Monday, February 28, 2011

Competition Time! Win the first five books in The Immortals series.

I've had such a blast reading The Immortals series and I'm happy to announce that Macmillan have been kind enough to let us have two sets of the first five books in the series up for grabs.

So here's the deal:

TWO sets of the first FIVE books in The Immortals series by Alyson Noel. So we'll have TWO winners.

Rules: comment below if you'd like to enter and tell us what your favourite series is. Remember to make sure we know how to contact you if you enter - i.e. twitter name / link to website etc. Competition open to UK people only please.

The competition will run till 4th March and I'm diarising it now so that we can the winners on the day. Good luck!

What are you waiting for? Get entering!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fall of Damnos by Nick Kyme

++ Astropathic choir intercept XC114, Valin's Revenge 965.973.M41 ++
++ Message fragment recovered by Choirmaster ++
++ Transcript follows ++

++ ... All is lost, casualties presumed near total. Only Kellenport remains. As Lord Governor, recognised by the High Lords of Terra, I beseech all Imperial servants receiving this message to come to our aid with all haste. May the Emperor shield us.

Scant information exists on the invading force save for a binaric data-burst. Transliteration follows: "We are the Necrontyr. We are Legion. We claim dominion of this world. Surrender and die." ++

++ Transcript forwarded to the bridge for attnetion of Captain Sicarius ++
++ Mark most urgent ++

It begins with the discovery of a mysterious metallic object in one of the countless mines of Damnos, a prize irresistible to the tech-priests in attendance. The excavations begin, and the Necrons stir from aeons-long slumber beneath the surface. Implacable and merciless, the legions of living metal begin their reclamation of Damnos and the eradication of all life thereon.

Enter the 2nd Company of Ultramarines, led by the ambitious, charismatic Captain Sicarius. It's a chance for the Company to earn immortal glory, but at what price?

The action comes thick and fast, as befits the Space Marines Battles Series (the clue's in the name) and while Nick is very good at putting you into the thick of the savage brutality of the combat, what really makes Fall work is his treatment of the cast of characters. Each is given a clear identity and perspective, thus avoiding becoming just another cobalt armoured gun plodding along. A bit of backstory goes a long way.

And on that point it's interesting to see Nick poking around amidst the unstable psyche of the Necrontyr, a faceless, terrifying foe, making them more than a genocidal army of Terminator/Dalek hybrids, infusing them an air of a long forgotten tragedy.

All in, Fall of Damnos was a non-stop action blast, but one that offered a lot more than I expected. More like this please!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Summoning by E E Richardson


Justin hasn't ever really believed in the occult, even though his Grandpa, Blake is an expert in it and has a house full of curious objects and old tattered books on magic. But when Daniel Eilersen, the class know-it-all, starts acting all high-and-mighty, Justin thinks he can scare him by performing a magic ritual from the ancient book he's stolen from his granddad's study. His friend Trevor, who always goes along with what Justin says and his little sister, Joy, complete the group.

It's all about the atmosphere of course and Justin plans to give Eilersen a proper scare, but nothing will actually happen ... Or will it ...? On the old tennis court in the park, late one night, the four of them, unaware of the consequences of their actions, summon Dracherion, a malicious and dangerous spirit bent on revenge for being imprisoned in the ancient book by Grandpa Blake, years ago. Things go wrong and Dracherion breaks out of the circle designed to enclose him. The ritual has bound them to Dracherion and Justin, Joy, Trevor and Daniel know that the spirit will try and possess one of them so it can grow in strength and wreak its vengeance. A terrifying struggle follows as Dracherion grows stronger and stronger. It's a race against time to try and find a way of banishing the spirit out of this world. But how do they do that when one of them can't be trusted ...?

This is hands-down one of the scariest novels I have read.  It's aimed at younger readers but there is a grown-up quality to it that just refused to let go.  E.E. Richardson's writing is vivid, down to earth, with little exposition.  We are introduced to the characters swiftly and without much fuss and honestly, within the first two pages you just know things are going to go badly for these four.

The synopsis above, taken from Fantastic Fiction's site, gives you the basic background of the story, so I won't harp on about that too much.  What else is there, you may wonder.  Well, we have some great characters at play here - Justin is the main character.  He's a bit arrogant, a bit full of himself and convinced that is way is always right.  In this instance he takes after his dad, quite a bit.  Joy, his sister is the voice of reason but she is young and although she is a bit stubborn, she is easily lead.  Trevor is the wet one - he seems a strange kid from the word go.  He doesn't seem to have much personality.  He could be anyone and although he occasionally raises his opinion, no one takes him seriously.  I really didn't like him.  He was grey and unattractive to me as a character.  Daniel on the other hand bristled with arrogance and knowitall vibes.  Opinionated, intelligent and studious, he is the perfect foil to Justin's hot-headedness.

It makes complete sense that there would be some major personality clashes in the book and I liked it.  It drove the story forward and helped with the tension between the characters.  It helped with the suspicion too - who is the one who has been chosen by Dracherion to be the vessel?  It could be anyone. Which one of the four sneaked out to scratch weird symbols on Justin and Trevor's front doors? Why has Justin started sleepwalking and why can't he remember doing so? 

All clues pointed to Justin being the one under the sway of the entity that came through.  He is acting irrationally and has problems controlling his temper. 

In the limited time they have, the four of them sneak around, trying to figure out how to stop Dracherion and put him back in the book, the box, whatever they can find to contain him.

The novel only takes place over say two / three days maximum and yet it feels both longer as well as far too short.  A lot happens in this short space of time.  The kids really have their perception of the world rocked and to give them their dues, they are keen to sort it out, but will their plans work?  And will everything end well?

This is a pacey thriller written by a spectacularly devious mind and I for one am looking forward to reading EE Richardson's other offerings. I'd highly recommend this to readers who are perhaps slightly on the older side of the YA range, unless the younger lot feel adequately brave that they can take a bit of psychological supernatural horror.

The Summoning has been out since 2007 so should be available to find online and in various good bookshops.  EE Richardson is published by Random House Children's Books.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Immortals: Dark Flame by Alyson Noel



Once it seemed being immortal was a gift to Ever Bloom - now it's a curse. And she's a danger to herself.

Ever has been dabbling in Magyck - seeking to explore her own powers, hoping to find a future for her relationship with Damen. But she's not in control - in fact, the magyck has bound her eternally to her immortal enemy, Roman. Whenever he's near, she feels his heartbeat, his breath, his blood racing in her veins. Ever is in deep - and the one person who might be able to help her must never find out what she's done . . .

The events of at the close of Shadowland were dramatic and meant that Dark Flame opens with a great deal for Ever to deal with. To begin with Haven is making things very difficult and if Ever isn't regretting her choices then I certainly am! Haven really transforms in Dark Flame and her actions put a strain on everyone she knows. Dark Flame is also the book which had me almost screaming, "Noooooo!" at Ever on multiple occasions. In Shadowland I felt that Ever had really grown as a character but that was nothing in comparison to her growth in this book. However, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ever's difficult decision at the end of Shadowland has far-reaching results in Dark Flame. Although she made her decision with the best intentions it does raise the question which runs throughout this book whether it is better to leave things to fate (or nature) or to intervene using supernatural means. Messing with the natural course of events is dangerous and Ever makes this mistake time and time again. Roman is a brilliant baddie and, if it's possible, he's even more hateful in this book. Ever constantly makes decisions which leave her isolated and she always seems unwilling to accept help (queue more yelling from me!).

Miles is heading to Florence to attend an acting school over the summer. Incidentally, Miles is becoming one of my favourite characters; he's loyal, funny and has steadily grown in confidence as the series progresses. His trip has got Damen a little worried as there's so much of his past in Florence that Miles could discover. Haven and Ever start to grate on each other as Haven finds herself drawn closer to Roman. Unfortunately, Ever's attention is not entirely taken up with Damen. In fact, Ever makes some awful decisions as she finds herself looking for a quick fix for her problems in magic.

I haven't even mentioned the role that Summerlands play in this book. It becomes apparent that they're not just a happy and harmless place of manifestation but that it holds the answers to life's problems and more. Ever's meddling with magic gives Dark Flame a sinister feel but her solution wasn't what I expected which seems to be one of the themes of this series. An exciting instalment that doesn't disappoint.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Immortals: Shadowland by Alyson Noel



Ever and Damen have travelled through countless past lives – and fought off the world’s darkest enemies – in search of each other. But just when their destiny seems finally within reach, a powerful curse falls upon them. A single touch of their hands, a soft brush of their lips will mean death for Damen – cast into the darkness of the Shadowland. But as she seeks to break the curse, Ever meets Jude – a green-eyed, golden surfer boy who understands magick, and understands Ever better than she realises. And she begins to ask a terrifying question: even if you’re immortal, can true love really last forever?

Good news first - Damen has been saved. Bad news - Ever has inadvertently triggered a curse which means that Damen is viciously allergic to Ever and just a touch could kill him. I kind of like this neat resolution to the will-they-won't-they question. It ensures that we're focused on the story rather than on Damen and Ever's intimacy issues. To make matters more serious his brush with death meant that he was sent to the Shadow Land which is a place where immortals go when they die. It's a bleak and lonely space where an immortal will exist for all eternity completely alone. The result of all this bleakness is that Damen is much more serious in this book than he has been before. He starts to turn his back on his love of fast cars and cool clothes and instead hopes to earn some good karma by giving something back.

Just as I was losing patience with Damen we're introduced to the gorgeous Jude who brings some much needed light relief. Jude is the grandson of occult shop owner Lina. He's covering for the summer and Ever finds herself drawn to him. I loved the introduction of Jude as he's laid back, relaxed and able to provide the voice of reason in quite an intense book. Ever starts to help out at the shop and through her work there is drawn into a world of magic and starts to get completely out of her depth.

Roman is fabulously cruel throughout and all the more wonderful for it. He really is the character that I love to hate. He really didn't disappoint at all and stayed true to his awful self throughout. He continues to manipulate those around him and to make things as difficult as possible for poor Ever. Ever makes a string of unwise decisions and I did find myself feeling a little exasperated with her at one point. However, what I found refreshing was that ultimately Ever has to make some quite startling discoveries about herself and make some changes. These involved actually listening to others for a change and opening her mind to new possibilities.

Shadowland is my favourite Immortals book so far. The introduction of new characters keeps the series fresh and I feel that Ever had something of a personal revelation in that she made some important discoveries about herself and her how her repeated behaviour was holding her back. Secondary characters such as Miles and Haven add a great deal to the story and hint at future plot lines. The series is opened up by the events of Shadowland and I'm excited to see what happens next.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mice by Gordon Reece

I really didn’t know what to expect from Mice, at all. I was a bucket full of doubt, not sure which way the author was going with it or what the outcome was going to be. In the end I told myself to shut the frack up already and get on with the reading of the book.

The entire novel is told from Shelley’s point of view. It is a very dark, very intimate novel and as such, a bit of an exhausting albeit excellent read.

Shelley’s story begins when they move into a remote cottage in the countryside, far away from everyone. Shelley’s being home-schooled as they have been advised to keep her away from the local school where the “incident” had happened. The authorities take great care to not let on where their new home is, for fear that the children who had taken part in Shelley’s bullying find out where they had moved to.

Shelley’s voice never wavers as she tells her story – we are filled in about the “incident” and about her parents splitting up before that and how her mum practically lay down and died instead of fighting for what is hers during the divorce. It drove me crazy, just a bit.

Yes, there is exposition, quite a bit of it, and I grew a bit tired of it but can honestly say that without that exposition, I wouldn’t have understood Shelley or her mum half as well as I did at the end of the novel.

The exposition takes us through Shelley’s incident with the bullies at school. It is told in a very matter of fact way. I think it wouldn’t have made such an impact on me had her telling of it been a bit more hysterical. Instead we get a very level, very logical and reasoned explanation of events, the run up to the attack that left her scarred and the aftermath, including the move to the countryside.

The period at Honeysuckle Cottage is almost too good to be true. There is an amazing dreamy quality about their lives. It’s almost a nostalgic 1950’s blurry image of how people’s lives are in real life. Shelley and her mum are close and they grow closer still. But they are still mice, still timid, but even in their timidity, they laugh and cook and devour rich meals they prepared together. I willed this not to change. Shelley was acting as a mini-adult – never breaking out and doing something teen-like and it worried me. She stayed in, listened to music, played her flute, spent a lot of time with her mum and only really exploring the outside of the cottage in a tentative way.

I’ll be honest. I did not really like Shelley or her mum. I didn’t like that they were victims. Not only did they see themselves as victims and called themselves mice, they acted in the exact way that made them victims and mice. It’s sort of pushed down your throat that Shelley and her mum always managed to get the short straw. In the end – as much as I hated it – I began identifying with them, seeing their point of view and rejoicing in their tiny victories. I didn’t like it but couldn’t help myself. I was so drawn into Shelley’s narrative that I couldn’t break away.

Then, the night before Shelley’s sixteenth birthday, an intruder gains access to their idyll. A smelly, drunken drugged up oaf who tie up Shelley and her mum. Afterwards he blunders through the house, stuffing items into his bag, making a mess of things.

Shelley’s mum is terrified and unable to move. Shelley however is equally terrified but her fear turns into anger. It’s as if a switch flicks on in her head and we watch her turn from mouse to something altogether different. Predator perhaps? Or victim in another sense.

Needless to say, her actions when she manages to get loose , complicate matters for them. They try and tidy away all trace of the awful intrusion and to continue with their lives, trying to be bland and unassuming.

But the incident has shaken something loose in both women. They’ve cracked open the shell they’ve been living in and start standing up for themselves: Shelley speaks up for herself when her one tutor implies that her bullying and scars are nothing to whinge about; her mum refuses to work overtime for no pay at her office and she even slaps her boss for his unwanted attentions.

As before there are a few weeks of euphoria for Shelley and her mum. They have come out of the ordeal stronger, tougher, more confident. But also very different characters.

One further incident happens, one I won’t give away, but as it is resolved, and the book nears its ending, my blood ran cold. I knew how it was going to end I realised! And it does and yet I’m not let down because the ending is perfect. Well, in theory, it’s not a perfect ending but it leaves Shelley and her mum in exactly the place they need to be. Just thinking about it gives me this ominous shiver down my spine.

Mice is a finely crafted psychological thriller. In fact, it is part thriller / part literary examination of bullying and physical and mental abuse and the consequences it has on the victims and what would happen if those victims start standing up for themselves and fighting back. But not in the way you or I might expect.

A word of warning though – Mice is an exhausting read. It has some truly lyrically beautiful moments but it is a tense novel with a great payoff. But it is dark. Just in case you got fooled by my review.

Mice is out on the 18th Feb from Mantle, an imprint at PanMacMillan. Find Gordon Reece's website here.

PS: I've been thinking about this and I do think Mice is YA too, especially as the main character is a teen. A lot of what she's going through, many teens will be able to identify with.  So I'd also recommend this to older, more mature teens who like darker fiction - there is no romance and it is quite brutal in some parts, but it is still an excellent read, especially if you're an aspiring writer yourself and you are wondering how to ratchet up the tension.  Mice is text-book worthy good.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Siren by Tricia Rayburn


Timid seventeen-year-old Vanessa Sands has always had her sister Justine to protect her. Until Justine is found dead near their holiday home and her boyfriend Caleb goes missing.

Looking for answers, Vanessa finds solace in Simon, Caleb’s handsome brother. But time is running out as more men disappear, their bodies washed ashore grinning from ear-to-ear.

As Vanessa delves deeper into Winter Harbour’s murky past she discovers that nothing is what it seems. Not even her. And only she may have the power to stop this.

Will she find the courage to face up to what she really is - before Simon becomes the next victim?

It took me far too long to pick up Sirens. And once I did, I couldn't not finish it. I wanted to tell the world about. I emailed poor @esssjay and waffled on at her about it for ages. She needs a gold star for putting up with me.

So, here I am today to gush at you about Siren. Firstly, that cover is just amazing. I wondered if the writing would live up to the pretty cover and it does. It lives up to it and it surpasses it.

Ms. Rayburn's writing is clear, concise and without much frippery. Her writing echoes her main character, Vanessa's, no-nonsense attitude. Admittedly Vanessa is pretty much like me, actually - scared of heights and not very good at doing things impulsively. Unlike me she has a great many other fears too. It makes her a slightly anxious person and she's forever looking for reassurance and gets it from her sister Justine. Justine is the complete opposite to Vanessa. She's loud, pretty, funny, gregarious, always up for doing something silly and perhaps a little bit dangerous. She loves Vanessa to bits and goes out her way to make sure her younger sister is looked after and safe.

So when Justine disappears and her body is found battered and washed up on the beach and rocks near their holiday home, Vanessa needless to say is deeply traumatised. At the funeral she can't shake the feeling that Justine is there, talking to her. She feels like an outcast, looking in. Her mum is desperate for things to go back to normal and immediately returns to work. Her dad is the absentminded writer but probably the keener eyed of the two parents. He shares a good relationship with Vanessa and when she decides to go back to their holiday home by the lake he backs her up.

For Vanessa to do something like is momentous. She's a bit shy and a scared person, but she is also stubborn and keen to figure out what had happened to her sister. Everyone assumed she drowned herself by jumping off the cliff. Vanessa however knows that although Justine was reckless at times, she wasn't stupid.

Back at the holiday home, Vanessa teams up with Simon, Caleb's brother, to not only try and find Caleb who had gone missing, but also to figure out what exactly was going on in the area, what with so many people (specifically men) dying. And of course they want to puzzle out what was going on with Justine too.

Siren is a whodunnit with an edge of the supernatural thrown in. The romance between Simon and Vanessa is slow to start and quite sweet but it is not the main focus of Siren. The main focus is Vanessa's growth as character and her slow realisation that everything she had known about her and Justine is so far off the charts that it actually can't be explained in a normal way. We watch Vanessa go from a quiet, reticent young girl to a young woman of courage, grace and determination.

The writing stands out because it is very engaging - Vanessa's voice rings true. I faltered a few times myself, whilst reading it, thinking that maybe one or two of her actions was not as believable as I'd liked, but then when reading further, it became clear what was going on.

Simon is also a great male character. Maybe a bit underdeveloped but it is his scientific research and obsession with the weather, that gives them some of their best leads. His loyalty to both Caleb and Justine is remarkable and I loved that in him. When he eventually plucks up the courage to kiss Vanessa I cheered a bit. You want this guy to succeed. He's nice. A decent guy who should get the girl

Caleb's character remains a mystery for quite a part of the novel but we are drip-fed information about him and by the time he is on the scene, he has all our attention and empathy. Another great character and one written with great sensitivity. I think I'm in like with him a little bit.

Vanessa and Simon's exploration of the myths and lore around the area the story takes place is nerve wracking. I expected Bad Things to happen to them all the time. From this you can deduce that the novel was tense, and it was. The author kept a steady hand on the undertone of growing menace so that when the turning point comes you throw yourself right in after the characters, hoping for the best.

I enjoyed Siren. I thought it was well written and it breaks the mould for supernatural YA as the focus is not the romance, the focus is the story and the character growth. Sadly however, this is not a standalone. I say sadly because now I have to (im)patiently wait for the next book to come out and although the novel didn't end on a cliffhanger, a lot of questions went unanswered and it's driving me slightly crazy not knowing what's going to happen. Sigh!

Siren is out now from Faber & Faber. Find Tricia Rayburn's website here and her blog here.

Oh, I've just popped by Tricia's site and seen her US covers which are gorgeous! Look at them:

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Immortals: Blue Moon by Alyson Noel



Things have changed for Ever since she met her beloved Damen – not least because she’s got a whole new set of powers, courtesy of her new Immortal status. Just as she's getting stronger, though, Damen seems to be weakening. Panicked at the thought of losing him, Ever finds a path to the in-between world known as Summerland, where she learns the secrets of Damen’s tortured past. But in searching for a cure for him, Ever accidentally discovers a way to twist time so she can save her family from the accident that killed them. It’s all she’s ever wanted – but so is Damen. And Ever must choose between them . . .

I loved Evermore and was keen to start Blue Moon although I was worried that the sequel wouldn't have the punch of the original. However, so much has changed for Ever between book one and two and Blue Moon had familiar characters but was a whole new adventure. The book opens with Ever working on her new skills while wrestling with the much more earthly worry of taking her relationship with Damen further. They decide to organise a romantic hotel stay that weekend but it coincides with the arrival of a new boy at school called Roman. Although everyone (literally everyone) welcomes Roman, Ever has a bad feeling about him. Soon she finds herself completely isolated and unable to do anything but watch as Damen grows weaker and weaker.

I enjoyed watching Ever develop her skills and starting to shed her hoodie and headphones. However, her happiness is short-lived and soon she's in a tricky situation. The bullying from the likes of the awful Stacia gets worse and I felt so sorry for Ever as her mishaps get posted to the internet for the whole school to laugh at. I think this is one of the strengths of the Immortals series in that no matter how entrenched Ever gets into her paranormal world there's always something real to drag her back to earth. Also, it's this kind of reality that enable her readers to feel close to her.

Soon Ever has to make a choice when she discovers a way she could remove herself from her misery and save her family by heading back in time. She finds out everything she needs to know in Summerland - a place which occupies the space between worlds. Here she meets the twins Romy and Rayne, young girls who help her access historical records that show her how to save Damen but also how to return to her family. The more isolated Ever becomes the more she relies on the Summerlands to provide her with a retreat. She also turns to the psychic Ava for help and I was pleased to get to know this character a bit more after the events of Evermore.

I found Blue Moon just as addictive as Evermore. Ever's far from perfect and I love this about her. She's not the best judge of character and makes misguided decisions which makes her all the more appealing. At times I was almost shouting, "No!" at her as I flipped through the pages. Blue Moon also introduces a little spell crafting and crystal use which adds to the richness of the story. I'm totally addicted to this series and can't wait to read the next one.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

0.4 by Mike Lancaster

It's a brave new world. 'My name is Kyle Straker. And I don't exist anymore.' So begins the story of Kyle Straker, recorded on to old audio tapes. You might think these tapes are a hoax. But perhaps they contain the history of a past world...If what the tapes say are true, it means that everything we think we know is a lie. And if everything we know is a lie does that mean that we are, too?
0.4 is a rare animal - intelligently written plot driven science fiction for a younger generation who may not know they are reading science fiction. At the start of the book we are introduced to the story by an editor who tell us that the book we are holding in our hands is an old, outdated format of conveying a narrative and the reason why the book has been put together will become apparent as the story unfolds.  There are editorial comments inserted throughout the book, explaining unknown terms such as “reality TV” and notes on research done on the tapes the book is transcribed from. 
It’s a very different way to begin a story and I initially thought it was a bit of a gimmick, but as the story went on, I learned differently. 
Our main character, Kyle, is just an average kid in an average village somewhere in the UK.  He’s watching his parents desperately trying to save their crumbling marriage, his brother is being an idiot and Kyle, well, Kyle is harboring an infatuation for his best mate, Danny’s girlfriend, Lilly. They once had a “thing” but Kyle managed to screw it up and now he’s the third person to their (un)happy little group of friends. 
The big day of the town’s talent show is coming up and Kyle reluctantly agrees to go and watch everyone make idiots of themselves.  He’s cringing inwardly when his mate Danny walks onto the stage to do his new hypnotism show but before he knows it, Kyle finds himself up there on stage, along with Lilly, the postman Mr. Peterson and Mrs. O’Donnell, an ex teacher. 
Danny seems to pull off a successful hypnotism act, or so the small group think, when they awake. Things don’t seem right somehow. No one is moving.  There is a peculiar silence in the air.  The village has come to a standstill - no one is moving, no one is talking, there’s just Kyle, Lilly, Mr. Peterson and Mrs. O’Donnell who seem “awake” and Mr. Peterson’s not taking things very well.  He’s curled up in a small bundle, crying, whimpering to himself, refusing to acknowledge anyone. 

Kyle, Lilly and Mrs. O'Donnell wander through the town, trying to puzzle what’s going on.  They try emergency services but there is nothing on the other side of the line.  They turn on Mrs. O’Donnell’s Mac and weirdly, there are all these bizarre glyphs scrolling across the screen.  What is going on? As they try and puzzle things out, they notice that people have started moving away from the Green, towards their homes.  There is no talking, no real communication, but everyone is moving.  Which is far better than when they were all just motionless. 
When Kyle confronts his own family he realises that life as he knew it has changed and maybe he’s not that safe as he would like to think.  He makes a run for it, finds Lilly, Mrs. O’Donnell and Mr. Peterson and together they set off to find the how/what/why/etc. 
As things develop we only know and find out as much as Kyle and the group find out and it is this limited point of view that really serves to give us a distanced perspective and it because of the distance that the creep factor is dialed up nine.
Just scroll up and look at that picture on the cover again.  Creepy.  Euch.  And it becomes quite clear why it was chosen as we rush headlong towards the ending.  
The whole concept is not a very new one, I’ll be honest.  If you’re a movie fan and have read various science fiction titles, you’ll quickly suss out what the book is about.  But, and it’s a big but, here, Mike Lancaster writes 0.4 just so well that you don’t really mind that the concept isn’t as new and as fresh as it could have been.  He spins a great yarn and the fact that the story isn’t dumbed down or held back by unnecessary secondary plotlines makes this a great read.  I read it twice, in fact, and loved it even more the second time around. And it’s creepy and eerie as all hell.  Especially in this day in age where we are all so very reliant on our mobiles and computers and the internet. It made me very uncomfortable and it made me think that maybe, maybe those glimpses of something from the corner of my eye were not just shadows…
Find Mike Lancaster’s site here. This is the site dedicated to Kyle Straker

PS: If you've liked this, why not try John Cristopher's "The Death of Grass" and "Midwich Cuckoos" by John Wyndham.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Locus Online, best of 2010

I am a sucker for lists.  Short listed titles, favourite books by other readers in a list-shape, grocery lists, character traits in list form.  You name it in a list and I love it.

Locus Magazine Online now have their top 2010 recommended titles listed on their website.  And of course, I had to go and look and see what I've read and who they've listed.  And there is a fair few, but even more I have never heard of.  So they will be going onto my wishlist for later this year to indulge in.

I am, however, excited by their YA titles they mention and here they are:

Young Adult Books

Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
The White Cat, Holly Black (Simon & Schuster/McElderry Books)
Pathfinder, Orson Scott Card (Simon Pulse)
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)
Factotum, D. M. Cornish (Omnibus Australia; Fickling UK; Putnam)
Thresholds, Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Viking)
Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones (HarperCollins UK; Greenwillow)
The Boneshaker, Kate Milford (Clarion)
Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press; Walker UK)
The Keys to the Kingdom, Book 7: Lord Sunday, Garth Nix (Scholastic Press; HarperCollins UK)
I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK; Harper)
Fever Crumb, Philip Reeve (Scholastic)
Kid vs. Squid, Greg van Eekhout (Bloomsbury)
Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse)
The titles in BOLD are the ones we have reviewed on MFB in the past.  The titles in italics are the titles I have at home but have not yet managed to read.  But I will. 

One title I am very keen to read is by Greg van Eekhout - Kid vs Squid.  I am a fan of Mr. van Eekhout as I reviewed his Norse Code a while ago and I've even named my iMac after the character in Norse Code, i.e. Mist.  I am that geeky, yes. I think I may have to add that to the top of my wishlist on Amazon immediately.

Lets have a look at the Fantasy Titles they mention:

Novels - Fantasy
The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz, translated by Andrew Oakland (Dalkey Archive)
The Bird of the River, Kage Baker (Tor)
Zoo City, Lauren Beukes (Jacana South Africa; Angry Robot UK; Angry Robot US)
The Desert Spear, Peter V. Brett (Ballantine Del Rey; HarperVoyager)
Changeless, Gail Carriger (Orbit US)
The Wolf Age, James Enge (Pyr)
Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde (Viking; Hodder & Stoughton)
The Jade Man's Skin, Daniel Fox (Del Rey)
The Half-Made World, Felix Gilman (Tor)
Horns, Joe Hill (Morrow; Gollancz)
Kings of the North, Cecelia Holland (Forge)
Hespira, Matthew Hughes (Night Shade Books)
Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Canada; Roc)
The Bards of Bone Plain, Patricia A. McKillip (Ace)
Kraken, China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Ballantine Del Rey)
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell (Random House)
Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
The Folding Knife, K. J. Parker (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
A Matter of Blood, Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)
The House of Discarded Dreams, Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books)
A Dark Matter, Peter Straub (Doubleday; Orion)
The Fuller Memorandum, Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
The Habitation of the Blessed, Catherynne M. Valente (Night Shade Books)
The Sorcerer's House, Gene Wolfe (Tor)
As before, the BOLD we've reviewed on MFB.  But look at all those books in italics! I have them all on my shelf and really should get my butt in gear and read some of them, at least, right? Right!  I would be keen to try Guy Gavriel Kay's book "Under Heaven" because I loved his novel Ysabel so much. Also, The House of Discarded Dreams by Ekaterina Sedia - what a phenomenal title.  I bought a copy of her other novel The Secret History of Moscow some time ago and rediscovered it this weekend when I was looking for something else.  It's shimmied its way up my TBR pile.

Locus have also listed some worthy first novels:

First Novels
The Loving Dead, Amelia Beamer (Night Shade Books)
Noise, Darin Bradley (Spectra)
Clowns at Midnight, Terry Dowling (PS Publishing)
A Book of Tongues, Gemma Files (ChiZine Publications)
The Native Star, M. K. Hobson (Ballantine Spectra)
Meeks, Julia Holmes (Small Beer Press)
The Last Page, Anthony Huso (Tor)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord (Small Beer Press)
The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Dexter Palmer (St. Martin's)
The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz; Tor 2011)
The Bookman, Lavie Tidhar (Angry Robot UK; Angry Robot US)
The Replacement, Brenna Yovanoff (Razorbill)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu (Pantheon)
The Native Star by MK Hobson I bought from Forbidden Planet towards the end of last year, read it and loved it.  I've not yet reviewed it but if you spot it in the shop, grab it.  Old timey Western with magic and quite a bit of steampunky goodness thrown in for good measure.  I'm very keen to read the second novel by MK Hobson as this girl can WRITE!  Need I embarrass myself with how much I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemison? No.  I don't.  I still can't speak about it properly.  It is hot, amazing, wonderful fantasy of the highest calibre.  I have the second one lined up to read very soon. Also, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff.  Dark, twisty, creepy - fairytales the way they were meant to be told.

Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. Hmm.  I read the first two chapters.  It messed with my head, but I loved it.  I will definitely be reading it - it's a futuristic crime caper...only not in the Firefly way you would expect.

Anthologies - Original

The Way of the Wizard, John Joseph Adams, ed. (Prime Books)
Zombies vs. Unicorns, Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier, eds. (McElderry)
The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, eds. (Viking)
Is Anybody Out There?, Nick Gevers & Marty Halpern, eds. (DAW)
Black Wings: New Tales Of Lovecraftian Horror, S. T. Joshi, ed. (PS Publishing)
Sprawl, Alisa Krasnostein, ed. (Twelfth Planet Press)
Warriors, George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, eds. (Tor)
Godlike Machines, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (SFBC)
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery, Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders, eds. (Eos)
These underlined titles are titles I would LOVE to get my grubby paws on.  Especially Zombies vs Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier,  as well as The Beastly Bridge by Ellen Datlwo and Terri Windling.  Oh look, they have been on my wishlist for ages now.  "stares meaningfully at Mark holding the purse-strings".

Right, this list really has energised me to read more of these titles and also to dip into some of the books I've bought that have been lying around for far too long.

For the full list titles, check out the Locus Online site.  I've also been thinking about subscribing digitally to them.  But that way danger lies, I think.  My tiny heart my burst with wanting all these books they review and list in every magazine.  Oh what the hell, you only live once, right?

The Immortals: Evermore by Alyson Noel


Seventeen-year-old Ever is the sole survivor of a car crash that killed her entire family. Living with her aunt in Southern California, she's plagued by the ability to hear the thoughts of those around her, and haunted by the ghost of her little sister. She tries to tune everyone out, shunning her old lifestyle as the pretty, popular cheerleader, but somehow she can't hide from Damen, the new guy at school. Stunningly handsome, clever and not a little bit intimidating, there's something about him that doesn't quite add up. Ever realises he's hiding something, but nothing could prepare her for the truth - especially when the truth involves past lives, murderous enemies, everlasting love and the secret of eternal youth . . .

The Immortals series is one that I always meant to get around to reading. However, despite numerous people telling me it was their stand-out favourite YA paranormal romance series I still hadn't started it. However, as this is the year that the story draws to a close I thought I'd better hurry along and get to it.

Liz has already reviewed Evermore here but as I'm starting the whole series from scratch I thought I'd review it too. From the beginning I was pretty sure I had Evermore sussed. I was convinced I knew what was going to happen and how it'd all turn out. I got to a certain point and realised I was wrong and that smugness gets you nowhere - but more of that later.

Ever Bloom has had a rough ride; sole survivor of a car accident that killed her whole family and forced to start over in a different part of the country. At school she's seen as a freak and instead of wearing her cheerleading uniform with pride she's taken to covering up and wearing her ipod headphones 24/7 so she can block out the thoughts of her classmates. One unfortunate side effect of cheating death was becoming telepathic. But them Damen arrives at school and she can neither sense his aura or read his thoughts, plus the fact that there's something else about him that she can't quite pin down.

I loved Ever from the beginning. It's not uncommon for the main character to be bottom of the heap with hidden talents or for a hot boy to arrive on the scene. Somehow Evermore makes these themes fresh and exciting. And now for my misplaced smugness. I thought I had Damen pigeon-holed into his paranormal place but again, Evermore surprised me offering something fresh and different. Although Ever has a lot to deal with and does get maudlin I never felt cross with her. I found the way she dealt with her loss and grief incredibly touching and well written.

Aside from Damen my favourite character was Riley, Ever's ghostly kid sister. Forever frozen in time at the age of twelve she spends most of her time with Ever trying to live her dream of becoming a teenager. Riley's perfectly bratty, loveable and responsible for some of the most bittersweet moments in the book. Aside from Riley there's the suitably hateful Drina who leads Ever's friend Haven astray. Haven and Miles are Ever's only friends and they occupy the z-list table in the cafeteria at school.

Far too much goes on in Evermore to fit into one review. It tackles grief, identity, self-confidence, virginity and so much more but also does it with style. I found this book ridiculously addictive too and was glad to be able to reach for the follow-up (Blue Moon) as soon as I'd finished.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Random by Craig Robertson

Glasgow is being terrorised by a murderer the media have nicknamed ‘The Cutter’. But how do you catch a serial killer when even he doesn’t know who’s next?

Telling the story in his own words, The Cutter reveals the method, and motives, that drive him to kill again and again, in an escalating spree that leaves DS Rachel Narey and her team mystified.

I don’t normally read much crime fiction, but what hooked me was the idea of the story being told from the killer’s perspective- it’s not something I’d come across before and the concept appealed to me. It’s a different approach, and a daring one. I was intrigued to find out how Robertson would build The Cutter’s character, and balance the grim reality of him being a serial killer while making him someone you want to find out more about.

The Glasgow that the Cutter inhabits isn’t a pretty one; it’s claustrophobic, grubby and tired, even more when seen from his emotionally estranged point of view. Even though his victims are chosen at random, not all are innocent, and one death sends ripples through the seedy underbelly of the city that he skirts, and soon it isn’t just DS Narey that’s hunting the killer.

The story doesn’t veer away from The Cutter though, and as he stalks his victims, Robertson teases out the story of how he came to become a killer and what his ultimate goals are, and its asks the question whether successful killers are born or sculpted into something dark by the cruel vagaries of fate. It’s well done and, combined with a storytelling voice that’s very easy to get along with, it really engendered that ‘just another few pages’ feeling and saw me muttering angrily when my train pulled into my station, forcing me to put the book back in my bag.

While Random will no doubt do for Glasgow’s tourist industry what Jaws did for beach holidays, it’s a fast paced and bloody entertaining book and well worth a read.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Press Release Info - In The Sea There Are Crocodiles

A few weeks ago, I attended a Saturday blogger event at Random House along with a swathe of my blogging mates.

We got to touch and ogle and fondle various new releases and some back catalogue books for the sake of being booky geeks.

One of the titles the RHCB team highlighted was the fantastically titled: In The Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda.  We were all very...uhm, this sounds weird, but we were hurriedly assured that ITSTAC is something very special indeed.

Here is the blurb:

One night before putting him to bed, Enaiatollah’s mother tells him three things: don’t use drugs, don’t use weapons, don’t steal. The next day he wakes up to find she isn’t there. Ten-year-old Enaiatollah is left alone in Pakistan to fend for himself. His ordeal takes him through Iran, Turkey and Greece, working on building sites in order to pay people-traffickers, and enduring the physical misery of dangerous border crossings squeezed into the false bottoms of lorries or trekking across inhospitable mountains.

A series of almost implausible strokes of fortune enabled him to get to Italy and meet Fabio, with whom he became friends. The result of their friendship is this unique book in which Enaiatollah’s engaging, moving voice is brilliantly captured by Geda’s masterful storytelling.

Fans of The Kite Runner will be immediately drawn into this poignant and hugely compelling account of one boy’s life. Despite the hardships and challenges that unfold, Enaiatollah’s journey is an ultimately uplifting and incredibly inspiring search for a place to call home.
I perked up a bit when they told us it was a real life story and that the author had shaped it into this fictional account.  Then I read the opening few pages and put it aside.  I put it aside because I knew it was going to be what I call a "weekend book": a book to be read in privacy over a weekend, when not wearing make-up.  Because of the tears that would no doubt flow.  I am such a girl.

These are the two covers for the book.  They are releasing it in both "adult" and "kids" editions.  I know now already that I prefer the adult's version.  It's somehow much more magical. What are your opinions?

Children's Cover 

Adult Cover

I've also just received an email from the publicity peeps at RHCB and they've included a short extract of ITSTAC, so if you're brave enough (or wear waterproof mascara / have a tonne of tissues to hand), give it a whirl. 


The thing is, I really wasn’t expecting her to go. Because when you’re ten years old and getting ready for bed, on a night that’s just like any other night, no darker or starrier or more silent or more full of smells than usual, with the familiar sound of the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer from the tops of the minarets just like anywhere else … no, when you’re ten years old – I say ten, although I’m not entirely sure when I was born, because there’s no registry office or anything like that in Ghazni province – like I said, when you’re ten years old, and your mother, before putting you to bed, takes your head and holds it against her breast for a long time, longer than usual, and says, There are three things you must never do in life, Enaiat jan, for any reason … The first is use drugs. Some of them taste good and smell good and they whisper in your ear that they’ll make you feel better than you could ever feel without them. Don’t believe them. Promise me you won’t do it.

I promise.

The second is use weapons. Even if someone hurts your feelings or damages your memories, or insults God, the earth or men, promise me you’ll never pick up a gun, or a knife, or a stone, or even the wooden ladle we use for making qhorma palaw, if that ladle can be used to hurt someone. Promise.
I promise.

The third is cheat or steal. What’s yours belongs to you, what isn’t doesn’t. You can earn the money you need by working, even if the work is hard. You must never cheat anyone, Enaiat jan, all right? You must be hospitable and tolerant to everyone. Promise me you’ll do that.

I promise.

Anyway, even when your mother says things like that and then, still stroking your neck, looks up at the window and starts talking about dreams, dreams like the moon, which at night is so bright you can see to eat by it, and about wishes – how you must always have a wish in front of your eyes, like a donkey with a carrot, and how it’s in trying to satisfy our wishes that we find the strength to pick ourselves up, and if you hold a wish up high, any wish, just in front of your forehead, then life will always be worth living – well, even when your mother, as she helps you get to sleep, says all these things in a strange, low voice as warming as embers, and fills the silence with words, this woman who’s always been so sharp, so quick-witted in dealing with life … even at a time like that, it doesn’t occur to you that what she’s really saying is, Khoda negahdar, goodbye.

End of Extract

The book will only be released in July but we'll make sure to keep you updated with extracts and other titbits of information as they become available.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling


London, 1859. By the time Dora Damage discovers that her husband Peter has arthritis in his hands, it is too late – their book-binding business is in huge debt and the family is on the brink of entering the poorhouse. But Dora proves that she is more than just a housewife and mother. She resolves to rescue her family at any price and finds herself irrevocably entangled in a web of sex, money, deceit and the law.

I'm on a mini personal quest this year to get reading those books that have slipped below my radar. You know the ones - you see them and think they look good but other, newer and shinier ones keep getting in the way. The Journal of Dora Damage was passing through my library on the way to another when I saw it lying on the desk. I couldn't believe that I still hadn't got round to reading it and snapped it up.

We meet Dora just as she finds out that her rent is past due and the family book binding business is losing one of its best employees. Her husband Peter's arthritis is so bad that it causes him agony if he tries to work. When Peter goes missing Dora realises that she and her epileptic daughter have nothing to eat and are in real danger of getting thrown out of their home. After selling various items just to get food Dora realises that she needs a long term solution and decides to start binding books herself, following Peter's instructions. In desperation she persuades the awful bookseller Diprose to commission some work. From here she's introduced to Sir Jocelyn who has a vast amount of formerly illegal pictures and works that he wants re-binding. From here Dora is drawn into a dangerous and shadowy world of the upper classes and their pornography.

The book has a massive amount of fascinating historical detail and I felt as though I was alongside Dora every step of the way. Although I knew the sort of desperate life unprotected women could have in Victorian England I was surprised at how quickly you could slip from safety to the poor house and the fine line that women walked between respectability and having a dubious reputation. The Journal of Dora Damage isn't just a story of historical accuracy - it's also a love story and one of awakening and self-discovery for Dora.

The Journal of Dora Damage is a gem of a book. It both educates and entertains, horrifies and heartens in one fell swoop. Dora is a wonderful heroine, resourceful and unaware of her own attractions. People often refer to Victorian era books as being Dickensian but this is the first I've read that actually deserves that title. I read it knowing that the author sadly died before the book was published which is a terrible loss both to her family and the world as I think she would have had a wonderful career.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Long Reach by Peter Cocks

Eddie Savage makes 2 shocking discoveries in quick succession.  One: his brother Steve has been working undercover for the police.  Two: Steve is dead. 

Eddie refuses to believe that his hero elder brother killed himself and there's only one way to find out the truth: follow in his footsteps.

There's a job: to infiltrate the notoriously violent Kelly family.  There's a girl: the boss's daughter: beautiful, sexy, dangerous. 

Before long, Eddie is up to his neck in Kelly business...and sinking fast. 

I went into reading Long Reach not quite expecting the brutality and in your face violence and matter-of-factness of it all.  It surprised me but it didn't put me off.

Far from it.  I couldn't wrap my mind around the maturity level of Long Reach.  I really couldn't believe what I was reading was aimed at teens.  It read on par with any mature thriller for adults and in some instances, it was even more in your face.  I was taken aback because even though I had been warned, I wouldn't let myself believe that someone had the guts and the brass monkeys to sit down and write something so in your face real for a younger audience.

The author pulls no punches.  Eddie comes from a rough place and the place he's going to is rougher still.  When he's recruited shortly after his brother Steve's funeral, he undergoes a rigorous bit of training that had me wincing.  He got the snot kicked out of him but he makes it and I cheered for him.  Eddie is a great character with tremendous instincts and a strong voice.  Reading his story had me so involved, I couldn't wait to absorb all of the book.

Once he got his training under the belt, his under cover operation gets underway.  It seems simple enough: make friends with Sophie Kelly.  The cops have set Eddie up in a nice enough place and they've given him his undercover story and set him on Sophie's trail.

Things go perhaps a bit too well.  Eddie has the courage to walk up to Sophie and actually talk to her.  There are rumours that the previous guy that she dated got himself tossed out of a parking lot for touching her bra.  He's on shaky ground but he's himself and Sophie likes what she sees and agrees to see him.  And so things continue until Sophie feels it's time to meet her parents.

The book moves rapidly but without once losing sight of Eddie's emotional state and the trouble he's in.  We get a full picture of who Sophie is, her mum and more importantly, her dad.  The Big Bad.  And what I liked is how I could understand Mr. Kelly's motivations in some instances and how easily it would be to be a young man in Eddie's situation falling for it all.

I loved Long Reach.  I loved the reality, the grittiness and Eddie above all is just such a believable character.  I never once doubted his honesty, integrity, his willingness to take one for the team.  When things start unravelling I had to walk away from the book because I just couldn't cope with the tension.  Then I couldn't bear not knowing what was going on.  Such powerful emotions can only mean that the author did what he set out to do: he hooked me 150%.  I was constantly emailing the poor publicity people who took it with good grace telling them how awesome the book is and how I want to build a shrine to Peter Cocks.  They took it all wonderfully well.  Thank heavens.

Long Reach really blurs the distinction between right and wrong and explores the darker uglier grey side of things where matters become so on the cusp of either left me wondering how I would act in situations such as Eddie finds himself in.

This is a very short review for me - and honestly, I can go on for days about Long Reach.  Buy it, read it, love it.  It is fantastically good.  This is what Ales Rider and Young Bond was supposed to be like.  Dark, gritty, hyper-real with characters that feel like your best mates, even if you are a good guy / girl.

Long Reach is not recommended for the younger range in YA but rather for a more mature YA audience and will have great cross-over appeal for readers who like thrillers and crime novels by people like Mark Billingham and Marina Cole. There is sex (behind closed doors, but it's there), violence (quite nasty and real), drugs (implied and shown) and yet none of it feels gratuitous and I take my hat off to Mr. C's editors and the author himself for keeping a tight reign on the story as it so easily could have spilled out of control.  Instead we have a deeply thoughtful, action packed crime thriller with a new protagonist that will please both male and female readers as you would either want to date Eddie or be his best mate.

Listen to me: buy the book.

Find the excellent Mr. Peter Cocks's website here.  Long Reach is out now from Walker Books.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Lost Relic by Scott Mariani

Some secrets should stay buried…

A web of deceit – and Ben Hope is caught in the mayhem. . .

Whilst visiting a former SAS comrade in Italy, a distracted Ben nearly runs over a young boy – and unwittingly walks into his deadliest mission yet.

Ben’s involvement with the boy’s family runs deeper as he witnesses their brutal murder at a gallery robbery. A seemingly worthless Goya sketch was the principal target in the bloodbath heist. Now it’s up to Ben to find out the truth behind the elusive painting.

Wrongly accused of murder and forced to go on the run,he must get to the heart of the conspiracy while he still has the chance. . .

Scott Mariani’s newest offering The Lost Relic has to be his best so far. Having read all of his novels (loved them all) from the day they were released, I have become a fan of the writer but also a big fan of the main character in all the books.

In this, Ben’s sixth outing, a visit to a friend in Italy turns into a nightmare. Deciding to take the scenic route back to Rome where he is due to fly off to London to meet up with his girlfriend Brooke, Ben narrowly misses a young boy chasing a cat across a dusty road.

When Ben walks the little boy back home, it transpires that the boy is the son of one of the guests at an exclusive gallery. Ben, being the kind of guy that he is, charms the little boy’s mother and she invites him to join everyone at the gallery for a showing of some rare pieces of art. They chat amicably and Ben relaxes a bit, enjoying her company and the art around them. That is until another guest accidentally bumps into Ben and spills his drink. Ben heads upstairs to clean it off when he hears some gunshots from below. Being Ben he quickly susses out what’s going on and becomes involved in one of the ugliest one-to-one scenarios I’ve read in ages. He takes out several of the attackers through intelligent planning and really doesn’t mess around when it comes to incapacitating them. I approved.

The sequence reminded me of Die Hard a little bit, but I suppose it will be difficult writing anything like this and not have it be a bit of a homage to the flick. However, back to Ben. The action moves swiftly on from here with several fist-punching moments but also a moment of deep emotion and I found myself hunched over the book, holding my breath. It’s tense, probably one of the most tense from Mariani yet.

After some time, Ben finds himself in Rome, facing the consequences of the attack on the gallery. Everyone sees him as the hero of the gallery when in fact all he can think about are those he did not manage to save. The thing about Ben is he’s not really a glass half full, kind of guy. He is inclined to deeper, darker, more negative thoughts and it is really well portrayed within this section. We completely understand where he’s coming from, the choices he’s been making and the direction he does decide to take in the end.

When external forces intervene and decide to turn Ben into a scapegoat for a crime he did not commit, Ben has the opportunity to dig deep and hard to figure out what exactly the attack on the gallery was really about. And like Bourne, even on the run, he manages to piece things together, whilst successfully evading capture.

Ben is still a darker hero than normal but we know his reasons. We see where he makes his mistakes and we want him to succeed and come out on top. I’d say out of all the books thus far, this is the most action packed yet, and although it is grim, I felt at times that it was a less dark novel than some of the other Ben Hope books I’ve read.

The story rockets along at a great pace with enough pauses for the reader to catch their breath. The plot is tight and only twisty. Mariani’s voice has grown stronger and more adept and as Ben’s puppetmaster he excels at giving the reader what they want: an intelligent fast paced thriller to rank up there with the best of them.

Also, a word to those who have not yet read Scott Mariani’s Ben Hope books. You don’t have to start at the beginning. You pick up exactly who Ben is and where he comes from in The Lost Relic - the backstory is there, it’s done well and exposition is kept to a minimum, which really is a quality that Mariani excels in. Each story is pretty much standalone with some strands carried over to the next.  But a warning: they are ridiculously addictive reading.

And finally, I know that Mr. Mariani is going to hate me for saying this but honestly, I cannot wait for the next Ben Hope adventure. Most of the plot strands within The Lost Relic gets tied up, save for developing the more personal relationship story with his girlfriend Brooke. *waits impatiently*

Find Scott Mariani's website here.  The Lost Relic is out now.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Nearly fourteen years ago a freak virus swept across the world turning those infected from the living into the undead. Benny Imura has grown-up never knowing anything different; his last memories of his parents tainted by the image of them becoming zombies.

Now Benny is fifteen, and his brother Tom wants him to join the "family business" and train as a zombie killer. The last thing Benny wants is to work with Tom ­­- but at least the job should be an easy ride. Then the brothers head into the Rot and Ruin, an area full of wandering zombies, and Benny realises that being a bounty hunter isn't just about whacking zombies.

As he's confronted with the truths about the world around him, Benny finds his beliefs challenged and makes the most terrifying discovery of all, that sometimes the worst monsters you can imagine, are human…

“Benny Imura couldn’t hold a job, so he took to killing,” runs the first line of Rot and Ruin, and while it might look like a sentence, it’s actually a viciously barbed hook.

Set in the near future, R & R introduces us to Benny, who at 15 years old, only has fragmented memories of the apocalypse that consumed his parents world. Memories that include his older brother Tom abandoning their mother to the zombies, a betrayal he can’t move past and which is pulling them apart. To make it worse, everyone else respects and admires Tom, whose job as a zombie hunter doesn’t fit well with the truth that Benny knows. Or thinks he knows.

But the rules of their fortified town are clear: he’s fifteen now, so he must be apprenticed to a trade or see his rations and privileges cut. As his options dwindle it becomes clear that he will have to do the unthinkable and become his brother’s apprentice, and cross into the zombie-infested wilderness beyond the fences. It’s a journey that will rattle the foundations of everything he believes, and forces him to grow up fast- or die. The truth hidden amongst the Rot and Ruin is an unforgiving one, and if he survives it, his life will never be the same again.

I enjoyed R & R immensely. Benny is a lively character, and his evolution, both personally and in his relationships with his brother and friends, from the angry boy in the beginning to the person he is at the end feels genuine and unforced. While the setting for the story is a relatively familiar one, it feels fresh, with the zombies a omnipresent, lurking presence, as much a feature of the landscape as the shattered remnants of the fallen world that litter it.

Interested? You can read the first chapter here.

Rot and Ruin in the first in a new series by Jonathan Maberry and the second instalment, Dust and Decay, is out in September this year. It’s going in my diary!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Jana Oliver chats to MFB

Hi Riley, Jana
Thanks so much for agreeing to chat to My Favourite Books. 

Riley, if I could start with you.  
 What was your life like before you decided to join the Trappers?
Pretty boring. Normal, even. I’d go to school three days a week and the rest of the time I’d spend studying with my friend Peter or hanging around the apartment and watching TV.  Sometimes I’d go to visit my friend Simi at the coffee shop. Since Dad slept most of the day because he’s out all night, I had to find ways to keep busy without making a bunch of noise. 
 What sort of training did you have to undergo? Was there martial combat instruction as well as lore research?

For an apprentice like me there are two ways to learn: reading the Demon Trappers Manual and trapping Hellspawn. The manual is interesting, but it’s written like a text book. Catching the demons? Never dull. They’re smart and quick and don’t have to worry about what kind of mess they make. I haven’t had any martial arts training, but I think that would be fun. Beck keeps telling me I should lift weights, but I’m not so sure about that.

 Why do you think there is such dissent / hostility in the Trapping community – I get the idea that no one seems very comfortable around each other, really?

My dad said these guys are a lot like the old wilderness fur trappers. They’re independent, territorial and stubborn. And because they’re guys I think it’s harder for them to get along. Some of them are really nice, others not so much. 

 I’d like to know about you before you decided to become a Trapper.  Obviously you and your dad miss your mom a lot.  Do you remember those good old days and take strength from them, before everything changed?

I do miss when things were good, though thinking about when my mom and dad were alive makes me really sad sometimes. They were cool parents. They were strict, but fair, and not all ’rents are like that. (Peter’s mom is a good example.) Dad was into his Civil War research and where sometimes I thought that was a snooze he always had these amazing stories to tell. I miss Mom because I could talk to her, tell her stuff and not get a lecture if I did something stupid. I was lucky with my parents. I just wish they could have hung around longer. 

 What did you first think when they told you that you would have to guard your dad’s grave after he was killed?  To us norms, necromancers are things from Dungeons and Dragons but they sound nasty!

I just couldn’t deal. I mean, what is this craziness? My dad’s dead and now some necro could steal him out of his grave? Make him a servant? That’s so wrong. I mean, I knew about the reanimates and all that, but I never figured my father could be like that. It’s creepy. It was great that Simon was there that first night to help me set the circle and everything. He was *so* sweet. If I’d had to face those necromancers on my own I would have freaked out.

 Beck is such a mystery.  What is your gut feeling about him at the moment.  What do you think he’s going to get up to next?

At the moment? I’m confused, big time. Beck is so hard to understand. One minute he’s nice and then the next he’s doing his Third World dictator thing and ordering me around. I know he’s trying to help, but I’m smart enough to make my own decisions. I guess I’m still a little nervous about him because when I was fifteen I thought he was the coolest guy ever. He totally blew me off. Like I was a bug and he was the windshield. Splat! It really hurt so it’s hard for me to trust him when he’s nice because I keep waiting to get smacked down again. Maybe someday I’ll forget all that past stuff, but it’s going to be tough. So like they say on TV, the jury is still out on Backwoods Boy.

Thanks so much for taking time out to chat to us, Riley!

Thanks! You ask really good questions. *eee!* fan-girl moment by Liz 
US cover and title
Jana, some questions for you. 
 Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I took a different path than most. I self-published my first few books to learn something about the publishing industry. Then I wrote a trilogy for a small press. That series won a number of awards and helped me sign with a literary agent. We sold the Demon Trappers Series to a New York publisher (St. Martin’s Press). They, in turn, sold the UK rights to Pan Macmillan. The process was a longer one, but I feel like I have a clue how the industry works so not everything is a surprise.

 Have you always wanted to be a writer?  Also, why write for the YA market?  What appeals to you about writing for teens and younger adults?

I didn’t always want to be a writer like some authors. In sixth grade I decided I wanted to be a spy. Instead I became a registered nurse. I did like to scribble out stories, so years later when I had the chance I just let all those ideas bubble forth and made books out of them
My earlier works were for adults for the most part, though I did have teens in the stories. The move into the young adult market was, in a way, a challenge to myself. I like to keep trying new things so I don’t get stale. Having to step into the mind of a seventeen-year-old girl is definitely a challenge since it’s been a number of years since I was Riley’s age. Those extra years wear us down, but for a teen, life is raw-edged and immediate. Experiences are magnified beyond reality. And young adults are often impulsive so Riley occasionally makes bad decision and has to live with the consequences. 

 Jana, what made you decide to write Riley’s story? And also, what came first – Riley or the overall story?

I love urban fantasies and wanted to write one with my own special twists. The kernel of the story came first: an adult heroine who exorcised demons. When I got to the end of the first chapter I realized two things: the heroine sounded like every other kick-butt chick and I didn’t know her name. If I don’t have a name, I don’t know the character. So I stepped back and rethought the concept. While grousing down the phone to an author buddy about the problem, she suggested I try a teen protagonist. Since the young adults books I’d been reading lacked that angst and action mix, I decided to give it a try. Seventeen-year-old Riley Blackthorne stepped up, introduced herself, and the series took off from there. 
 Your demon-lore is just great.  How much research did you do for this?

A lot. Most young adult novels steer clear of religion, but I wanted to look at the bigger picture. I spent considerable time thinking through the world I wanted to create and that required me to read about Lucifer, his fall from Heaven, and all those rebellious angels. I researched the origins of demons and purgatory in Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts. I’ve tracked Lucifer’s convoluted path from ha satan (The Adversary) to Satan in the Christian writings. Then I had to figure out what kind of demons lived in my world and how to trap them. Luckily I live to research. 
UK Cover

 There is this great sense of the world teetering on the edge of an abyss with only the Trappers and even the Hunters standing between us and them. How did you go about creating Riley’s world (and kept it believable)?  
This was just as difficult as making Riley a believable teen. Some authors have their world completely worked up before they write the first word. I had a lot of it figured out, but I’m still having new revelations with each book. A couple of those show up in the second book, for instance.
Dystopian stories are very popular right now, perhaps as a mirror to our unease about the world’s economic situation. My goal was to show a society that was in a state of collapse, one small step at a time. I set the stories in 2018 Atlanta, but it’s  an alternate Atlanta since we (clearly) don’t have demons running around our streets. As the series plays out the readers will learn more about this delicate balance between Heaven and Hell, the hunters and the trappers and what roles each of those play in the Grand Game. At the heart of it all is the belief that though all of us are pawns in this Grand Game, we have free choice. That free choice allows us to decide whether we topple into that abyss or rise above all the chaos.
 What is your advice regarding creating believable strong female characters?
I’m not fond of female characters that can’t get out of their own way. There is a time for introspection and angst and a time to take charge. I dislike perfect characters because they’re annoying. Real characters have flaws. Riley is headstrong and makes mistakes. She can be self-centered and bitchy. Who hasn’t said something nasty and then regretted it? Who hasn’t whined a bit too much about how life isn’t going their way? Those are real human traits and I try very hard to weave those into my characters.
The stories are as much about how the characters grow and change as to what happens to them. Almost all of the characters have a story arc of their very own. The Riley we meet at the beginning of the series will be different than the Riley on the last page, though her strengths (courage and tenacity) will still be in place. Same thing with Beck and Peter and the others. I don’t have to love a character to enjoy their tale. I just want to see how they learn and grow. And that, to me, makes a great character no matter whether they’re male, female or an otherworldly creature. 

 What books grace your bedside/coffee table at the moment?

I just finished Paola Bacugalupi’s SHIP BREAKER (a gritty dystopian tale) and Brenna Yovanoff’s THE REPLACEMENT (sort of Tim Burton for teens.) I’m currently reading a couple of books: THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK (Mark Hodder) and working my way through Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampire Series. I’m an omnivore when it comes to books. 
 Did you create a playlist for Demon Trappers: Forsaken?

I did! For my U.K. readers the playlist is available in Spotify. Alas, that doesn’t work in the U.S. so I can’t check it out. **

 I noticed the acknowledgements in the book – there are some big names in there in the adult urban fantasy genre.  How did you come to know some of these authors? 

P.C. Cast is a close friend of mine and we’ve watched each others’ careers blossom over the years. We even share the same literary agent. My friendship with Ilona and Gordon Andrews came from my love of their Kate Daniels Series. All of these authors have influenced my writing to one extent or another and I felt I should thank them.

 And finally, what is the best advice you’ve ever received as an aspiring author?

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Some readers are going to adore your writing, others are going to hate it. The most important thing is staying true to the tale. 
Find Jana's very cool-looking website here and her UK site for Demon Trappers

** For those of you who do not have Spotify, these are the songs on Jana's playlist:






Steve Winwood - “Higher Love”

Steve Earle - “Copperhead Road”
Peter Bradley Adams - “For You”
Dispatch - “Out Loud”
Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood - “Georgia on My Mind”
Taylor Swift - “You Belong to Me”

Loreena McKennitt - “Never-Ending Road (Amhrán Duit)”
Joshua Radin - “Brand New Day”
Death Cab for Cutie - “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”

Kelly Clarkson - “Breakaway”
The Chemical Brothers - “Galvanize”
Newton Faulkner - “Dream Catch Me”
Foreigner -  “I Want to Know What Love Is”

R.E.M - “Until the Day Is Done”
Alter Bridge - “Rise Today”
Muse - “Resistance”