Monday, April 30, 2012

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa


Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die… or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn't easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for.

I am nowhere near done with vampires yet so when I heard about this book I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I mean, how great does that synopsis sound? I was excited by the grittiness of it and the general desperation of the remaining humans. It's quite a sizeable book but it didn't take me long to read. Written in the first person, Allie is instantly likeable. She's in a pretty awful situation but hasn't yet lost heart or her humanity. She looks out for others but can stand up for herself. I was touched that she kept books, even though they are forbidden for humans, some from her mother. I instantly bristled for her when she came home to her squat to find another member of her gang had riffled through her stuff and found her book collection. Despite her mixed feelings about other gang members she puts herself into great danger just to get food for everyone. It's on one of these trips outside the city wall, with the sun soon setting, that she gets attacked by rabids (diseased vampires). A vampire finds her and gives her a choice; die or become immortal. Allie chooses the latter and so her struggle begins.

I found this story to be wonderfully epic. It takes Allie on a massive journey where she becomes a monster but struggles to keep her humanity in check. These are the sort of vampires that I want to read about. I don't want to make the obvious link to Anne Rice but it has that flavour of journey and internal struggle about it. I loved the way that her immortal life seemed to be made up of significant signposts: the time with her maker, her life on the run to her travels with Zeke and the gang of humans. Back to Zeke - he's a great character. Firstly he's a strong leader, cares about others and has his own tragic background. But apart from his compassion he's also, in my mind, perfect for Allie. True to form Allie wants to keep her distance, too worried about the danger she poses to others than her own needs.

This is a great story full of wonderful characters and high stakes. Through Allie's travels we see sad reminders of the way the world used to be: abandoned shopping malls, empty towns, bodies left to rot in houses. Alongside this, however, are signs of the resilience of humans. Despite hoards of rabids who kill or turn every human or animal that come near them, people are managing to survive in small groups or vampire run cities. I found The Immortal Rules fascinating and it finished at such a game changing point, I can't wait to read what happens next.

Friday, April 27, 2012

!Queen of Teen Shortlist!

MFB is ridiculously proud to bring you some fab PR news from the Queen of Teen award creators:

Queen of Teen is royally delighted to announce the shortlist for the fiction world’s most glamorous award. Thousands of heartfelt nominations have been received from teenagers across the country and voting is now open to find this year’s Queen of Teen.

The ten fabulous authors who have made the shortlist are as follows:

The award will be presented at a glittering award ceremony in July 2012, when the writers of the best nominations will be invited to mingle with their favourite authors, invited journalists and other special guests. The ceremony is to be held at Queen of Teen HQ in leafy Surrey and will be superbly pink and sparkly – a truly majestic celebration of this thriving and important genre!

Teens and tweens can now vote for their favourite author from the shortlist by visiting

Queen of Teen has attracted tens of thousands of votes from young readers across the globe and last year resulted in the fabulous author of the Chocolate Box Girls books, Cathy Cassidy, being crowned Queen of Teen. On being crowned Cathy said: I've had lots of fun since being voted Queen of Teen... it's an amazing award because it's all about YOU, the super-cool reader gals out there. Your votes and views really DO count!”

Not heard about Queen of Teen? 

The Queen of Teen competition was launched to acknowledge the hugely significant part that fiction can play in the teenage years, and to encourage girls to turn off their computers and mobile phones and pick up a book instead. Queen of Teen has a dedicated website with information about the award’s history, details on how readers can vote for their favourite authors and pictures of the last two award ceremonies.

You can also find Queen of Teen on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @QueenofTeenUK #QOT2012

Dauntless Knife Fighting Skills

In a run-up to the release for Veronica Roth's Insurgent (sequel to Divergent) I sat and thought how MFB could do something different to celebrate the book's release.  We've had people come up with some great things but because I like weaponry and grew up handling guns and things, I thought we could do something about weapons that are used in Divergent.  And because guns aren't really allowed in the UK I had to cast a wider net.

I spoke to Mark and he in turn spoke to his tutor Dave Rawlings of the Boar's Tooth Fightschool who was more than happy to throw Mark around on a Sunday afternoon, to show us some of the skills Tris would have learned during her training as she became Dauntless.

We hope you guys like the video and the music is of course from one of my favourite movies of all time, The Crow.

25th April:      Mary @ The Sweet Bookshelf
                             Casey @ Dark Readers
26th April:      Raimy @  Read a Raptor
                             Laura @ Sister Spooky Book Fan Girl
27th April:      Liz @ My Favourite Books
28th April:      Jayde @ Ink Scratchers
                             Hannah @  Hannah Mariska
29th April:     Andrew @ The Pewter Wolf
30th April:     Keith @ Books and Writers

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Random Bits #8

I spotted Ann Aguirre's cover for her second YA novel in the Razorland trilogy.  The first novel is called Enclave and the second novel, with the new shiny cover is called OUTPOST and just feast your eye on this gorgeous cover with a bit of EEP thrown in for good measure.

Secondly, last week I did a very stupid thing.  I highlighted a book I saw on Goodreads because I quite liked the sound of it and I added the book to my wishlist on Amazon.  This by the way, was not the stupid thing.

The book in question is called Monstrous Beauty:

In 1872, mermaid Syrenka falls in love with a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

One hundred thirty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger and feels drawn to him in a way she can’t explain or resist. For generations, love and death have been inextricably linked for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? Hester’s investigation of her family’s strange, sad history leads her to the graveyard, the crypt, and the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.

Then, when I looked closely at the cover, things started not adding up about it, so I popped the cover on twitter.

This is the cover in question:

The cover made no sense - to me anyway. The girl is beautiful, but she looks dead or unconscious.  And if she wasn't dead, she'd have had a lot of problems lying on those rocks (have you ever sat or stretched out on rocks in a seductive way?) looking seductive because well - abrasions? Also, how did she get up those rocks? If a wave deposited her there, you bet your lily fair skin that she would be lathered in cuts.  The cover initially appealed, but then it didn't.  It didn't put me off the book though, but I had some reservations. And this is where I did the stupid thing.  I put it on twitter.  And invited comments.  Forgetting that it is a public forum.  The comments, like my thoughts, were varied, but mostly they were negative and it died away, and I didn't think about it again.

The next day or so I checked the MFB emails and the Monstrous Beauty author, Elizabeth Fama, had emailed me in the nicest way possible to let me know that she saw my comments on Twitter.  My heart stuttered.  Oh crap, I thought.  I'm about to be called out and told off. Instead, Elizabeth was truly sweet and said that she was aware of the cover attracting negative comments but that she was going to reveal a brand new cover this week  and that she'd be in touch.  I couldn't believe it.  I acted like a complete prat and yet here is this writer whom I don't know from Adam, being super sweet to me in turn, taking time out to let me know about the new cover.  This, ladies and gentleman, is class!   Of course I emailed her back to grovel to apologise as I realised (hindsight = 20/20) that I was plainly speaking, being a dick online and again, didn't think about my comments were being seen apart from those I was chatting to.  How easily we forget, eh?  What you put out there, stays out there.

Mad story, I know, but bear with me.  Here is the new cover for Monstrous Beauty - what do you guys think?  Isn't it a bazillion times more beautiful and alluring and mysterious and grabby hands?

Last week I think I heard rumours about a new Mary Gentle fantasy coming.  I flailed in my chair.  If you've never read a Mary Gentle novel then well, I don't know.  I think you should.  Her writing has depth and skill and her world building is incredibly strong.  Her novel ASH: A Secret History rocked my world around eleven, ten years ago and I recently found myself pawing my battered old copy and I'm considering a re-read.

And over at The Booksmugglers, I've just seen that there is indeed a new Mary Gentle.  And this is what it's about and also, how lovely is this cover? It is VERY lovely.

Naples, the 19th Century. In the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, holy music has power. Under the auspices of the Church, the Sung Mass can bring about actual miracles like healing the sick or raising the dead. But some believe that the musicodramma of grand opera can also work magic by channeling powerful emotions into something sublime. Now the Prince’s Men, a secret society, hope to stage their own black opera to empower the Devil himself – and change Creation for the better! Conrad Scalese is a struggling librettist whose latest opera has landed him in trouble with the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Rescued by King Ferdinand II, Conrad finds himself recruited to write and stage a counter opera that will, hopefully, cancel out the apocalyptic threat of the black opera, provided the Prince’s Men, and their spies and saboteurs, don’t get to him first. And he only has six weeks to do it…

My job of telling you how daft I am, whilst being an enabler is done.  For now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Pack by Jason Starr

When Simon Burns is fired from his job without warning, he takes on the role of stay-at-home dad for his three-year-old son. But his reluctance pushes his already strained marriage to the limit. In the nestled playgrounds of the Upper West Side, Simon harbors a simmering rage at his boss's betrayal. Things take a turn when he meets a tight-knit trio of dads at the playground. They are different from other men Simon has met, stronger and more confident, more at ease with the darker side of life-and soon Simon is lured into their mix. But after a guys' night out gets frighteningly out of hand, Simon feels himself sliding into a new nightmarish reality.

 I am very conflicted about The Pack.

I enjoyed it, some bits I had issues with, and it also freaked me out a little. Starr has gone all Stephen King basically - taken an utterly Normal Joe off the road and screwed over his life so much that in the end, you just want it to stop, to give the guy a break!

I enjoyed the writing - it's fast paced, cinematic and gives you a great sense of moving forward, towards that inevitable conclusion when the fit hits the shan, as it inevitably must and does with extreme relish and gore.

It's obvious from the title that the book is about a group of people who are a pack.  We see Simon's three new friends as he does, an outsider looking in.  They are easy to get along with, completely focussed on their kids and seem like genuinely nice guys.  But it's hints that Starr dots throughout the book, the foreshadowings that make your skin crawl and you find yourself willing Simon to walk the hell away from this crazy bunch of guys.

Sadly, he does not.  And things go both right and wrong for him in equal measure.  His marriage is going through a rocky patch and counselling seems the only answer.  His wife resents him staying at home, he can't get a hang of being a stay at home dad and then there's that part where he woke up in the middle of the night, miles and miles away from home, naked, in a wooded area.  Oh, and that his old boss got his throat ripped out by a wolf or dog of some sort.  But the sex with his wife is suddenly great, so it's all okay.

I'd like to say that I warmed to Simon, or to any of the characters in the book, but I didn't.  Although I can see exactly where Simon was coming from, how hard things were for him, losing his job and having to become his son's primary carer, I felt "meh".  I didn't identify with his wife or any of the other two women in the book either.  I was intrigued by the pack though, by their leader, Michael.  He is exceptionally well written and makes for an interesting protagonist.

The Pack is raw and sex-fueled writing.  It's aimed at readers who like their urban fantasy stronger than Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne's offerings.  I hasten to point out that although the sex scenes aren't really described, it's mentioned often and we get treated to Simon's attraction to his wife, complete with "husband bulge" moments (as they call it in Cabin in the Woods) which, instead of helping with the narrative is distracting and a big gross.  I enjoy a bit of friskiness in my urban fantasy but yeah...more sexy times and less that. 

I digress - The Pack is a cross between hard nosed very man-orientated crime novels from the Spillane era and harder edged urban fantasy.  I enjoyed it, liked the pacing, and it is really well plotted, I just wish I liked the characters more.  Having said that, I am sure you're thinking this write-up is a bit strange - I apologise - but I will definitely want to read the other novels in this series as I am intrigued and I want to know what happens to Simon! So maybe, in the end, I did care about the main character?

Find Jason Starr's website here.  With thanks to Berkeley UK for sending me a copy of this to review.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

The first sentence of this synopsis had me leaving this book on the shelf. I can freely admit that books about cancer scare me. I suppose that before The Fault in Our Stars I never read books like this because life is full of, quite frankly, very scary things so I like to keep my fiction simple. Possibly that's why I like fantasy so much. But enough of all this introspection. I wanted to read this though because I love the Vlogbrothers and all things Nerdfighteria and I'd heard such great things about TFIOS that I knew I'd have to get over my fears.

Hazel starts the book depressed. Her life revolves around her parents and the medication that's keeping her alive. She's sent to a support group which is the most depressing place in the world. The kids who attend tend to die leaving everyone wondering who's next and it's run by a cancer survivor who retells his story at the start of each meeting. However, Augustus comes to support his friend Isaac and so meets Hazel. What follows is as much about teenage relationships as it is about dealing with death and illness. Both Hazel and Augustus are survivors but their experience has left them in a strange place. Previous friends and pass times are no longer an option which means they both seem to be frozen at a certain age, a certain part of their adolescence. Hazel, for example, constantly re-reads a fictitious book called An Imperial Affliction by Peter van Houten about a girl who has cancer. It isn't until Augustus lends her a book that she finally starts a new chapter. Sorry, clumsy metaphor I know but it really is touching watching Augustus change Hazel's life.

There's not much more I can say about the plot without spoiling it. It's clear to me that The Fault in Our Stars is a very special book. Hazel and Augustus teach us that you need to grab happiness where you can but also revel in the ordinary aspects of life. There are some very thought-provoking passages but also some ridiculously funny lines. Isaac is another fantastic character and the three of them use humour and brutal honesty to get through their ordeal. Hazel shows us how isolated she is and how much she worries about her parents. Though she doesn't always realise it she shows us how her parents have struggled to come to terms with her illness. Hazel's mum, for example, appears to allow her life to revolve around her daughter. As the book progresses we see that she's planned ahead, she hasn't let Hazel's illness curtail her future.

I'm failing to put into words how wonderful this book is. I spent much of it in tears but there's so much beauty in this book. If you haven't read it please don't let the subject put you off. Hazel and Augustus may well be my favourite romantic couple of the year. Unlike Hazel and An Imperial Affliction I have a pretty good idea about what happens after the book ends, but I'm okay with it.

Also, last few lines of this book? Best ever.

For those who have finished TFIOS there is a Q & A with John Green but please don't check this out before reading.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sisters of Battle: Faith and Fire, Hammer and Anvil & Red and Black by James Swallow

When dangerous psychic Torris Vaun escapes from her custody, Celestian Miriya is disgraced in the eyes of her fellow sisters and superiors. Following Vaun’s trail to the planet Neva, Miriya takes her sisters in pursuit and, along with Hospitaller Sister Verity, starts her investigations.

When they uncover a terrifying a plot that could threaten the future of the Imperium, is Miriya’s and Verity’s faith strong enough for them to triumph?

I first read Faith and Fire back in 2006, when it was first published, and remembered enjoying it then. When I heard that there was a sequel in the offing, I discovered that my copy had vanished, either lent to a ‘friend’ or eaten by the sofa, and horror of horrors, it was out of print. Thankfully eBay came to the rescue, although it’s since been re-printed to coincide with the new releases.
The sequel, Hammer and Anvil, and the audiobook Red and Black, all follow Miriya and Verity, who are both Sisters of Battle, who are essentially militant nuns. Very, very militant nuns, each sworn to the service of The Emperor and possessed of a penchant for alternately blowing very large holes in heretics or setting them on fire. And, importantly, they’re human. Not Space Marines, but good, old fashioned humans, albeit highly trained and equipped with top of the range weaponry. SEAL nuns then, with powered armour and the tolerance for blasphemy that makes the Taliban look like a commune of free-spirited hippies.

Amongst their order, Miriya is known to be a headstrong commander, one not afraid to ask questions that others would deflect or ignore. But she’s a good soldier, and devoted to her cause. Vaun’s escape is ruthlessly executed, but far worse than the censure of her superiors is the memory of being held captive by his warp-craft and forced to watch his callous desecration of her sisters in impotent rage.

What begins as a personal quest for redemption and revenge leads her onto an unexpected path, thick with secrets and danger as she is forced to confront uncomfortable truths about those she serves as well as herself. The truth of what Vaun is seeking is an ingenious and ambitious twist, one that makes the conclusion a bittersweet one truly in keeping with the spirit of the universe. It’s a perfectly satisfying standalone read, but the strength of the characters has always called out for more of their stories to be told.

Hence Hammer and Anvil.

On a distant world, the Ecclesiarchy outpost of Sanctuary 101 was wiped out by an implacable foe- the fearless, soulless Necrons. Now, a mission of the sisterhood has returned to reconsecrate the site- but the metallic nightmares still lurk in the darkness, guarding a secret that has lain dormant for millennia.

A vicious battle will be fought, one that only end in the total destruction of the unrelenting xenos, or the annihilation of the proud Adepta Sororitas.

Hammer and Anvil is set some years after the events of Faith and Fire, and we rejoin sisters Miriya and Verity as they join the mission to reclaim Sanctuary 101, a mission that has been delayed by long years of political manoeuvring and stonewalling by the Inquisition. Each is seeking their own redemption, although Miriya’s path is the harder one as she seeks to put the ghost of Vaun’s actions behind her once and for all, while fearing that she never will.

The truth of what happened at the Sanctuary is quickly figured out, and even as the indentured workers begin the reconstruction the scheming minions of the Mechanicum set a chain of events in motion that will see the Sisters draw weapons against both them and the fearsome Necrons who have been roused from their sleep. But this isn’t just any tomb-world of that age old and forgotten race; it holds the key to unleashing the kind of force that saw the Necrontyr dominate the galaxy countless aeons ago. War soon returns to Sanctuary 101, and it’s clear that not even the tenacious defiance of the Sisters will be enough to stave off disaster.

Beset by self-doubt, and surrounded by distrustful Battle Sisters, a damaged escapee from the Necrons’ cruel research and a self serving techpriest, Miriya’s battle is fought on several fronts, all of them desperate. H & A flies along at a frenetic pace as the truth and intriguing glimpses into the history and lives of the key Necron figures are teased out, all leading to a massive and breathless confrontation. Happily, despite the years since Faith & Fire did the rounds, Swallow has kept Miriya and Verity true to the original characters and as interesting as before (although Miriya wins, hands down) and has maintained the background feel of the intrigue and one-upmanship that are so rife in the Imperium. Hammer and Anvil stands on its own and can be read alone, although you will get far more out of it by having read Faith & Fire.

The Nuns-With-Guns trifecta is completed by Red and Black, an audio drama featuring Miriya again, who is at the rank of Celestian again, which suggests this is a prequel to Faith and Fire, although to be honest it again works as a standalone.

After two millennia, the warp storms raging around the Hollos star system have abated, allowing the isolated planet of Hollos to reconnect with the Imperium. When a mysterious messenger contacts the Orders Militant, Celestian Miriya must travel to Hollos and pass judgement on the world. Will she find a world embracing the Emperor’s truth or one in need of cleansing? Her decision will liberate or condemn an entire planet.

Miriya’s ‘flaw’ of being willing to think for herself is one of the factors that sees her put forward to lead this expedition. It’s a heavy responsibility and one that’s never far from her mind; Hollos will live or die by her judgement.

The expedition has a promising start. The envoy shows a devout belief in the Emperor, and the landing pad on the prosperous capital city of Hollos is thronged with cheering crowds. But soon enough things go awry and Miriya and her sisters find themselves fighting off a faction of extremists, the presence of whom raises a score of questions as to the price the inhabitants have paid for the facade of peace and prosperity that they enjoy- and the price they will have to pay for their survival. The history and secrets that lie at the heart of Hollos are systematically revealed by the not-so-delicate investigations of the Sisters and their accompanying tech priests, yet as she gets closer to the judgement she must pass Miriya finds that the decision will be harder than she would ever have expected.

It’s not an action heavy drama, but James nonetheless crams a lot into the 71 minute running time. It’s an interesting concept and one that could easily have been expanded into a full length novel. Beth Chalmers and Lisa Bowerman’s performances are consistent, clear and spirited, and the background effects are handled well, neither overwhelming the narration nor becoming repetitive. You can listen to a sample here.

I transferred this onto my ipod and listened to it while at gym, which worked out perfectly. It’s the right length for a casual, one-off listen and an easy way to get a 40K fix on the go. The Sisters of Battle provide a nice change of perspective, and if you're new to the 40K universe and worried about trying to coming to grips with the physio- and psychology of superhuman Space Marines, the Sisters are a good introduction to the setting and mindset... and the kick-ass, no holds barred action that makes 40K so addictive. I guess that makes them a gateway drug :) but what a rush!

You can visit James' Livejournal site here, read an extract of Faith and Fire here or Hammer and Anvil here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water’s heyday, and once the town’s grandest home—has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal. And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow. No easy task in a town shaped by years of tradition and the well-marked boundaries of the haves and have-nots.

But Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite do-gooder Paxton Osgood—of the very prominent Osgood family, has restored the Blue Ridge Madam to her former glory, with plans to open a top-flight inn. Maybe, at last, the troubled past can be laid to rest while something new and wonderful rises from its ashes.

Resonant with insight into the deep and lasting power of friendship, love, and tradition, The Peach Keeper is a portrait of the unshakable bonds that—in good times and bad, from one generation to the next—endure forever.

If, like me, you are intrigued by these society clubs women have in the South, that date back several generations, and wonder why exactly they came about and why they come across like secret members clubs, then The Peach Keeper goes a little distance to try and explain at least one of these societies to us.

Paxton Osgood is such a great character - she makes lists, she's obsessive about them. She's made them all her life. It is a way she controls her life, a way she can make sense of it. She prefers things to be done in a certain way. She's uptight, always well turned out and seems to be very much in charge, of everything. She is easily categorised - always popular in school, she got good grades, she was a social darling. But there is far more to the socialite than we are aware. Reluctant to move away from home, she has a very difficult relationship with her mum. Her dad zones in and out of life, letting his wife control things, as he's no doubt just found it easier to do accept what she wants to do, rather than try and fight her. Paxton, what a great name!, has a twin brother, Colin who, unlike Paxton cannot stand to be at home, with his family. He left Walls of Water to become a landscape architect and makes sure he hardly ever comes home. But this time he does, as Paxton has asked his help in landscaping the gardens at The Blue Ridge Madam, specifically to remove the huge peach tree that grew randomly from the soil near the house, and replace it with something else.

It is when Colin comes back, that he walks into Willa's life. And she's not at all happy. Willa, quiet, unassuming, runs an eco hiking and sports good store. She's lived in Walls of Water all her life, went to college, dropped out of college and moved back after her father's death. Long before that, her family had been as prominent as the Osgood's but in the time of her grandmother they had lost The Blue Ridge Madam and a lot of people had been hurt. Now, with Paxton fixing up the house, she invites Willa along to the opening gala. And Willa definitely doesn't want to go. She wants nothing to do with Madam, with the Osgoods, especially not with Colin. In school Willa used to be the Joker, the prankster, who created havoc. No one knew about it though - she did it quietly, without fuss, and watched the chaos unfold all around her. And then, one of her pranks got blamed on Colin Osgood and for a while she let it go. When she eventually revealed herself everyone was shocked - they couldn't believe it was this quiet girl who had gone about and created this much madness. As a consequence her dad lost his job at school and she blamed herself for basically destroying both their lives.

She's in Walls of Water to do a penance, to make a quiet life for herself, to hide. She refuses to have anything to do with anyone from her old life, goes home, does her laundry, never goes out and basically hides. But it's when Paxton and Colin start interfering in her life, that she stands no chance of remaining a quiet mouse too scared to live her life.

This novel is so well written, the love story between Colin and Willa is so great, along with the cautious friendship between Paxton and Sebastian, that could be more, if only he wasn't gay. The thing about SAA is that she writes characters so well, draws them so finely, and yet she manages to surprise you each time. She also excels at writing relationships and layering them and making this pattern you only see when you close that final cover and sit back and think about things.

Tied in with the story of Willa and Paxton and how their friendship develops is the story of their grandmothers as young women. I was a bit reminded of The Divine Secrets of the YA Ya Sisterhood but this is far better written, I have to say. You get such an amazing sense of place and time through her descriptions and the way the young women came up with a society to strengthen themselves and yet how now, things have changed and the society has become something so very different.

The whole of The Peach Keeper is infused with coffee and glorious food and sunshine and the mystery of the South. If you've liked any of the other books I've ever recommended, you will enjoy and come to love Sarah Addison Allen's writing. There is a magic to her books that transports you - and that's what good writing does, no matter how dull and wet the weather is outside or how miserable you feel in yourself.

Do visit her website - she has recipes and extracts from all her books on there and they make for fun reading!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Random Bits #7

A quick bit of Random Bits on a Tuesday - we look at new books coming from Hot Key Books and the new cover for Darren Shan's Zom-B from Simon & Schuster. And for good measure, because I adore this book so much, the paperback cover for Daughter of Smoke and Bones.

Hot Key Books have announced their debut list to all the world and there are some corkers.  I'm particularly excited about there three titles:

I love anthologies and Under My Hat has every one of my favourite authors in it.  Charles de Lint!!!  Jane Yolen!!! Garth Nix! Holly Black! Jim Flipping Butcher! Tim Pratt! Delia Sherman (I love her) Tanith blinking Lee! *points at the picture* Just look at them all! The list is so incredible, my eyes have started watering. This anthology should win awards purely going by the names of awesome contributors.  These guys and girls are the who's who of writing speculative fiction for younger readers and older teen readers and adult readers too.  *muppet flail*  My friends, I think I'm in heaven.

 I have no idea what this book is about.  From the cover I get a bit of Howl's Moving Castle and Avatar with a bit of Stardust.  Ah, but cleverly, I've gone and read the write-up about this one and I'm loving it even more:

Set in an imagined world where water has run out and the Cloud Hunters take to the sky to harvest water from the clouds.

In a world where water is scarce and jellyfish swim through the sky, mollycoddled teenager Christian dreams of excitment and danger.  When he meets the exotic and alluring Jenine and her family of Cloud Hunters, he becomes determined to fulfil that dream...

I do like Gareth P Jones's writing - he constantly surprises me with brilliant books and just lets his imagination run wild:

Sam Toop lives in a funeral parlour. While his dad buries the dead, Sam is haunted by their constant demands for attention. Trouble is afoot on the "otherside" and there is a mysterious disease imprisoning ghosts into empty houses, leaving Sam caught in the middle.

The list looks like so much fun.  This link will take you to their catalogue as it stands at the moment.
Next up is the cover for Darren Shan's new book: ZOM-B.  I couldn't believe it when I saw it - it is both gory and gross and perfect at the same time.  I love it!

I mean, come on - who in their zombie-loving mind won't like this? From Amazon: Zom-B is a radical new series about a zombie apocalypse, told in the first person by one of its victims. The series combines classic Shan action with a fiendishly twisting plot and hard-hitting and thought-provoking moral questions dealing with racism, abuse of power and more. This is challenging material, which will captivate existing Shan fans and bring in many new ones. As Darren says, "It's a big, sprawling, vicious tale...a grisly piece of escapism, and a barbed look at the world in which we live. Each book in the series is short, fast-paced and bloody. A high body-count is guaranteed!"

I have no words.  I have grabby hands looking at this cover.  I didn't think Hodder would have been able to entice me into buying my fourth copy of the same book, but they have.  Here's my review I did for it all that time ago.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Visit to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

I adore Harry Potter; the books, the world, the films - everything. So when I found out that Levesden Studios which is about twenty minutes from where I live was going to do a tour I was beyond excited. What I imagined in my head was a small exhibit based on the mechanics behind the films. For some reason I thought it would be a bit of a minority, geeky thing that would be interesting for fans of the films but nothing more. I obviously wasn't thinking this though because the Warner Bros. Studio tour is MASSIVE.

If there was ever any doubt how much work has gone in to these amazing films then the tour sweeps them away. First off though I feel I need to point out that this isn't in London. It's near Watford which (for those who don't know) is near London. So if you're planning a day out then make it just that - a day. It'll take about twenty five minutes on a train from Euston to Watford and then the studio has laid on buses which leave Watford Junction every fifteen minutes to the Studio which is a fifteen minute journey. So, it's not an arduous trip but worth knowing.

The foyer has the shop (more of that later) and huge posters of the stars, a cafe and a Starbucks. Once in you can join the queue and you're allowed to enter of groups (of around 150 I think but I could be wrong). You're held in an area for a film but I'm not going to spoil this bit for you. Once into the great hall your visit begins and you're free to look at everything in your own time. I opted for a digital guide which works like any touch screen device. There are numbered stops for you to play the appropriate section but also a whole load of extra material like videos and the such. I need to go back so I can look at every single section on the guide, it's only £4.50 and well worth the money.

Once through the great hall I was in Harry Potter heaven. There's everything from gorgeous costumes and wigs, props, jaw-dropping sets, paintings and more. I could quite happily have spent about four hours looking at everything. The sheer amount of books blew me away. I was just loving seeing the ones that we've become used to from the films. Just look at this brown leather copy of Do It Yourself Broom Care. Comics were made to put in the common room, invitations for the Yule Ball - honestly, I was amazed at the sheer number of printed matter created.

So, from the little things to the sets. These things are massive. The Mirror of Erised and the Magic is Might statue - huge. The gates to Hogwarts are about 15 foot high and made of stone. Don't get me wrong, a lot of things are made of wood or plaster but it seemed to me that equal amounts of things have been crafted the old-fashioned way. Look at these: -

Add to this all the costumes which are beautifully displayed and placed next to the relevant sets. The dress that Hermione wears to the Yule Ball? Gorgeous in real life. The wigs? Stunning - the Dumbledore one is ridiculously long. For continuity they show five virtually identical outfits that Daniel Radcliffe wore, each one labelled with things like, "more dust." I was aware that all of these things went on but to see it all laid out is impressive.

One of the last things you see is Diagon Alley. I was speechless. Apart from a bit of green screen behind Gringotts you're basically in the street. There are cobbles on the floor, it's just … I'm really struggling for words here but I was smiling whilst my heart was being wrung out. I'm so used to seeing the world on the films and Diagon Alley was just so perfect that I couldn't have asked for more. Right, I'll shut up now but here's another piccy.

I have missed out some really wonderful exhibits but I wanted to give you a flavour of what you'll see if you visited. The artwork, model workshop and outside sets are fascinating too. Then there's the model of Hogwarts. Basically, I took nearly two hundred photos so I don't want to overload you! You leave via the shop where I bought a wand, a pygmy puff (which I immediately had to hide from my dog when I got home) and other stuff. There's a couple of gorgeous stained windows in the shop. Remember the one that got a close up in the Goblet of Fire? Where the rain runs over a face like a tear? It's there behind one of the tills. Books are piled up on library shelves - it's a nice touch to end the tour with. To sum up - I drank butter beer, I stood on the Night Bus and I was in Harry Potter heaven. Go, if you're even a mild fan of the films - just go. You won't regret it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bleeding Land by Giles Kristian - Exclusive Trailer

We are so pleased to be able to host the exclusive trailer for Giles Kristian's new title: The Bleeding Land.  Doesn't it look great?

Mark has finished reading the book - like I had any chance getting near it once he put his claim on it - and says it is a stonking read.  He read it in two sittings.  That says a helluva lot.

Enough chatter from me - here's the trailer!

The description about the book reads:

England 1642: a nation divided.

England is at war with itself. King Charles and Parliament each gather soldiers to their banners. Across the land men prepare to fight for their religious and political ideals. Civil war has begun.

A family ripped asunder.

The Rivers are landed gentry, and tradition dictates that their allegiance is to the King. Sir Francis' loyalty to the crown and his desire to protect his family will test them all. As the men march to war, so the women are left to defend their home against a ruthless enemy. Just as Edmund, the eldest of Sir Francis' sons, will do his duty, so his brother Tom will turn his back on all he once believed in...

A war that will change everything.

From the raising of the King's Standard at Nottingham to the butchery and blood of Edgehill, Edmund and Tom Rivers will each learn of honour, sacrifice, hatred and betrayal as they follow their chosen paths through this most savage of wars.

Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress - by Sarwat Chadda

Varanasi: holy city of the Ganges.

In this land of ancient temples, incense and snake charmers…
Where the monsters and heroes of the past come to life…
One slightly geeky boy from our time…
is going to kick some demon ass.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Sarwat’s two previous books, Devil’s Kiss and Dark Goddess, and had my appetite whetted by his guest blog last month, I'd been looking forward to getting to grips with Ash for some time. The concept behind Ash is very cool, and the fact that it's set in India made it even more so (particularly given that up to now my knowledge of Indian mythology was largely a product of the vacuous offerings of the Temple of Doom).

The titular hero is a chubby thirteen year old boy who, as the story begins, is starting to seriously regret accepting his archaeologist uncle’s invitation to visit an India which had had hitherto only experienced through history books and photographs, none of which could have prepared him for the noise, the crowds, the dust or the flies. Ash doesn’t consider himself Indian per se- he’s a Londoner, and would normally be spending his summer hooked up to a LAN and armed with nothing more than a bucket of KFC and a litre of Coke. Instead, he’s stuck in a sweltering, dusty city and starting to worry about his aunt’s plans to find him a nice girl to marry.

And then he goes to find his little sister who's wandered off at what should have been a run-of-the-mill and thoroughly boring party hosted by Lord Savage, a rich philanthropist with a penchant for ancient Indian history. But a few wrong turns amidst the old fortress puts Ash’s destiny onto a path he could never have imagined, because Lord Savage harbours a secret as dark and terrible hunger as his hunger for power.

Ash's accidental discovery of a hidden chamber sets a chain of events in motion that sees him question his own sanity as all hell threatens to break loose.

The pace of the story accelerates steadily as the new reality facing Ash and his sister begins to bite, and Sarwat doesn’t take his foot off the pedal from here on in. The good vs evil theme within the story might be familiar, as the classic story of the eternal hero, but the richness of the setting and how vividly it come across give the story a great, fresh flavour. The demons are truly creepy, terrifying beings without a shred of humanity, and the imagery surrounding them is wonderfully dark and chilling, particularly when Ash and his bad-ass but subtly tragic companion reach the ancient, demon ravaged citadel in the desert. The myths and legends feel new and exciting- they’re integral to the story, and they're blended in very well; it never felt like I was sitting through a Mythology 101 lecture. In fact, I would have been happy to have had more of it in there. I mean, what’s not to like about demon-hunting goddesses with six arms, magic weapons, buried cities and golden demons?

This is a phenomenally fun book, with a great supporting cast, an insanely over the top plot and a believable, likeable Asian hero who undergoes a blistering yet believable hero's journey. This entire package is testament to Sarwat's passion, research and innate ability to tell a damn good story.  It's Percy Jackson with extra chapati.

The American cover, because it's awesome.

You can visit the very spiffy Ash Mistry website here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Shortlist - David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy

Because life's been too busy recently, we've not had the chance to really support the David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy that much. Well, not since we worked as volunteers at the inaugural event and it's something both Mark and I feel keenly about.  So this year we'll be doing our best to bring you the word as it all goes down. 

This weekend past the shortlisted titles were announced and here they are:

Legend Award

This award is for the best fantasy novel of the year, that holds David Gemmell's writing close to it's heart.

Morningstar Award

This award welcomes new writers to the folds of fantasy writing!

Ravenheart Award

This award celebrates some superb art we see on covers!

Hopefully I can get my butt in gear and read some of these before the awards are announced in July. What I can tell you about the book I'm halfway through - Heir of Night - is that I am honestly loving it.  The writing is super easy on the eye, there are no jarring bits that I've come across and I am liking the world that the author's created.  In fact, I am enjoying Helen Lowe's writing so much, I've ordered her book for younger readers too!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Girl Who Chased The Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. Such as, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly? And why did she vow never to return? But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew—a reclusive, real-life gentle giant—she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life: Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.

Everyone in Mullaby adores Julia Winterson’s cakes—which is a good thing, because Julia can’t seem to stop baking them. She offers them to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth but also in the hope of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Flour, eggs, milk, and sugar . . . Baking is the only language the proud but vulnerable Julia has to communicate what is truly in her heart. But is it enough to call back to her those she’s hurt in the past?

Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.

When Emily arrived in Mullaby, North Carolina, she doesn't expect her grandfather to be a giant. He's tall, taller than most people. But he's kind and gentle and is cautious around her. He's not had a teenager around the house for a long time and has no real way how to deal with them. He does however warn Emily about the continuously changing wallpaper in her room. Initially Emily thinks he's joking, but then she sees it for herself and automatically thinks that he's somehow managed to super-quickly change the wallpaper, which is an impossibility because he no longer does stairs very well and confines himself to the downstairs. Added to the ever-changing wallpaper to suit her mood, there is the weird lights in the garden that she sees almost from the start of her stay in Mullaby. They are, according to her grandfather and others that she speaks to, just one of the strange things that happen in Mullaby.

Another strange thing in Mullaby is Emily and her grandfather's neighbour, Julia. Julia has a gift for baking and she seems to bake all the time. She is the owner of a restaurant in the town, but doesn't really run it. She goes in super early, to get baking for the day, then leaves pretty soon as the first customers come in. And there is something a bit magical about Julia's baking. Emily and Julia, despite their age difference, become good friends. And when Emily finds out that her mum, now passed away, used to treat Julia quite badly, she feels bad. And the more she finds out about how nasty her mum used to be to people in Mullaby, the more shocked she becomes because the person she knew, loved and grew up with was maybe not the kindest person in the world, she definitely went out of her way to do good. Who her mum used to be as a teenager and who Emily knew her to be as an adult is a million thousand miles apart.

And when the full extent of what her mum did to cause the entire town to hate her, is revealed to Emily, it blows her world apart. She has to finish high school in Mullaby but doubts that she'll be able to set a foot outside her door. What complicates matters is the fact that she has a growing attraction to a young man who lives in Mullaby and because of what her mum did to the boy's family, she is reviled and persona non grata.

Julia's story is woven in with Emily's. Both of them are broken in some way. Julia's story is one we find out about much later in the book yet it is the one that had the most impact on me as a reader. I loved her story, I loved how things worked out for her, especially near the very end.

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my all time favourite writers. There is something about her writing that makes me yearn to be a better writer, to weave intricate characters the way she does. I fall in love with them EVERY SINGLE TIME and sob my heart out when I finish reading them. And then I want to somehow unread them, so I can fall in love with them all over again. I don't know how to describe her writing. It's lyrical and beautiful and charming and funny, but it is also literary and thoughtful and magical and so full of what-ifs, yet you never stop to think: oh, that's not possible in the Real World. I love that and can't press her books on you with enough enthusiasm. I am doing her disservice saying this but if you've watched Practical Magic and even read the novel by Alice Hoffman, you may get a faint inkling what you let yourself in for when you fall in love with Sarah Addison Allen's writing.

My next review will be The Peach Keeper, also by SAA. Because I went into a frenzy and just had to read the newest one too.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Barrington Stoke Friday Fever!

As per my usual want, I've saved up a stack of Barrington Stoke reviews to blast you with. The selection I recently received is superb. Some great titles from a lot of well known authors and as usual, the stories are well written and they make you want to sit down and re-read them again and discuss them with someone.

First up is My Name is O by Sam Enthoven. We are big fan of Sam's writing, even if we think he has a very scary twisty brain that gives us books like Crawlers. My Name is O is a high concept action thriller, possibly set in the now, possibly slightly in the future. The writing is easy on the eye, the reader is never patronised, and most of all, it is a great story done well.

We meet O standing on top of Tower 42, just before she flings herself off the side of the building. It makes a great impact, and it's shocking and a great opening sequence, and I loved the fact that this mad stunt leads up to breaking into the Bank of England! Soon we learn who O is, and in fact, I call O "her" because there is one scene where she is indeed a girl, but to be fair, she could be a boy or a girl, because O is a Blank and can be whatever the overlords want her to be.

It's a rare writer who can dump us in a world that is familiar enough, yet strange enough, and not alienate the reader. Doing this in a book as slender as My Name is O is positively genius. Add to that, everything that happens, including a set of great reveals about O and who the overlords are and O's subsequent actions and well, I will say this: I want to know more about O and I want a whole series about O, the consequences, what she gets up to next, all of it! In fact, I'd like a TV show about My Name Is O. But in the meantime, I'll have to keep re-reading the book. Well done, crafty twisty Sam Enthoven, you've made me want to write fan-fiction.

My Name is O is out now and is a dyslexia friendly title.

The Crow Girl by Kate Cann - this is a reissue of this very popular title.  It follows the story of Lily Stanfield, an outsider, a freak, a weirdo.  Not that she sees herself as this.  These are names that she's called by her classmates and others in her school.  Lily is just a super quiet girl who likes reading.  She's interested in other stuff than most of the superficial appearing girls seem to be interested in.  She's been badly bullied, called names...basically, bad things have happened to her.  Yet the real extent is never really revealed.  Lily finds solace in an unexpected place - the nearby forest.  It becomes a magical place, a place where she can pull her shoulders back and relax and breathe.  One of the coolest things though is that she makes friends with the local crows in the park.  They follow her during her wanderings and she feeds them snacks.  And slowly but surely, Lily starts blossoming.  She loses weight, her Nan takes her shopping for a decent bra.  Suddenly she's not this weird misshapen girl with weird lumps and bits.  Her Nan tells her to walk proud, lift her head, keep her shoulders back.  Lily likes what she sees, but she's not confident yet.  And it's only when she's asked along to a party, that she thinks about a clever trick to get people to notice her.  It involves her crows, black feathery wings, a beautiful Gothic dress, hair dye and cool make-up.

And she pulls it off.  Wonderfully so, and what I like about this story is how Lily discovers herself at the same time she tries to put on a new face for the world.  It's not about the dress, the hair dye or the make-up or the trick she pulls, but this slow realisation that she is really as cool as any of the cool kids in school and that she too can walk with her head high.

It's a great read and very girl-affirmative.  The whole bra-shopping experience was too funny and painfully real.  But even though there is mention of girly shopping, the story is pretty inclusive and boys will take a lot away with them reading this.  It's all about self-realisation and coming to grips with the fact that it's okay to be yourself and to believe in yourself.

The Nightmare Card by Catherine Johnson freaked me out.  The story is told retrospectively by Mina.  We learn that her best mate Sara found a pack of tarot cards and decided it would be fun to mess around with them and tell fake fortunes to friends at school.  It starts off innocently enough, but soon we sense a change in Sara.  She behaves strangely and distances herself from Mina.   Her appearance changes and it looks like she doesn't sleep at all.  The story is short, sharp, frightening.  Nothing is actually explained in so many words, but by using the images in the cards, the author shows us what's happened to Sara and it's not at all pleasant.

It's a story of loss and caution - don't mess with things you don't understand.  And the reason it freaked me out is that I love tarot cards, I have several decks of my own and I love shuffling them, playing with them but I hardly ever venture to tell fortunes with them.  I like them for the archetypes they represent but this story has made me feel a bit itchy under the skin.  So thanks, Catherine Johnson!

Both Crow Girl and The Nightmare Card is dyslexia friendly titles.

Bad Day by Graham Marks is all about a teen boy called Rob who manages to almost screw up in a big way.  I liked this story - it made me grin as I can really imagine something like this happening.  Rob has met a girl online and they've agreed to meet.  So he's managed to get ready and slip out of the house and get into London without much trouble.  But it's when he's waiting to meet his friend Tessa that things go wrong.  A scurvy looking man tries to to actually pick him up and Rob gets questioned about the police and he's embarrassed and livid because it looks like Tessa's stood him up.  In a huff he gets home and signs in on his computer and writes a wild angry email to Tessa which he doesn't - LUCKILY - not send.  Whilst he's online, Tessa comes online and well, things are made clear.  It is well written and goes to great lengths to show us what a worrier Rob is, how he second guesses himself, and how anxious that makes him.  It also shows us how silly our preconceptions sometimes can be but how we should listen to our gut instincts and not do something stupid.

This is also a dyslexia friendly title.