starts when a) pynvium shipments are late in arriving due to a war taking place elsewhere and b) the pyvium that is around becomes very expensive to obtain.

Nya lives a hand-to-mouth existence. She's good friends with hunger and is used to working hard doing menial tasks to get enough money to pay for her rent or for food. When the ferry accident happens she wades in to help as many people as she can. But the toll of so many injured people is high and some are badly hurt and a lot of them die as a consequence.

Nya is abducted and taken to a pain merchant's shop and asked to perform a healing. She refuses, insisting that the damage done to the injured person is too great and that it would kill the person she's shifting the pain to. But then the old man, a fisherman, begs her to go ahead and do it. He's been promised a great deal of money to take the pain of the nobleman's child and the money should be able to help his family survive, even if he dies. Nya herself is offered a considerable amount of money to to shift the pain. In the end, she reluctantly agrees to do what they ask of her.

Nya also helps a young man, a boy only slightly older than herself. His dad had been caught up in the ferry accident and the boy, Danello, begs Nya to please help them. He can't pay in much money but he can offer her a place to sleep and some food. Nya is destitute and she agrees. She shifts some of Danelle's dad's pain to him and his twin brothers but she keeps a lot of it for herself.

This is only the start of Nya's troubles. Soon it becomes clear that word of Nya's gift has spread. People are actively searching for her and when she meets with Tali at the local park she tells Nya that some of the novices at the Healer's League are disappearing. They are taken from their beds and then they are just gone, never to return. Then, not too long later, word reaches Nya that Tali herself has disappeared. Nya goes out of her mind with worry. Tali is her sister, she is prepared to do anything to find her sister.

There is a lot going on in The Pain Merchants but the author makes juggling it all look easy. I already mentioned how ridiculously easy it was to get stuck into The Pain Merchants. The writing is great, the plot is not necessarily something new, not for old hand fantasy readers like myself, but what keeps it fresh is the characters, especially Nya. The voice reminded me strongly of Fire by Kristen Cashore - in that you never doubted Nya for one instance. You knew that this girl could suck it up and get on with it. Her voice was always clear, it never wavered and the fact that she kept moving forward, no matter what setbacks she faced, endeared her to me.

Great kudos to the author for creating a very believable situation for the story to be rooted in. The political machinations are touched on with a deft hand and it never gets so heavy that it bogs down the story and I really thought it helped move the overall feel of the story along. You slowly become aware of the world outside of Geveg, of the overall unhappiness of the long-time residents who have become second class citizens when their city was taken over by the Baseeri after the Duke decided to add it to his conquests. More refugees trickle in from nearby states as the Duke continues with his rampage across the lands, subjecting everyone to his iron rule.

It is up to Nya, Danello and Nya's friend Aylin to figure out what exactly is going on in the Healer's League and even so, once they find out what's going on, what will they do about it? That is, if they can do something about it.

A thoughtful, fast paced fantasy novel that would suit younger as well as older adult and established readers of the genre. It is also one of the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize shortlisted titles which is a great bit of luck as it is really a good, satisfying read.

Find Janice Hardy's website here.  The Pain Merchants is out now and published by Harper Collins UK.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

'R' is a zombie. He has no name, no memories, and no pulse, but he has dreams. He is a little different from his fellow Dead.

Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows - warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can’t understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her, and a tense yet strangely tender relationship begins.

This has never happened before. It breaks the rules and defies logic, but R is no longer content with life in the grave. He wants to breathe again, he wants to live, and Julie wants to help him. But their grim, rotting world won't be changed without a fight...

I’d heard about Warm Bodies before Santa dropped it off at Christmas, and up to that point I’d not been able to convince myself to give a go- a zombie/human romance? Huh? No, thank you, that wasn’t quite my cup of tea. After the shameless abuse the monsters of old have received in recent years the last thing I wanted to do was suffer through the experience of my beloved zombies going shiny and emo.

Christmas passed, and I returned to work, and conscious that W.B remained untouched on the shelf I slipped it into my very macho man-bag as my commuting read.

‘R’, the main character, is a zombie. As part of a small herd/ pack, he hunts, kills without mercy and eats the living, delighting in the texture and the high that fresh brain tissue imparts. Isaac doesn’t shy away from this, which is really important- without this, the core of the story would lose its impact.

W.B is told in a first person perspective, so you get to know ‘R’ from the first page, and through his eyes and thoughts Isaac takes us into the midst of the herd and the weird, bittersweet semblance of social order that some remnant of their minds cling to. But R is the star of the show, and a random encounter with a stray group of living survivors sets in a motion a series of events that spark a strange and long forgotten feeling inside him. Is something happening to him, or is it simply mental indigestion from the brain he’s just eaten- the brain of a boy who once loved the girl he just died defending? R doesn’t know, but it stirs him from the lethargy of his undead existence and, fired by curiosity, he takes the traumatized Julie to his ‘nest’ amidst the horde, hiding her from the hungry dead around them like a dog with a bone.

The story unfolds as R struggles to come to terms with feelings he no longer remembers and cannot express. Tormented by the memories of the boy he ate, a ghostly presence seeking its own redemption, R’s journey is a gradual one. It’s handled with a deft touch that makes it seem believable and leaves you rooting for them as the ripples of what he and Julie are experiencing spread, setting up a confrontation with something dark and terrible.

Warm Bodies was as fun to read as it was engaging. A very pleasant surprise overall, and I finished it in three sittings, which is always a good sign!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Competition: Witch & Wizard by James Patterson & Gabrielle Charbonnet

You are holding an urgent and vital narrative that reveals the forbidden truth about our perilous times....
This is the astonishing testimonial of Wisty and Whit Allgood, a sister and brother who were torn from their family in the middle of the night, slammed into prison, and accused of being a witch and a wizard. Thousands of young people have been kidnapped; some have been accused; many others remain missing. Their fate is unknown, and the worst is feared—for the ruling regime will stop at nothing to suppress life and liberty, music and books, art and magic...and the pursuit of being a normal teenager.
I've been sent a copy of the first Witch & Wizard by James Patterson to give away on MFB.  I've not had a chance to read it yet, I'm due to get to it in February, but was wondering if any of you guys would like to win the competition copy?
There's not much to the competition, just leave a comment below and a way for me to contact you - a twitter name works well or the usual coded email address to prevent spammers.  The competition is open to only the UK as I'm paying postage. 
I've looked around and found this review for W&W, so go check it out and come back here to enter for a chance to win one. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney - Competition Winners

Not only is today the official release date of The Iron Witch here in the UK (yay, Kaz!) today is also the announcement of the winners of our competition.

Having typed in the numbers in Random.Org here are the winners:


  • Miss Sigh
  • fozmeadows 
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes 


  • Kelly - I work for Books from Greece 
Congratulations to all five of you!  Keep an eye out via twitter and email as I'm about to let you know that you've won. 

Thanks so much to Random House Children's Books for letting MFB run this awesome competition.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard


Aria, Emily, Spencer, Hanna and Alison have been best friends since the third grade. They go everywhere together, thinking no-one can come between them. If anyone is the ringleader of the group it is Alison, and the other girls cannot help but confide all their secrets to her.

One night, during a sleepover, Alison goes missing. Her body is never found. The girls mourn her death but move apart after time, assuming their secrets have disappeared with Alison too.

Three years later and Aria is having an affair with her teacher; Emily is questioning her sexuality; Hanna is a thief; and Spencer is flirting with her sister's fiance. They all think their secrets are safe, until they starting receiving messages from the mysterious A – who knows exactly what they are all up to, and is threatening to spill the beans . . .

In the opening chapters of this book the group of friends seem unremarkable and fairly typical. Their little gang is made up of leaders and followers and Alison is clearly at the top. As I read on I found that Alison was actually quite a nasty piece of work and used the divide and conquer technique in her, "friendships." When she disappears at a sleepover the rest of the gang drift apart until eventually they barely speak to each other.

It was this aspect of the book that was the most interesting to me. The book perfectly captures the insecurity of school and friendships - how you can be friends one day and then tormented the next. Emily, Hanna and Spencer are great characters in their own rights and have clearly blossomed in varying degrees since Alison went missing. The dynamics of the group three years earlier made slightly uncomfortable reading for me. No-one was prepared to cross Alison and so her way of managing her friends continued.

Each girl has a secret that only Alison knew and as the book develops we get to know what they are. It becomes apparent that their secrets are not as safe as they thought as they all receive texts, emails, messages from an A. who seems to be aware of their every move. All three girls are going through various issues and A's interest only serves to ramp up the tension. There are other secrets too, ones that are not revealed to the reader by the close of this book and it's this (alongside a wish that things improve for the three main characters) that will bring readers back for more.

This book is a great example of how much books aimed at teens have changed over the years. There's a mass of issues confronted: racism, eating disorders and self harm to name just a few. Littered throughout the book are a string of references to current trends and labels and had I been the target age group I'd have eaten this up with a spoon and read the whole series.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Carte Blanche - Jeffrey Deaver's take on Bond, James Bond

I had to share this with you this morning.  It's a bit of promo from a PR company about Jeffrey Deaver's new James Bond novel,  Carte Blanche.  And as I'm a fan of Deaver and I love the contemporary setting for this one, I think I'll definitely want to read it.  Also, I love the grittier take on Bond in the new movies made and I'm very pleased that the new Bond flick will be going ahead!


The new James Bond book, due to be published later this year and written by best-selling thriller writer Jeffery Deaver, is to be called Carte Blanche. Its title and cover artwork are unveiled today (Monday 17th January), at a special launch event at the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai.

Like Fleming, Jeffery Deaver takes inspiration from exotic locations around the world, and after visiting Dubai for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature last year he decided to set part of Carte Blanche in the United Arab Emirates City.

Carte Blanche is due to be published by Hodder and Stoughton in the UK, a few days before Fleming’s birthday, on 26th May 2011. It has been commissioned by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.

Jeffery Deaver comments, “I’m really excited about being back in Dubai. It is an inspirational and awe-inspiring city and makes a perfect Bond location—especially for a novel that pushes our hero to new extremes.”

Regarding the book's title, Deaver added, “In the world of espionage, giving an agent carte blanche on a mission comes with an enormous amount of trust and constantly tests both personal and professional judgement. Part of the nonstop suspense in the novel is the looming question of what is acceptable in matters of national and international security. Are there lines that even James Bond should not cross?”

Unlike the most recent James Bond book, Sebastian Faulks’ period piece Devil May Care, Jeffery Deaver’s Bond will have a contemporary setting. As part of his latest assignment, the modern-day secret agent travels with Emirates Airline and spends a number of thrilling hours in Dubai both meeting up with an old friend and tracking a very disturbing villain.

The novel’s setting encompasses Deira and Port Saeed, and the history of the Emirates provides an exciting backdrop for some heart-stopping action.

Bond is renowned for visiting the most exotic and glamorous of cities and this is the first time Dubai has featured in a James Bond novel.

Jeffery Deaver will be making a special appearance at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, on Tuesday 18th January, when he will be speaking about his love of Bond and his experience of writing Carte Blanche.

Carte Blanche also features Fleming’s favourite car – a Bentley. Historically, Bond owned three Bentley cars in the course of the fourteen original novels written by Ian Fleming and, bringing the plot completely up to date, Bond drives a Bentley Continental GT in the new book.

Jeffery Deaver has written 28 novels and sold more than 20 million books worldwide. He is best known for his Kathryn Dance and Lincoln Rhyme books, most notably The Bone Collector, which was adapted for film in 1999, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Before becoming a full-time author, Deaver was a journalist, like Fleming, and attorney. He started writing suspense novels on the long commute to and from his office on Wall Street. His books are now translated into 25 languages and he lives in North Carolina.


Some fun Bond Book factoids:

• Over 100 million Bond books have been sold (and over half the world’s population has seen a Bond film)

• Ian Fleming wrote 14 James Bond books: Casino Royale (1953); Live and Let Die (1954); Moonraker (1955); Diamonds Are Forever (1956); From Russia with Love (1957); Dr. No (1958); Goldfinger (1959); For your Eyes Only (1960); Thunderball (1961); The Spy Who Loved Me (1962); On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963); You Only Live Twice (1964); The Man With The Golden Gun (1965) and Octopussy and the Living Daylights (1966)

• Fleming’s other works include the children’s favourite, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964), which was made into a film and stage musical, The Diamond Smugglers (1957) and a collection of travel writings called Thrilling Cities (1963)

• Charlie Higson is author of the Young Bond books which are published by Puffin. He will also be appearing at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in March.

• Samantha Weinberg, writing as Kate Westbrook, is the author of the Moneypenny Diaries

• Other previous authors of official James Bond novels include Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Raymond Benson and Sebastian Faulks, whose book became the publisher’s fastest selling hardback fiction title

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries (Omnibus 1) by Charlaine Harris


Aurora Teagarden loves reading about famous murderers - until she finds herself investigating a real-life killing spree!

The first four novels in the Aurora Teagarden mysteries series. Lawrenceton, Georgia, may be a growing suburb of Atlanta, but it's still a small town at heart. Librarian Aurora Teagarden - Roe - grew up there, and she reckons she knows everything about her fellow townsfolk, including which ones share her interest in the darker side of human nature.

This is omnibus edition contains four novels: Real Murders (book 1); A Bone to Pick (book 2); Three Bedrooms, One Corpse (book 3 ); The Julius House (book 4)

While on my Christmas break I looked around my shelves for something I'd be dying to read but hadn't found the time. This massive omnibus has been on my shelves, staring at me, for ages so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm a big fan of Charlaine Harris and of course the Sookie Stackhouse series. A couple of years ago I also read the Lily Bard books which I not only enjoyed but thought tackled a difficult subject with sensitivity. I'd tried to get hold of the Teagarden books but with no luck so was pleased to see the release of the omnibus. With the second one on the way I thought I should get on and review the first. These books were originally published in the early to mid-nineties so are a little tricky to find in there original form.

Aurora Teagarden is a librarian in Lawrenceton, unmarried and living alone. Although she tries not to let this get her down she's reminded by everyone she knows in the town she's lived in her whole life. In Real Murders she discovers a dead body in the toilet of a club she attends. The club get together each month and discuss real-life murders which makes Aurora (or Roe as she's known) a bit of an expert in police investigations and clues. She finds herself thrown out of her comfy rut into a world of danger and suspicion. What I love about Roe is that she doesn't pretend to take everything in her stride. She's horrified by the things that are happening and often runs back to her house to recover. It's this very, "realness," that makes the author's main characters so appealing.

What I love about Charlaine Harris's writing is that you instantly feel as if you're talking to an old friend. With Lily, Sookie and now Aurora I instantly slip in beside them when I open the page and watch events unfold. The way that incidental, everyday happenings are present alongside the main events make me love her books even more. I want to know what's she's having for lunch, who she meets while running errands and her thoughts on co-workers. This, alongside Aurora's troubled love life, are as important to me as the murder solving. A word of caution though - If you're looking for a taut who-dunnit with thrills and spills then these are not the books for you. However, if you like an insight into a Southern, gossipy small town with murders aplenty then give it a go. By the time we get to The Julius House, Roe's life has changed substantially but I still found myself willing her along to succeed. I'll definitely be getting the second omnibus and am extremely grateful that these can finally be purchased.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

Both Sarah and I felt the need to read and review Ms. Mahoney's book for various personal reasons and so we thought we'd both read it and do a combined review a la Booksmugglers.
Our first ever combined review:


FREAK. That’s what her classmates call seventeen-year-old Donna Underwood. When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna’s own nearly fatal injuries from the assault were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Navin Sharma.

When the darkest outcasts of Faerie—the vicious wood elves—abduct Navin, Donna finally has to accept her role in the centuries old war between the humans and the fey. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous half-fey dropout with secrets of his own, Donna races to save her friend—even if it means betraying everything her parents and the alchemist community fought to the death to protect.

Liz’s Thoughts:

The Iron Witch starts with a party. Donna doesn’t like parties, she’s not too keen being at one, but then her best friend Navin had asked her to come with him, and honestly, she couldn’t really so no to him.

At the party, Donna meets the mysterious Xan who acts pretty much the idiot. He is the host of said party but when she meets him, he’s sitting on the roof of the house, hiding out. from his guests. Xan however is not the idiot he acts to be. He realises he’s screwing up by being weird towards Donna and in the end he apologises and sees her off home with Navin. Navin, of course, ends up in a bit of a huff. He doesn’t think much of Xan but Donna finds herself strangely attracted to him - admittedly he’s handsome and when he wants to be, he’s sweet, but she senses that there is more to him than that. But how can she tell this to Navin who seems set on not wanting to understand?

As the opening chapters progress, we learn that Donna is a special girl indeed. When she was small, creatures attacked her and basically destroyed her arms and this was when she lost her dad as something killed him as he tried to protect her. She doesn’t recall why she was in the bizarre forest of Ironbridge or why these creatures were after her either or why she was attacked. What she does know is that now she is a freak. She’s not entirely human. The metal that keeps her arms together is some kind of magical construct put together through alchemy and who knows what else? She has the mysterious Maker to thank for her silver implants and for saving her life.

She now lives with her aunt who is someone high up in a group of alchemists. Both Donna’s parents were alchemists too. And Donna is undergoing training as an alchemist herself. This of course means that the reader is quickly brought up to speed with all things alchemical necessary for the importance of various objects to make sense later in the story. There is a lot of medieval lore about alchemy and I take my hat off to the author as you can tell how much hard work has gone into the research. And yet, she walks a thin balance, showing us just enough alchemical lore to keep us interested and to progress the story without inundating us with it and boring us.

Donna meets with Xan a few times and as their hesitant friendship grows we have the opportunity to learn more about Donna (and Xan) and we realise that Donna’s a wonderfully intelligent, amusing and conflicted main character. But it is when Donna is with Navin that she really shines and we see her relaxed and at ease. But even Navin, her best friend, doesn’t know the extent of the Donna’s secrets.

The story is set in Ironbridge, a town in America that is entirely fictional. It allows Ms. Mahoney great leverage and she has the opportunity to create a lot of interesting settings, including the deeply mysterious forest of Ironbridge. And with the forest come the wood elves. Awful twisted creatures from our deepest nightmares. They add an extra level of menace and darkness to The Iron Witch. Tied in with them we find out a bit about Xan’s background and it’s not pleasant and we surmise a few things about Donna’s own background.

It’s when Navin gets taken by these creatures that things kick off into a new level of scary and it is up to Donna to face some of her own fears, break all the rules she knows, and push herself to the limit to do everything she can to save her friend.

Overall thoughts:

I’ve waited a long time to read The Iron Witch. I am pleased to say that it was worth the wait. Ms. Mahoney gives us a fresh new voice, interesting characters and above all, interesting rich lore - and I’m not just talking about the alchemy either. Her dark elves are deliciously menacing and their leader, The Wood Queen a really interesting villain. I couldn’t help but feel intrigued by her - she is on a knife’s edge of going either way as the villain - is she really bad or is she only bad because we don’t know her full story? I loved the ambiguity in this instance and although the story ends well, with several strands tied off, there are enough questions left over to make us wait (im)patiently for The Iron Witch’s companion novels, The Wood Queen and The Stone Demon.

Sarah’s thoughts

I’ve also been keen (okay – champing at the bit) to read The Iron Witch. Ages ago I remember Karen Mahoney using a lovely icon on her blog of a girl walking down a narrow path, mist surrounding her, and saying she thought it was the perfect icon for her book. I couldn’t wait to find out more about this mysterious world so was excited to get my hands on a copy. Immediately the reader is thrust into the action through an extract from Donna’s journal and we know that something extraordinary has happened to her in the past. Next, we’re straight into the present with her meeting with Xan at the party. I loved aloof Xan immediately (oh dear, that’s not a good sign as he definitely should have a sign saying, “Bad Boy,” hanging over his head). The first chapter crackles with the underlying feeling that everything is not what it seems. I love this feeling; when you’re at the start of a book that you’ve been looking forward to and you know you’re on the brink of falling into a new world.

The town of Ironbridge met my expectations and more. It has that glorious dual feeling of being a normal place with high schools and coffee shops but underneath it’s sizzling with mystery; elves, hidden Old Paths, workshops and shadowy houses. It provides everything I love about urban fantasy – the feeling that just a hair’s breadth away is another world waiting to be discovered. Ironbridge provides the perfect platform for the events of The Iron Witch.

Aside from the setting there are a wealth of great characters. Donna is instantly likeable by being both vulnerable but with an inner strength and strong belief in what’s right and wrong. Her relationship with Xan enables her to break out of the semi-cloistered world she’s been stuck in. She finds herself able to let go a little with him and the scene where she takes off her long gloves for him in a coffee shop is both touching and intimate. As their relationship grows Donna finds herself drawn into a world where she’s lead to question her beliefs.

Underlying all the action is a great deal of research into alchemy which serves to make the story all the more rich. As Liz has said, there’s just enough detail to intrigue the reader and I loved Donna’s investigations into the Frost estate, which is both beautiful but strangely threatening. To sum up, The Iron Witch is quite simply a gorgeous read. I was pulled in and bewitched by it but now I have to wait for the sequel. I wonder if tapping my fingers on the desk will make it come any quicker?

Find Karen Mahoney's website here.

Competition Time!

We are so excited about The Iron Witch that we bribed Random House to PUHLEASE let us give some copies away.  And, of course, they totally agreed. (ah, the power of cake)

Here's what we've got to offer:

FIVE copies of THE IRON WITCH to give away.  FOUR to UK people and ONE to a lucky international entrant.

Rules: comment below if you'd like to enter and tell us what it is about urban fantasy that appeals to you.  Remember to make sure we know how to contact you if you enter - i.e. twitter name / link to website etc. Oh, also tell us if you're UK or elsewhere.

The competition will run till 20th January and I'm diarising it now so that we can the winners on the day.  Good luck!

What are you waiting for?  Get entering!  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell

God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe...

Older than her years and completely alone, Temple is just trying to live one day at a time in a post-apocalyptic world, where the undead roam endlessly, and the remnant of mankind who have survived, at times, seem to retain little humanity themselves.

This is the world she was born into. Temple has known nothing else. Her journey takes her to far-flung places, to people struggling to maintain some semblance of civilization – and to those who have created a new world order for themselves.

When she comes across the helpless Maury, she attempts to set one thing right, if she can just get him back to his family in Texas then maybe it will bring redemption for some of the terrible things she's done in her past. Because Temple has had to fight to survive, has done things that she's not proud of and, along the road, she’s made enemies.

Now one vengeful man is determined that, in a world gone mad, killing her is the one thing that makes sense…

Reapers hit the shelves in September last year, and it’s a veritable crime that it took so long to work its way into my hands.

Set amidst the detritus and crumbling remains of post zombie apocalypse America, Reapers follows the story of a teenage girl named Temple as she meanders across the empty landscape, its dangers both hidden and overt. Temple’s a loner and a survivor though, born into a merciless, dystopian world and hardened by the necessities of survival when the rules of civilization are passing from history into myth.

An encounter with a community of survivors changes the course of her life though when she reacts to a personal attack with the same vicious aplomb that had let her survive this long. She breaks away, and soon thereafter finds herself taking reluctant charge of Maury, a slow but gentle man.

But she knows that the dead man’s brother is sworn to vengeance, bound by his own code as she is by hers. The pursuit plays out against the backdrop of a bleak and unforgiving world, with glimpses of hope and beauty amidst the shambling horrors that lurk in wait for the unwary.

It’s written in an unusual way, but one that you become accustomed to quite quickly and actually helps set the tone of the story. Temple’s a vivid character, brought to life by Bell’s elegant and evocative storytelling and overall Reapers will surprise you, as it did me, in the best possible way whether you’re a fan of dystopian fiction or not.