Thursday, July 31, 2008

Avon calling: the rise and rise of a new fiction imprint


You may recall that I did the review for Scott Mariani's excellent book, The Alchemist's Secret, published by a newly created imprint of Harper Collins called Avon.


Well, Avon's just celebrated their very first birthday and I thought it would be a fun thing to pester them for a bit of a "press" release about who they are and where they are going. This is what I received from them:


Since it hit the UK publishing scene a year ago, Avon has seen thrilling growth and is now the most successful fiction imprint to have been launched in the UK for over two decades.

Launched in July 2007 by former Tesco book buyer Caroline Ridding and HarperCollins Editorial Director Maxine Hitchcock, Avon specialises in publishing commercial, accessible women's fiction and crime and thrillers, with a focus on the UK’s fastest-growing sales channels. Avon has gone from strength to strength in its first 12 months and now boasts a stable of titles that includes 3 Sunday Times bestsellers, numerous Heatseekers and an exclusive book club with Closer, one of the UK’s bestselling women’s magazines.

2008 sees Avon consolidating their position as a fast-growing, fast-moving company and their output will grow from 33 to 42 titles, including a move into non-fiction with Undercover: the Adventures of a Real Life Gigolo set to raise pulses everywhere in Autumn 08.

In addition, Avon are discovering that crime definitely pays, as Spring 09 sees the release of a haunting, multi-layered thriller from New York Times bestseller Laura Lippman, a nail-biting novel set on the mean streets of Manhattan from James Lee Burke’s daughter Alafair and former James Patterson co-writer Peter DeJonge’s debut novel.

This is Avon's website. I find it thrilling as a reviewer and booklover that new imprints are being established by large publishing houses. It gives new authors a platform and opportunities to become known and it gives readers an opportunity to get to know new authors and discover established authors brought over from the States and Europe and further abroad.


Avon also has some tremendously fun competitions on their site, so do keep an eye out!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Falcata Times E-zine


Gareth Wilson has worked himself into a lather to publish a massive edition of Falcata Times - the Monster Edition, this month.
He interviews, amongst others: LKH, Suzanne McLeod, Mike Carey, Charlaine Harris, Vicki Pettersen, CE Murphy and many more. There are hundreds of reviews jostling for space, alongside Zanzi The Barbarian's Agony Column and the new Scaredy Cat's take on some horror movies.

You can find the main Falcata Times page here along with some "back" issues or if you just want to see the current pdf, go here. But be warned, it is a bigun! Also due to some fantasy art, it might not be suitable to view at work or for younger readers. (I'm not being overly anxious here, I promise - I just don't want anyone getting in trouble).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Through a glass, darkly by Bill Hussey


Synopsis

When a young man goes missing from the Fen village of Crow Haven, Inspector Jack Trent is sent to investigate. He finds an isolated, insular community which harbours a shocking secret. A secret he has already glimpsed in his dreams. Now, in a race against time, Jack must piece together the mystery surrounding Dr Elijah Mendicant and the ancient Darkness of Crow Haven. He must save the life of an innocent child and stop an ageless evil from rising once more.

You can tell when an author writes out of love for his genre. This is very much the case with Through a glass, darkly by debut author, Bill Hussey.

The first three sentences of the novel go like this:

Jack Trent stared into the bathroom mirror.
He could not fight it. The dreaming reached out and pulled him through the glass.

I was hooked, as Mark would say, using his newly acquired fishing analogies. We immediately fall into a crisis with the main character, Jack Trent and it’s an unusual one. He sees things and experiences things others cannot and would not want to see. Not so unusual, you would think, with the deluge of shows on TV currently dealing with people who have the sixth sense. But this novel is so much more. It is freakishly scary and written with tremendous skill and it sweeps you from your feet and carries you along until its dark conclusion.

Jack Trent is a lonely, haunted main character and therein lies his strengths: he has to stand up against monsters some people might just be able to sense but have no power against. And because of his past experiences and his continued visions and experiences, he races towards the climax of the book in an all out ride of terror, even if it means that it might be the last thing he does.

The settings of the Fells is beautifully utilised and it gives the novel a true sense of weird and desolation. The town of Crow Haven is rendered in stark contrasts and you almost feel sorry for the people who have to live in this isolated community but then you realise that they had been mute accomplices to some awful things during the centuries and you really do just want to wash your hands off them.

Another character which I enjoyed reading about is Father Brody. He stood against the evil in Crow Haven in the past and has come to know that someone else would come to put a stop to it. He realises that this person is Jack Trent and he manages to escape his confinement in a home for retired priests to try and help Jack in his own very odd and dark way, that reflects his own experiences at Crow Haven.

The whole story is a giant puzzle which Jack and his almost-girlfriend Dawn, a fellow police officer put together with meticulous care. The underlying skill of the author comes through in how well the novel is plotted. You are “on scene” for the big happenings, nothing happens that you don’t know about so you don’t feel left out or cheated.

The story narrates on a scale that reminds me of the classics from the gothic noire books published by Stoker, Shelley and Lafcadio Hearn– it is dark, mesmerising and deeply tragic and poignant because of the main character’s self-doubt and continuous searching of himself in a time of desperate need.

I am a fan of good horror novels (and awful horror movies) and have to freely admit that if Bill Hussey is the new voice of the genre, especially UK horror, then we are all in for a tremendous treat because if he starts us off with a bang like Through a Glass Darkly…we can expect major things from him.

It stands alongside House of Lost Souls by FG Cottam as one of the best horror books I have read this year.

A bit about the author:

Bill Hussey has a Masters Degree in Writing from Sheffield Hallam University. His first novel, Through A Glass, Darkly was inspired by the lonely Fen villages of Lincolnshire and by a lifetime devoted to the horror story. Bill lives in Skegness and writes stories about things that go bump in the night. The book is published by an Bloody Books.

You can find Bill's website here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Sweet Scent of Blood by Suzanne McLeod


The book proof for The Sweet Scent of Blood by Suzanne McLeod arrived Saturday morning and I started reading it over breakfast. And completely forgot that we had to pack to go up north for a friend’s birthday later that afternoon. I took the book to the couch, ignoring the dishes, the dog, the husband. And fully immersed myself in the story, only breaking to go to the party and then spent all of Sunday lazing in the sunshine reading until its very last delectable page.

I honestly suspected that this was going to be good. I just had no idea how good it would in fact turn out to be!

In The Sweet Scent of Blood we meet Genny Taylor who works for Spellcrackers.com . She’s good at her job where she finds magic and unmakes spells, has a fun relationship with her colleagues and she also happens to be a Sidhe fae.
All of the story is set in London and we find places like Leicester Square and Covent Garden and Greenwich plundered mercilessly by the author for good settings and I love it because it conveys the grittiness of the city but with a shimmer of the Other which really works very well.

Vampires are no longer hidden, they have been outed and are becoming A-list celebrities. Their communities are strong and they have an amazing PR campaign that would put any politician’s campaign to shame. But then, if you’ve had a couple of hundred years to tell lies, you would also be very good about it!

Alongside the vamps you have an interesting mix of fae and other creatures who seem to have become fully integrated in human society. They work alongside us and have become something else we seem to be fascinated with, especially the vampires.

It always shows in an author’s world building and putting those ideas across how adept they are as storytellers. Suzanne McLeod isn’t just adept, she’s bloody brilliant. The world creation is very competent and helps the story flow with ease – it will be a rich source for her to write in for her future books.

Genny is a well thought out main character but retains enough mystery to keep you guessing about her heritage. I find the fact that she can crack spells with ease and can absorb the magic into her interesting but she can't actually do any spells herself. It makes for an interesting slant. She's not a heroine with a gun, or with any kind of overt screaming talent. For all Genny being a Sidhe, she seems a normal girl using her brains and wits to figure out what the opposition is after, besides sucking her dry that is.

With a further cast of Other creatures from policemen trolls, to house brownies, the vamps (naturally), satyrs, witches, goblins and other fae you have the impression that you’ve walked into a slightly chaotic Arthur Rackham drawing but it works by the sheer talented will of the author who clearly had the time of her life putting all of them into play.

We watch Genny as she is called in to help one of the vampires, Roberto, clear his name in the murder of his girlfriend, Melissa. But things are naturally never as straight forward as that when it comes to vampires. The storyline is kept in tight reign and nothing is left to chance. All the characters you meet as the story develops has genuine roles to play, no one is just a prop, which is something I really liked about it. Everyone still connived and carried on behind the scenes, even whilst Genny was busy somewhere else, so you have the impression of realtime action.

The Sweet Scent of Blood is going to hit the urban fantasy and paranormal romance market with a big bang. For fans of LKH, Lilith Saintcrow, Kim Harrison, Kat Richardson, Mary Janice Davidson, Lori Handeland and Charlaine Harris and other authors of the same ilk, take note that Suzanne McLeod is going to be the next Big Thing in this much loved genre. The book is funny and charming with enough action (and some very sexy action at that) to keep any book junkie entertained for quite a few hours.

The Sweet Scent of Blood is an exceedingly well written debut ticking all the right boxes, from a gutsy and unique heroine, to an engaging storyline with sexy foes and a strong ensemble cast. A highly recommended and fun read.

Suzanne’s website can be found here and you can pre-order the book either from Gollancz or from Amazon. It is due out in September 2008.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Winners and Snippets of News


And the winner for F G Cottam's House of Lost Souls is:

Viv!
Congratulations!

Please make sure to email me you snailmail addy and I will post House of Lost Souls out to you this week.

To all my other winners - apologies for the delay in sending your books out, these are going out this week.
Thanks for your support and do remember to enter the comps - like the lottery, you gotta be in it, to win it!

Other News:
I have also received more taster books from Jimmy over at Starbucks (and chocolates, but those are mine, not to share) on the three titles from Walker Books I mentioned elsewhere on the blog, with the authors being Cassandra Claire, Nick Harkaway and Mal Peet. Let me know if you would like these sent through too - they are free! I point out again: they are taster books only, not the whole book!

Stephen Hunt, author and webmaster has put together the coolest social network community for sci fi, fantasy and horror fans. I'm already signed up - yes, I am a media junkie! - so go and support SF Crowsnest Hivemind here: http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/hivemind/home.php.

Lilith Saintcrow's got a new site up: http://www.lilithsaintcrow.com/journal/ - and it looks pretty damn awesome, pulling the artwork from her books and her online persona together in one neat package. Her new forum is up too and it is pretty slick - well done to both her and her designer, Alex.

The Bookswede has a pretty cool new competiton going on for a newbie author, Drew Bowling. Find it here.

Fantasy Book Critic has a review up on Mike Carey's second Felix Castor novel - A Vicious Circle and a good interview linked to it.

I discovered a fantastic literary agent, John Jarrold, through upcoming author Suzanne McLeod's website. This is the link to John's website: http://www.johnjarrold.co.uk/about.html . John's career is fantastically varied from script writer to fiction editor for various large publishing houses. To be honest, he knows his stuff and seems to be a genuinely lovely chap as I contacted him to see if I could post his links on my page. So - do visit his site and marvel at his client list. I was thrilled to spot people like: Jaine Fenn, Suzanne McLeod, Stephen Hunt and many more. I love the fact that this note is on his site: PLEASE NOTE: THE AGENCY SPECIALISES IN REPRESENTING SF, FANTASY AND HORROR NOVELISTS FOR THE ADULT MARKET. WE ARE NOT TAKING ON NEW CLIENTS IN ANY OTHER AREAS OF FICTION OR NON-FICTION, OR WRITERS OF YA OR CHILDREN'S FICTION.

Countdown to Breaking Dawn


Peeps, it's almost here.
Publishing date - 04/08/08.

I did try and put up a countdown clock but the software wouldn't work!

So, even better than that, I've discovered that the amazing peeps over at Atom have set up a brand new site for Stephenie Meyer. Complete with launch day events details across the country - with more events being added closer to the time.
Go, support the reader movement and this amazing author. And here is the official website for the movie Twilight.


Friday, July 25, 2008

The Bethlehem Murders, Matt Rees


Synopsis:

Omar Yussef has taught history to the children of Bethlehem for as long as anyone can remember. When a favourite former pupil, George Saba, is arrested over a murder, Omar is convinced that he has been framed. With George facing imminent execution, Omar sets out to prove his innocence.

As Omar falls foul of his headmaster and the local police chief, time begins to run out for this teacher-turned-detective. His classroom is bombed and members of his family are threatened. But with no one else willing to stand up for the truth, it is up to Omar to act, even as bloodshed and heartbreak surround him.

Along with quest adventures, really good detective and crime novels rank pretty high on my list of books to read for pure indulgence and enjoyment.

The Bethlehem Murders by Matt Rees falls into this category without a shadow of a doubt. A pure pleasure to read from start to finish with a main character, Omar Yusuf, being a likeable, tough and honest creation in a setting and situation where things are pretty awful.

Like in Barbara Nadel's books you are transported to somewhere so completely different to what you are used to, that you rely solely on the author's observations through the characters and therefore you respond in kind.

In the creation of Omar Yusuf, we have a very wise, sympathetic, honest and forthright person who gives a completely new outlook on the troubles of the West Bank in Palestine. It really brings the shock and horror of what it is like living in a desolate war-torn place home to those who have never had the opportunity to either visit or examine this awful conflict closer.

I hasten to add that although the book is highly charged and it gives a strong flavour of what things are like, it is not a political satire or political comment in any way. It shoots from the hip and tells it like it is. How gunmen are a daily fact of life, how Israeli fire from the other side of the valley is something to be endured. And how ordinary people like you and I soldier on because to give up is unthinkable.

And it is in the day to day lives of these people that the book shines. Through Omar's desperate search to save the life of his student, awful things are uncovered - George is being set up by an Isreali collaborator and other people are murdered to keep him from being released.

Omar's character is one created with deft skill. A wise, funny, honest and morally upright character he struggles to cope with the shock of people who are uncaring about the fate of not just his friend and ex-pupil but also has to face the total apathy from everyone involved in this case. Genuinely, no one seems to care. Yet Omar is that breed of man who sets his jaw, straightens his back and trudges on to find the truth, no matter what.

I really enjoyed the book and was sad to put it aside, having finished it in one long read. I will probably reread it again soon and I know that I will be buying some copies for friends to read as it is just so well crafted and held together by a character that is as enigmatic and truthful as I have ever come across.

Matt Rees scored ten out of ten in the character creation department and Omar Yusuf is a long slow study of an intelligent man caught up in happenings in a very brutal world where he struggles to retain his own identity and feels that he is the only one fighting for justice.

A bit about the author:

Matt Rees was born and raised in South Wales. He has covered the Middle East as a journalist for a decade, including six years as Time magazine's Jerusalem bureau chief. He is author of the non-fiction work Cain’s Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East. The Bethlehem Murders is his first novel. The second book in the Omar Yussef series, The Saladin Murders, is published by Atlantic Books in January 2008. Matt Rees’s website is www.mattbeynonrees.com.

Kate Cann Interview & Competition

Kate Cann is the author of a range of popular teen and young adult books. She confesses to still being thrilled about winning three awards - the Angus, the Southern Schools, and the Renfrewshire Teenage Book Award for Leaving Poppy. These are the first prizes she's ever won. Here's hoping that there are a whole lot more in store!




You have written a lot of YA / Teen novels over the past few years. What inspired you to start out in the genre?

Sex! I was working as a copyeditor, and doing lots of teenage stuff. I hated the way sex was dealt with. It was either abusive and miserable, or fantasy candy-floss. I decided to try and write a book that was open, honest and realistic about the amazing, growing power of a first sexual relationship, and the way it can affect all parts of your life. I loved Colette, the early 20th C French writer, in my teens. I named the heroine in the Diving In series Coll, as homage to her.

I really enjoyed Sea Change and found Chloe to be a fun main character and loved watching her grow as an individual. Where do you find your inspiration for your characters – you do seem to have the knack to make them come across as very “real”.

Thank you! I’m quite sociable, I meet and know lots of people, and they all interest me. Psychodynamics intrigue me. Characters evolve from the real and my imagination working together. I think there’s a fair bit of me in Chloe – although I was never that brave. As a teen I too was very unsure, too ready to be impressed by the glamorous …

Tell us a bit more about your newest book, Possessing Rayne.

Well, I loved writing it and found it a challenge, as it’s a mystery of sorts, so there was lots of plotting involved, lots of weaving in of suspicious threads and clues and tensions …

Rayne leaves the claustrophobia of the inner city estate she lives on, and her demanding mum and boyfriend, to work at Morton’s Keep, an old manor house. She meets a new set of friends who are very seductive, and falls for the leader, the elegant St John. But is it her or the house they’re interested in? She senses evil growing, but she’s not sure where it’s coming from. She hears dark rumours about the mysterious fire group, and the woods … ..who can she trust?

Now – please! – read on …


The manor house, Morton’s Keep sounds eerily creepy. Did you use any historic buildings / locales, as a blueprint for the places you wrote about in Possessing Rayne?

Yes. I spent the night in a haunted bedroom at an old manor house in Herefordshire, and I was given freedom to roam the house and grounds, too. It was utterly terrifying and incredibly useful!

You bring across a strain of the paranormal in Possessing Rayne. Did you have
to do a bit of research to do this or did it come as naturally to you as it seems?


It came very naturally. I’ve always been interested in the veiled area beyond immediate reality.

You worked in some hints of myths and legends into Possessing Rayne and left us wanting for more at the end of the book. What does Rayne get up to in her next outing?

I’m glad you want more! I went straight into the sequel, Fire and Rayne, I had so much more to say. I wanted to develop Rayne’s link to the green lady, and look at her fraught relationship with Ethan. And I wanted a new, far more dangerous, threat to come from the house ….and Rayne having to find the strength to fight it.

Do you think moving to the countryside has influenced your writing?

I was writing Possessing Rayne while I was still in London, and I think all my yearning to be out here was reflected in my writing! Yes – the pitch black nights, the space, the hares and horses, the wildness …it’s all brilliant for me and what I’m writing now.

Have you ever attended a fire-festival or watched Morris dancing - and have you ever tried it?

The Lewes and Newick bonfire festivals had a great impact on me. They’re so wild and anarchic – all those torches marching along, rooted in half-forgotten history. I loved the idea that the old reasons for the festivals have great power, and might need to be rediscovered to keep a town safe. I drew on all this for Rayne.

I adore Morris dancing. It can be really vigorous and earthy, even threatening. I love the way it’s not slick – all ages and shapes can do it. I haven’t tried it – yet!

What is your writerly day like?

I get up, go for long walk in the wilds with the dog, get back, shower, have a big bowl of porridge, and write on or in the spare bed with dog at my feet. I do about four hours then I get stale and dull and have to stop.

Do you have any favourite authors?

Doris Lessing. D H Lawrence. A S Byatt. Edgar Allen Poe. Oh, loads and loads. I love reading.

Do you ever get the chance to visit schools and give talks?

Yes, quite often I get asked, which is lovely if a bit daunting. Fourteen year olds can be the scariest audience. But a lot of it is just bolshy body language … if the session goes well it’s the best feeling!

What are the perks - for you - being an author?

'Perks’ seems too trivial a word! I feel hugely privileged to have the space and freedom I have, to make money by making up stories, which I love to do. The lit festivals and glee trips are a treat too.

Do you ever allow yourself time away from writing and if so, what do you do to
relax and what are your hobbies?


Of course! I love walking (but that feeds into my writing) and socialising (but then that does too) ….and reading does, and films, even drinking wine …maybe I never get away from writing after all!

When you sit down to write a book, do you concentrate on a character or do you pick a concept or image and work from there?

A bit of both. Things will fertilize other things in my brain. I’ll be thinking about a theme – and then I’ll meet someone at a party – and it will all evolve. Escape, for example, grew from an image I had of an old lady reeling back in horror from a cat carrier on a Greyhound Bus – because there was an iguana in there instead of a cat …

Music. Writing for teens you must be strongly influenced by music as it is such a large part of our culture. Do you ever find yourself listening to playlists whilst writing your books?

Never. I write in the nearest to total silence I can get. I’m not actually that into modern music. It’s a flaw. I must Try Harder.

Finally – do you have any advice for young / old authors out there?

Write what stirs and fascinates you, then it will stir and fascinate other people. Keep it real – even if it’s fantasy. Try editing the next day – overnight, your brain keeps chugging over what you’ve written! Be ruthless about deleting. That descriptive scene might have taken you days but if it slows the story and adds nothing it has to go. Eavesdrop on public transport for the way people talk, their rhythms and inflexions. Have fun!



All of Kate's books can be found over at Scholastic's website or online at either Amazon or Waterstones.com.



Scholastic has also been absolutely amazing and sent along two copies of Possessing Rayne for me to give away in a mini-competition.


Competition details:

So, pop over to Kate's site and send me an email with the names of TWO of her other books - NOT mentioned in this interview - to the email address on the right hand side of the page. I'll have the competition run until the end of next week, 1st of August. Please put "Kate Cann Competition" in the header of the email, so I can know. Competition is open internationally.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Guest Review by Skarrah - Jackie Kessler's "The Road to Hell"



The amazing Lex (pic left) aka Skarrah (her LJ site here) paid MFB a huge compliment by asking if she could guest review for us. Naturally I jumped at the chance - who wouldn't! - and here is her first review for us on Jackie Kessler's second outing in her Hell's Belles range of books, The Road to Hell.

The synopsis:

The synopsis:In Jackie Kessler's debut novel Hell's Belles she introduced readers to Jesse Harris, a succubus-turned-human with a tart tongue, a way with a g-string, and a soft spot for sexy undercover cop Paul Hamilton. Now Jesse's back, and where she goes, Hell is sure to follow…

Jesse may no longer be a soul-stealing succubus, but she's got a Hell of a past. She'd love to come clean to her sweet, super-hot boyfriend Paul, but how exactly does a girl start that conversation? There's no name tag that reads: "I Used to Have Sex with Men before Taking Their Souls to the Lake of Fire - Ask Me How!" Just like some people are worth being monogamous for (shudder), some secrets are worth keeping. Like the fact that bad boy incubus Daunuan keeps popping up from the Underworld to put some toe-curling moves on her; that her former associates are trying to strong-arm her back into the fold; and that every supernatural entity on the planet seems to want to have a conversation with her in the bathroom. But someone in the Underworld isn't ready to play nice (go figure), and this time, the stakes are nothing less than Paul's immortal soul.

If Hell wants Jesse back so badly, they've got her. But payback's a bitch, and this bitch is about to rock Hell like a hurricane - or lose her soul trying…




In The Road to Hell, just like Hell's Belles, Jesse's voice is easy to read and even easier to immerse yourself in. We're pushed off the top of a slippery slope from page one once again and I for one enjoyed the ride down. Things start out on a normal night in Spice's Champagne Room that soon sours into a reminder that Hell just isn't what it used to be. With The Pit's denizens cornering her left, right and in the Ladies room, Jesse isn't likely to shake off the reminder anytime soon. Nor the memories of the betrayal by her best friend, the Erinyes Megaera.


I love following Jesse's struggle with being a human with a soul and all that comes with it. Through the book we get to watch her grow and accept all those things we take as a given; love, jealousy, grief. Not to mention temptation from long time aquaintance the incubus Duanuan. We watch her overcome all this as she dives head first back into Hell to save what she has learned to be the most important things a human can have - friendship and love.

Kessler manages to weave these subtle threads of what it means to be human amidst razor sharp dialogue, kick-ass action and toe-curling, fan yourself, sex scenes.

I can hardly wait for the next in the series. The delectable incubus Daunuan's story Hotter Than Hell is released August 2008.

Jackie's Hell on Earth series is a must read.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Killing Ground, Graham McNeill



I love the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I love the rich history that stands behind it, the depth of the all-pervading darkness that pervades every corner of humanity, the sheer morbidity of it all.

Most of all, I love the Space Marines, the genetically modified super-soldiers of The Emperor, who watches over humanity from his Golden Throne upon sacred Terra. The Marines are, by all accounts, larger than life, the embodiment of the warrior ideal, bound by their allegiance to their Chapter and thereby The Emperor.

The Killing Ground plunges us into this universe, to the planet of Salinas, a planet torn by civil strife in the wake of a brutal suppression of alleged treason and where the voices of those souls lost in a terrible slaughter are about to be heard.

Uriel Ventris and Pasanius, warriors of the Ultramarines chapter are thrown into this simmering powder keg by a twist of fate, having narrowly escaped a hellish Chaos ridden world whilst fulfilling their Death Oath (see The Ultramarines Omnibus). All they want to do is return to their homeworld, to be reunited with their battle-brothers and return to duty.

But that’s far too much of a happy ending for this universe. Mix in some mutants, a bloody handed tyrant, civil rebellion, a psychic tornado and a reality tearing final battle and you’re on your way to a cracking slice of fun, 40K style.

Graham is a man so fully immersed in the mythos of the 40K universe I’d be surprised if he doesn’t refer to his car as a Land Speeder. He handles the shock and ferocity of the battles that rage throughout the book with deft confidence, and still manages to bring Ventris and Pasanius to life as both men and Marines with sickening ease in between the explosions and screams of the dying. What is equally satisfying is how the supporting cast stand out as more than handy plot devices masquerading as people or cannon fodder- they have their own lives and stories that you can relate to and understand. Even the 'monsters'.

I really enjoyed this book, bearing in mind that I read it as a standalone story, not having had the pleasure of devouring The Ultramarines Omnibus yet, which is a testament to his ability to craft a world you can lose yourself in without further ado.

You can read a sample extract here.

Stephen Hunt - The Court of the Air Video



The amazing Stephen Hunt sent the above link to MFB - brilliant retro cartoon graphics that tell you a bit more about his first book that is currently out: The Court of the Air.


The second book The Kingdom Behind the Waves is now also out in hardback.


I'm due to do a review on this by the beginning of next week and am, in fact, just about to go and pick the book to start reading it. I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

London Film and Comic Con

Here are some of the awesome pics I got to take at the London Film and Comic Con we attended on Sunday.


And thanks to all the costumed divas and lovely creatures who allowed me to photograph them!



Weird things come out of the Tardis!





I have to be truthful when I say: I'm not sure who this chap is meant to be but his costume is so awesome, I had to stop him and take a pic. If anyone can enlighten me, I would be grateful.





Horror actor and all round nice guy, Tom Savini - no, that's not me posing with him, just a random fan.


Some amazing pieces of armour from English Armoury - they've done things for First Knight, Excalibur, Gladiator, etc.


When worlds collide - Alien drools on the the Princess from Enchanted




How hot are these girls? They were the first ones I approached and I gave them my business card so that they can check back on the site - I hope they like their pic!



The Ghosbuster boys who looked awesome and should really have charged everyone for taking their photos!




StarGate Soldier - very handsome, ay?

Zombie body parts and some books from Rebellion.

Jim Butcher - Turn Coat - New Cover Art

all images copyright chris mcgrath 2008

The new Jim Butcher book is due to hit the US April 2009. But we do have the new US cover to stare at in the meantime.

Isn't it lovely?

You can find Chris McGrath's work here.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Traitor Game, B R Collins


Synopsis

Michael and his friend Francis share a secret passion for Evgard, the fantasy world they have created together. But then Michael finds a note in his locker, revealing that their secret is out. He immediately suspects Francis, and tries to get revenge by telling the school bully—known affectionately as Shitley—that Francis is gay, which guarantees Francis is in for a pounding. But did Francis really betray his friend? Or is Michael really the traitor?

An intricate relationship between two friends gets highlighted in The Traitor Game and how suspicion about a perceived lie / untruth can lead to the unravelling of something genuinely good between two very different and troubled boys.

Michael had been bullied at his previous school and his mother took it on herself to find another boy who would be attending his new school, to come and visit. Enter Francis, sardonic, cool, artistic and a potential new friend for Michael.
Their friendship starts off on shaky ground, to be honest and Michael displays some odd behaviour, but Francis finds him quirky enough and sticks around, especially when he discovers that Michael has created this elaborate fantasy world Evgard, complete with maps, history, characters and political intrigue. Slowly Michael and Francis spend more and more time together and build up this world of theirs alongside their growing friendship.

The boys spend a lot of time together on this fantasy world and they trust one another not to mention it to anyone else, purely because they would be seen as freaks, labelled as weirdos and who knows what else by the rest of their peers. So they lock everything away, in a chest, with 2 locks with each one of them carrying the key to one lock.

Then one day at school Michael finds a note stuffed in his locked and the note says: I KNOW WHERE ARCASTER IS.

These five words destroy their world. Michael is torn by the shock of Francis betraying their secret to someone else. The paranoid-self steps in and he creates these awful imaginings of Francis laughing at him, whilst chatting to his other friends, saying what a sad pathetic loser he is.

Francis quite naturally reacts badly to being treated like he has some disease, with no idea why Michael is behaving so oddly. It is clear to the reader that Francis had nothing to do with betraying their secret to the world but Michael is wrapped so tightly in his cocoon of misery and anger that he can’t see it, at all. He makes up a wild lie about his erstwhile best friend, Francis, the worst possible thing he can think of, and tells the school bully. The school bully starts victimising Francis and it is with shock that Michael learns that the lie he had told Shitley, the bully, is in fact the truth, something Francis tried keeping a secret.

Running parallel to this is the story of happenings in Evgard, where a young slave, Argent, is introduced to the Dukes’ Court and where he is abused and treated badly, until he forms an unlikely friendship with the Duke’s son, Columen.

The story runs a parallel between the present and the fantasy world the boys had created. Argent betrays both Columen and his own people, the Mereish, as the story progresses and it is heartbreaking to read.

It reminded me of those feelings I got when I first read the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. It was awful – this desperateness to help this poor character; to get him out of the trouble he’s in but no matter what he does, it just gets worse and worse and no matter how much you point at the page and shout, they don’t hear you.

I liked it, purely because it is not a happily ever after Walt Disney high school story – the characters seem awful and likeable at varying stages, like any other teenager I’ve ever met (and have been myself, please forgive me), making Francis and Michael seem genuine enough. The subjects dealt with in the book is quite harsh and it is highlighted with a great ease; bullying, paranoia, angst, depression, all of these and then some gets a showing but because the author has a light touch, these never become overbearing and boring or laughable, which speaks of excellent talent.

The Traitor Game is a very dark book, resounding with deep introspection, the perils of friendship and the questions of identity, love and doing the right thing, no matter what and having to accept the repercussions of the choices you had made.
A bit about the author:
B. R. Collins is a graduate of both university and drama school. The Traitor Game, published by Bloomsbury in August 2008, is her first novel. Bridget lives in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

Winner - Season of the Witch


Congratulations to Poppy from Canada - you've won Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert. I hope you enjoy it! I've emailed you for your details.

And a reminder: there is still a copy of F G Cottam's amazing novel, House of Lost Souls up for grabs too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

House of Lost Souls, F G Cottam


I was utterly charmed by this lovely looking book from Hodder.



Little did I suspect the cover hid one of the scariest books I had ever read. I briefly spoke to one of the girls at Hodder shortly after I started reading it and she sagely warned: "Don't read it at night."

House of Lost Souls is the kind of book that stays with you purely because it has all the elements of amazing storytelling: an intricate involved plot, damaged dark characters struggling to do the right thing, swathes of paranormal incidents handled with an adept skill that makes it a pure pleasure to read. Even if I read it with all the rights on!

Synopsis

The Fischer House was the scene of a vicious crime in the 1920s - a crime which still resonates as the century turns. At its heart was a beautiful, enigmatic woman called Pandora Gibson-Hoare, a photographer of genius whose only legacy is a handful of photographs and the clues to a mystery. Paul Seaton was lured to the house ten years ago and escaped, a damaged man. Now three students will die unless he dares to go back. But this time he has Nick Mason at his side, and maybe Mason`s military skills and visceral courage will be enough.

We pick up the story at a funeral as Nick Mason is making use of his camouflage skills to spy on his sister attending the sad occasion with her friends. The same friends who had gone with her to Fischer House as part of their University studies and who had come back so severely damaged by what they experienced, there were incidents of attempted suicide, with one of the girls succeeding, hence the funeral. It really is a very powerful scene, as it is familiar, sad and has enough strangeness to it, to set the tone for the rest of the book.

We also meet Paul Seaton a bit later on - he had survived a visit to Fischer House many years ago. He had not come away unscathed from the encounter and is doing his best to get on with his life. He is asked by a friend to help these girls as something seems to be stalking them. He is initially hesitant, until he goes to meet Nick and sees his sister in the grip of something that is not of this world. Paul and Nick join forces and decide to try and put whatever lurks in Fischer House to rest.
The book makes full use of intricate backstories, a mystery surrounding a famous photographer from the 20's, appearances by people from the era such as Alistair Crowley and Goring which add to the menace of the storyline, sat beside beautiful writing revelling in the use of sensory description. The fact that this reads like a literary novel rather than something a lot darker is where the pure shock value of the story lies. It delves deep into the unpleasantness of human sacrifice, magic and the summoning of grim entities that stalk through the Fischer House. I don't think it has been packaged as horror. And to be honest, I've not ever read a horror novel quite like this - it is lyrical and insidious and deliciously dark. The characters are compelling and I particularly found the photographer's diary entries to be incredibly touching.

The author worked hard threading the vein or darkness through the novel and it works because all your senses are engaged. It is an enjoyable book, not to be read in the dark (!) and written with great skill by a very talented author.

Hodder sent me two copies of House of Souls - yay! - so there is a freebie up for grabs. I'll let the comp run till next week, so do email me with your name and postal address - again, I'm happy to post Internationally. Please make sure that you put House of Souls in the subject line. I will do a random selection and announce the winner next week Friday, 24th July.

Walton Golightly Interview


I was really pleased to receive AmaZulu by Walton Golightly in the post from the amazing girls at Quercus a little while ago. I read the book, loved it and reviewed it (here) and asked Liz how I go about interviewing Walton. We put a request together and through the girls at Quercus we got hold of Walton and discovered that he was more than happy to answer questions for us. I set about putting my first batch of author interview questions together and Walton was kind enough to answer them. Please see the interview below.

Brief Bio

Born in 1966, Walton Golightly is a freelance writer from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa)- on the doorstep of what used to be the Zulu Kingdom. He's a film buff with a passion for Spaghetti Westerns, '70s action movies and the films of Jean Luc Goddard. AmaZulu is his first novel. He shares his life with a few thousand books and two dogs. Occasionally the dogs let him sleep on the bed.


I understand that you’re a nine-to-fiver like most of us. How did you find the time to do your research and the writing? What’s your average day like?

Writing has always come first in my life. It’s never been a case of “making time” – it’s always been about finding more time. I’ve never had much patience with those who say that they want to write, that one day they’ll sit down and write that novel they know is inside them. Gimme a break. You’re either writing or you’re not.

As for the research, that slotted into my normal reading.

Zulu the first book you’ve had published –how does it feel to see your work on a bookshelf?

Stunned. Still find myself looking at a copy and thinking “Hey! It looks just like a real book!”

What was your reaction when you got the call/email telling you it was being published?

Disbelief. Terror. Received an email telling me to expect a phone call the “next day.” So things were still up in the air. I mean, they could’ve been phoning to tell me “nice one, please try again.” Which is a rejection however you look at it. Still, despite everything, it didn’t escape me that, not for the first time in my life, there I was anxiously waiting for one, specific woman to call me. Although, unlike most of those other times, this was definitely worth the wait! And the pacing.

How do you plan your work- do you plan each chapter in advance, or do you let the story evolve as you write?

Too much planning and I lose interest. Feel as if I’ve written the bloody thing already. But I need to have the plot clear in my mind (and that includes the characters). That is I need to know where I’m headed. And I have several unfinished pieces, some 50 000 or so words long, where I’ve, er, literally lost the plot.

Is there a single event that inspired Zulu? How did the idea come about?

No single event. It’s just that these are the stories you grow up with out here.

As for the spark… For a short while I toyed with rewriting King Solomon’s Mines from Umbopa’s perspective. But all that would’ve boiled down to was a critique of colonialism and “white writing” – talk about flogging a dead horse. Plus it meant re-reading Haggard, an ordeal I just couldn’t face. Better to leave Allan Quartermain with Alan Moore, eh?


At any rate, one thing led to another and we have Amazulu.

Did you struggle to write from any of the characters points of view?

Not really. The most daunting was Shaka, and when I was happy with the way I was portraying him that’s when I knew the concept would work.

Shaka’s training regime for his army has been likened to that of the Spartans. What do you make of the comparison?

It’s fair enough. What’s more interesting to me, though, is the fact that shortly after Shaka’s death he was being called the “Black Napoleon.” Since he was being called such by English it was clearly not meant as a compliment. But the comparison is more apt than they probably realized. Both rulers had a lasting impact on their “tribe,” one that’s felt to this day, yet both were also capable of atrocities and nearly destroyed their respective “countries.”

Even more interesting, Napoleon went around saying things like “I spend 30 000 men a month,” yet Shaka’s seen as the “savage.”


If you had a chance to ask Shaka one question, what would it be?

Nothing. There’s the Shaka of Amazulu and the Shaka of history – and let’s not let the facts stand in the way of a good story. Besides, facts rarely give you the truth. And in the sequel I intend to explore the controversial theory that Shaka had no brothers and sisters, was born of a virgin and was indeed the Son of God.

The book will be called Dhlamini’s Code.

Then again maybe not.


Amazulu is the first of a trilogy. What do we have to look forward to in the next two instalments?

Firstly, from early on this was always going to be a trilogy. Basically, Book I follows Shaka’s rise to power and ends with his descent into madness. At another level it plays with the legend, seeking to reinterpret the key events and present a more realistic Shaka. And a more realistic look at the Zulus at this time. One which ought to challenge a few misconceptions.

Er. And despite all of this, Shaka isn’t the main character.

Book II will show how Shaka consolidates his power and deals with the coming of the whites. Which, incidentally, means more humour, with history writing the script, as these weren’t the smartest, most industrious exemplars of Empire (then again, neither were they the cruelest or most vicious).

At that other level, meanwhile, we begin to challenge or – dare I say it – deconstruct the legend, presenting other ways of seeing.


And despite all of this, Shaka still isn’t the main character.

As for the third installment, I myself will be quite interested to see what that’s going to be about.

What has the reaction been like in South Africa, particularly in Kwazulu-Natal?

Reviews – and sales – have been gratifying, thanks in large part to the hard work done by Kwela, my SA publishers. As for KZN in particular… I could mention the halfwit on a local Web site who feels it’s acceptable to review a book without having read it, but I won’t.

What do you read in your time off?


Phew. Here goes… Colin Cotterill. Martin Cruz Smith. Michael Pearce. Elmore Leonard. John D MacDonald. Ross McDonald. Swen Hassell. Ian Rankin (just finished Exit Music). Thomas Pynchon. Vladimir Nabokov. John LeCarre. Terry Pratchett. George MacDonald Fraser. Bernard Cornwell. Kathy Reichs. Christopher Priest. Philip K Dick. James Ellroy. Etc. Etc.


Amazulu is available to purchase on Amazon, Waterstones.com, Play.com, WHSmith and from Quercus directly, as well as all other good bookstores.

Note: Images appear courtesy of:
http://photos.igougo.com/images/p155393-Kwa-Zulu_Natal-Drakensberg.jpg
http://www.britishbattles.com/zulu-war/isandlwana/zulu3.jpg

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Free Swagg!

Remember the pic I took of Cassandra Clare's new book?

It all started off because of her LJ where she mentioned that selected Starbucks branches have free introductory copies of various books to give away, as part of the National Year of Reading campaign. I ran up to my Starbucks on Piccadilly but they didn't have any copies of these so I came back to the office and rang up their head office to find out which branches had them in stock.

I got to chat with the most amazingly helpful chap who listened to me witter on about books, Cassandra Clare, the site etc. and somewhere along the line he decided that the easiest way to shut me up was to send me whatever I wanted. So behold this morning I received bucket load of book related swagg!

We have taster copies of the following three books, all published by the amazing Walker Books:


  • The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

  • City of Ashes, by Cassandra Clare

  • The Penalty, by Mal Peet
Please email me over at myfavouritebooksatblogspot@googlemail.com and I will send you a copy of each of these, along with the amazing postcard advertising Kat Richardson's book Underground, illustrated by the the talented Chris McGrath.

I do have a limited amount of these to send out - so please note that it will be a first come, first served basis. But please, I don't want to not send these out, so even if you are in the outer reaches of Mongolia, I'm prepared to post them onto you for reading enjoyment.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Natasha Mostert Guest Blog and Interview

Here is the lovely interview Natasha Mostert agreed to do for me. Her newest paperback: Season of the Witch has just been released through Bantam. Natasha's website is here and this is her Myspace page.

How do you cope with having two publishers – one in the UK and one in the States – without losing the plot?

Sometimes I don’t just lose the plot, I lose my marbles! Seriously, it can be a challenge if you are published on both sides of the ocean by different publishing houses. Both my editors are excellent at what they do, but they edit the manuscript independently from each other and according to their own vision. I end up receiving two sets of notes and I have to find common ground. The last thing I want is for two widely differing novels to appear under the same title! But even when I try my hardest, I know the two manuscripts will end up showing small, but quite significant differences.

This is the case with Season of the Witch as well. If you buy the book in the States, you will have a slightly different reading experience than if you buy it in England. British editors tend to be more gloomy and American editors more chirpy. American editors like the hero to be victorious; British editors like them to suffer stoically. The author, who is stuck in the middle, has to tread carefully.

What do you get up to before you start any of your novels? For example, do you research before or during your writing?

I tend to do the biggest chunk of my research before I type the words Chapter One. This is when I go into wikipedia mode – moving indiscriminately from link to link on the internet and seeing where the research leads me. During this period I also read more non-fiction books than I care to remember. But there is never a time when I draw a line under the research and say: enough. It continues right up to the end and even beyond. I’m working on the edits of my new book at the moment and I still find myself researching!

Are your characters fully formed once you sit down to write and do you allow them a bit of freedom to do their own thing or do you plan each novel rigorously and force them to behave?

I’m a disciplined writer. My novels are planned to the last chapter otherwise I know I’ll write myself into a corner. But my characters are usually larger-than-life and they are feisty and difficult and temperamental. I know them inside out once I start writing, but they still manage to surprise me. Very often they’ll insist on taking off in a direction I had not planned for them. But that’s what keeps the buzz going and stops the writing from becoming stale and predictable.


You mention either carrot or stick as motivation for writing but do you ever go through an afternoon or a day that you would rather be kickbox against Jet Li than write?


This is a trick question, right? If I have a choice between sparring with Jet Li or sweating at my keyboard, believe me I’ll go for the flying kicks!

Writing is hard work! And not as much fun as people may think. Once the manuscript is finished it is the most wonderful feeling imaginable but sitting in front of your computer six to seven hours every day with only your own thoughts as company can be tremendously draining.

On the other hand, I am like most writers and would be desperately unhappy if I didn’t get to write every day. As one anonymous writer said: “I have to write, even if it is only a suicide note!”

Do you listen to a lot of music when you write and similarly are any of your scenes influenced by any music scores?

I won’t be able to write without music. In fact, I won’t be able to live without it: music is oxygen. Hans Zimmer’s soundtracks are fantastic background music for writing, as is the music of Shahin and Sepher. My mother is a voice coach for opera singers and opera is one of my passions. And then there is Loreena McKennit: she sings the way I wish I could write.

Who is the most famous person you have met in your writing career?

Stephen King. He kissed me! I met him at The Edgars Convention in New York and we started talking about Season of the Witch. Not that he had read my book, but he could hardly have failed to notice the T-shirt I was wearing. Emblazoned across my chest were the words “Prepared to be seduced”. I’m all for subtlety in my stories but when it comes to publicity…Anyway, the darling man not only signed a copy of Lisey’s Story for me, but also kissed my cheek. I didn’t wash my face for a week.

What was the very first thing you did when you found out you are to be a published author?

Called my husband. Called my mother. Called my aunt. Called all my friends. Called people I hardly knew. I think I may have stopped perfect strangers in the street.

Do you have a ritual that you do once you’ve completed each book?

I open a bottle of wine and force my long-suffering husband to listen to choice tidbits from my new manuscript.

The timeframe of 18 months that you mention on your various blogs, to complete your books, are these times you set for yourself or are they only “mental” timeframes and do you allow yourself leeway?

They are very much linked to contract deadlines. If a publisher gives you a contract, there will be a very strict time limit and you miss that deadline at your peril. A publisher will usually grant an author either a year in which to come up with a finished product, or two years. I’m a two year writer – I usually finish in eighteen months, but I like to give myself six months of elbow room.

Can you give us a hint of what to expect in your next book Dragonfly?

I am sad to say the book will no longer be called Dragonfly. I am not happy about this but my publishers have the final say and both editors – UK and US – thought the story should be retitled. The book is now tentatively titled The Book of Light and Dust and is a suspense novel about martial arts, quantum physics, tattoos, sweaty men and chi (the vital energy, which the Chinese believe to flow through our bodies.) Now, does that not pique your curiosity?

Authors are sometimes recorded as saying that writing is a very lonely job. Do you make sure you go out to meet up with friends and family once you’ve started a new piece of work or do you hide from the world?

I pretty much go into a cave when I write but I like to keep my evenings free for my husband. And some weekends I do meet up with friends. But during the week I follow a boring routine. I write six to seven hours a day and try to turn off the light at ten so I can be fresh when I get up at 5.30. And then I have my kickboxing: I’ll be lost without it. Apart from the cathartic aspect of it, it is amazing what good friends you become with people who trade blows with you on a regular basis!

Do you get to have a say on any of your book covers?

As with the title, my contract states that I need to be consulted on this decision. In practice, though, it means my publisher has the final vote. I’m allowed to moan – and believe me, I do -- but in the end, I’m not the one who gets to say yeah or nay. This is a big bone of contention between author and publisher and can make for a lot of friction.

Any favourite TV shows or DVD’s that you make time to watch?

Even though I don’t get much time to watch, I like TV – although I know that’s a terrible thing for an author to admit. I love James Woods – great timing – and will watch Shark if it’s on. I like Numbers – I think the math geek is a hottie -- and I love Firefly and Inspector Morse. (The soundtrack of the Inspector Morse series is another favourite when I write.) When I can’t sleep, I watch cage fights on Bravo or on Men and Motors. I am a big Randy Couture fan and am very sad he has retired.

I laughed out loud when I read about your book signing that took place in Borders at Oxford Street. Have things improved since?

No, publicity events are always dicey. You never know if you are going to have two people in the audience or twenty. And sometimes people will get belligerent. My big problem is my terrible memory. By the time the publicity events roll around, I’m already knee-deep into the next manuscript and can hardly remember the name of the hero in the previous book. This can make for an adventurous evening.

It is very clear that you read widely and enjoy doing your own research. Do you ever find yourself getting lost in your research and struggle to get back into your writing?

Research is both potion and poison: I love the research part and because the topics I write about are esoteric and complex, I need to spend time familiarising myself with the material. But I have to take care not to allow myself to be carried away or I'll never get going. It is a struggle.

Do you have any favourite genres that you read in? Horror, fantasy, urban fantasy, literary fiction, etc?

I do not discriminate. I read everything from Cormac McCarthy to manga.

Do you think you are superstitious?

I don’t throw salt over my shoulder and I’ll happily live on the thirteenth floor of an apartment building. But I grew up in South Africa and my nanny was a Zulu woman who introduced me to African mysticism and the world of the isangoma (witch doctors). She definitely sharpened my awareness of things that are not easily explained: synchronicities, coincidences, those small ripples that hint at something hiding behind the dusty curtain of everyday living. It influenced my way of thinking.

What is the strangest thing you do when you write – discounting melting cheese in the microwave, that is!

Does talking to myself in the mirror count? Or does everyone do that?

Do you have any favourite authors / literary heroes?

I am totally captivated by Jorge Luis Borge. He is a literary magician who plays with his reader's mind, taking you down labyrinthine paths, bringing you in confrontation with doppelgangers and teasing you with artefacts from strange exotic places: strange one-sided discs from which a king derives his power, a frightening book that infinitely multiplies its own pages, incomplete manuscripts that tell of stories in the land of immortals. A brilliant, melancholy and elusive voice.

Any books / websites that you find invaluable whilst writing?

I suppose I always start off with Wikipedia, although I do take care to check the facts independently as well. And then there is my trusty Roget’s Thesaurus – my favourite book in the world.

How would you sell Season of the Witch to a customer should you be a bookseller in a bookshop?

If the customer looks hip and funky:

“ You have to read this book! The characters are two beautiful sisters who live in Chelsea, London, do bungee jumping, practise witchcraft and pose in the nude. You’ll love it!”

If the customer looks serious and intellectual:

“You have to read this book! It takes on big themes: love, death, alchemy and the power of the human mind to transform and transcend reality. You’ll love it!”


Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

When you write, switch your internal editor to mute and just write. If you second guess yourself constantly, you’ll block your creative energy. Don’t give up. And don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember what G.K. Chesterton said: “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly…”


Season of the Witch has just been released through Bantam and you can buy directly from their website or from Amazon or Waterstones.com.
I received an extra copy of Season of the Witch from Bantam - thanks chaps! - and would like to offer it as a giveaway. I'll let the competition run for the week. Respond to this post with a favourite book or author, of any genre, and I will do a random lucky draw at the end of the week, week ending 18th July. Remember to check back for the notification of the winner!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Careless by Anne Cassidy



Synopsis

As Chloe Cozens mourns the death of her mother, Lesley, teenage 'delinquent' Nicky Nelson experiences quite a different emotion towards her, his social worker, the one person he thought he could rely on when everyone else had let him down. Lesley Cozens wrote Nicky a letter before she died, the contents of which the reader does not know until much later in the novel, but the letter triggers a rage in Nicky that could have had tragic consequences if Chloe had not got involved. When Nicky begins hanging around Chloe's house with a mixture of curiosity and anger that she has had a happy life compared with his, he is prepared to hate her, but instead the two of them form a strange kind of bond. Chloe is her mother's daughter, and finds herself wanting to help Nicky find his real mother, the one who abandoned him at birth. Ironically, the clues she pieces together about what happened lead her back to her mother's home town, and to her childhood friend, Sonia, who is keeping a painful secret of her own. She is Nicky's mother. Chloe finds comfort in helping Nicky, a boy who is almost like a brother in that her own mother looked out for him for so long, and Nicky discovers that sometimes you have to trust in people in order to move on and build a life...

Careless is powerful story written by Anne Cassidy, a Carnegie shortlisted author who reveals an affinity for writing expressively about modern day teenagers and situations that have even adults reeling.

Careless deals with the subjects of loss and trust and how one single act can change a person's life beyond measure.

I found the book to be beautifully written but struggled to like the damaged character Nicky at first. His actions really disturbed me quite a bit, which is probably why the author spent time in creating him in such detail.

He is indeed a very troubled teenager and some of the things he did really did worry me - there were signs of obsession and destructive behaviour and acts of pure spite on his behalf.

Chloe, like Nicky, was well thought out and the perfect foil for his scary behaviour. Her grief at the death of her mother is quite touching and real. She meets Nicky when she collects her mother's goods at the Home he stays in. He helps her and they chat a bit. An awkward half-friendship is formed. If I were honest, I would have run a mile if I had been Chloe as she met Nicky, but she is clearly made of stronger stuff than me and she displays her mother's good hearted intentions and it shows in her empathy to Nicky.

Their relationship is a dysfunctional one, one that ends before it even starts. He is ready to hate Chloe from the word "go" but fails to do so because he senses her innate goodness. This startles him and he becomes fixated on her for a while.

The book isn't saccharine and the characters are raw - and this is where the strength of the book lies.

I would have liked for the book to go on a bit more, to find out how Nicky's meeting goes right at the very end, but I suppose the author left the characters at the right spot, leaving you to complete the story.

Careless is a novel written with skill and understanding by an author who clearly appreciates the wild and contradictory nature of teenage emotions. It left me reflecting on how choices, even ones with the best of intentions, could change someone's world.

Season of the Witch, Natasha Mostert

Synopsis

Gabriel Blackstone has an unusual talent. A computer hacker by trade, he is also able to enter the minds of others. But he uses his gift only reluctantly - until he is contacted by an ex-lover who begs him to find her step-son, last seen months earlier in the company of two sisters. And so Gabriel visits Monk House, a place where time seems to stand still, and where the rooms are dominated by the coded symbol of a cross and circle. As winter closes in, Gabriel becomes increasingly bewitched by the house, and by its owners, the beautiful and mysterious Monk sisters. But even as he falls in love, he knows that one of them is a deadly killer. But which one? And what is the secret they are so determined to protect?

Season of the Witch is an adept piece of chilling storytelling that competently mixes subjects such as remote viewing, magic, alchemy, parapsychology and the quest for ancient knowledge into a heady concoction of expert storytelling.

I enjoyed Season of the Witch because of pure and intelligent storytelling and the creation of its two intriguing female characters, the sisters Monk with the fantastical names of Minnaloushe and Morrighan.

Gabriel is asked by an ex-flame of his to please try and find her stepson who had gone missing. He was known to have been involved with the two exotic older women. Gabriel is at first not particularly keen to help but as the story develops we learn that he is probably the best person to do so as he has a strange set of skills.

In his youth he had trained as a remote viewer. Something I had heard of before (who hasn't watching X Files!) but have not really encountered it before in a book. I found the various concepts hugely fascinating and sat back to enjoy all the threads coming together as the story developed.

Gabriel’s current job was not entirely legitimate and he works freelance as an electronics information hacker – both these skills help him infiltrate the very interesting lives of the two sisters and he finds himself intrigued by both of them. He becomes very close to them, spending a lot of time with them at their beautiful home - Monk House - and escorting them around town. The author portrays the two sisters so well that it is easy to see how Gabriel becomes so intrigued by these extraordinary women who live their lives with such gusto.

There is a breathlessness about Season that is reflected in the way the story unfolds. You know you are rushing towards this tremendous climax and you are helpless in the grip of the novel, simly knowing something momentous is going to happen.

I was not at all disappointed by the ending of the story and derived a sense of “job well done” satisfaction from it and really wished Gabriel the best at the end.

There is a lot of information to sift through in the novel but it doesn’t make for clunky reading. The author has a deft easy touch with her descriptions and I found myself doing research on the side into the various subjects the sisters are so keen on. A lot of this is discussed on Natasha’s site, so do feel free to visit them here.

I have got a very interesting blog to follow on from the review by Natasha and a mini competition for a copy of the paperback of Season of the Witch.

Friday, July 11, 2008

We have a winner!

No, it is not me in the photo.
We have a winner in the competition the newly agented, talented and all-round good girl Karen Mahoney ran on my site as part of her interesting and fun guest blog (here).
The Winner:
Brian Ohio
Congratulations Brian! Remember to stop jumping up and down and to make sure you let Karen have your snailmail address.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Cairo Diary by Maxim Chattam


We have a very interesting set of stories in The Cairo Diary by Maxim Chattam (Pan Publishers) and as I found myself reading it, I desperately wanted to be back in Cairo, feeling the sun beating down and walking those ancient streets where shadows can be so dark that anything can lurk in them.

The story is set in modern day France as well as 1928 Cairo. I found myself easily slipping into the storyline, intrigued by the main character Marion and wondering exactly what she had done to deserve being sent to the remote religious community of Mont St Michel in France for her own safety. The story slowly but surely unravels like a ribbon and equally cleverly folds back on itself to open new links and ideas.

Marion, whilst helping one of the brothers from the religious community catalogue parts of a library, stumbles across a handwritten diary by a young Englishman called Matheson who had been posted to Cairo in the late 1920's where he led an investigation into the murders of young Egyptian children. The murders are so brutal and shocking that no one involved in the case can help but feel something supernatural was involved.

Through Marion unfolding her own story and the mystery of Mont St Michel, we progress the story of the Cairo Diary. The two stories are well crafted and fit together quite well. The locations used in the book are beautifully described and I for one am planning to visit Mont St Michel - I am sure the image I have built in my head of it after reading the book is totally incorrect, but like in Kate Mosse's Labyrinth it is a case of luring the reader into examining, questioning and visiting.
I can wholeheartedly say that the settings used in the Cairo part of the story are as I remember them - the necropolis is a hugely scary place, it is easy to conjure up monsters lurking in the dark. Importantly it gives you that sense of being there in that hot sun with the sand and the cry calling the faithful to prayer or in Marion's case, sitting in the window of her cottage as the storms lash the Mont.

Admittedly there are a very few places where the conversations and descriptions feel stilted, but then I think it is because it has been translated from its native French into English and some parts don't flow quite as well as it should, but trust me when I say, even these very few problems are no hardship and they do not detract from the storytelling.

The storytelling is of a conversational sort - it is unpretentious and flows fast, making good use of chapters and paragraphs breaks, varying both in length and impact with naturally, a few cliffhangers.

The Cairo Diary is a gripping thriller mystery with two strong plots led by unusual characters who never seem to vie for the reader's attention as the story develops. It is a satisfying read and it is highly recommended for a read by the beach, whilst lazing about in the sun or, if the mood strikes you, huddled in a cottage somewhere with rain pounding on the windows and waves crashing on the shore in the distance. It is atmospheric enough to carry you away regardless of your place of reading.

Surprises!

Allow me my soapbox to gush and philosophise for a few moments here.

I love and adore getting things in the post - yes, even bills. As a little child I used to post colourful postcards to myself at home whilst we were on holiday, purely for the thrill of getting something in the post when we return from holiday.

I am happy to say I don't have to do that anymore. I'm all grow'd up and people send me things, even though I might be ordering it from Waterstones.com or from Foyles. Or, indeed, have lovely publishers sending me treasures in the post, which to be honest, I don't think will ever ever ever get old.

Two books arrived this week, amongst the stacks, which completely took me by surprise and I am absolutely thrilled by them. I am careful not to gush less the other books feel left out for not being singled out for special treatment, but their time will come. These two extra special books deal with two of my favourite things of all time.

Firstly, we have the absolute classic of The Princess Bride by William Goldman, first published in1973. Yep. This book is as old as moi.

Bloomsbury has republished it, with a fantastically vibrant new retro pulp-like cover. Have you seen anything cooler? It is available from August this year and in my opinion would make a fantastic Christmas pressie for kids as well as adults. And also, it looks so much cooler than the better known cover which can be found here. Plus, you can read the book and then love the movie even more.

As an aside: I didn't realise that William Goldman was the man behind both the book and the screenplay of the movie with the same name. He also wrote the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Small world, eh?

Second item of great thrill this morning was this illustrated graphic novel by Luis Scalati simply called Dracula, published by Bloody Books. The illustrations are eerie and atmospheric whilst the prose is spare and conjures strong imagery, for instance:

She closes her eyes and gives herself up to the mighty turmoil to which she is subjected.

You don't just write stuff like this, you graft it. I'm not familiar with any of Luis's other works, which is a pity as he has done some other very interesting bits.
Paging through this unique book makes me realise the scope of the canvas artists and writers have at their disposal. The reworkings of age-old myths and legends, conjuring up new ones for the next generation...it makes you a bit dizzy really, this whole idea of that I'm sitting here chatting to and reviewing various writers' work who one day might very well be the next Shakespeare, or Marlowe (let's not get into arguments here about them being the same person) or choose any other legendary author whom you feel kinship to.

The concept is quite dizzying. I think we sometimes forget about the future. We work, we think up stories, we go about our daily bits and pieces, one step at a time but do you ever think that someone you might know well or even casually might one day be famous, or better yet, infamous?

Who knows if Suzanne MacLeod who's book is soon to be published by Gollancz is going to be the next JK Rowling? Or if Kate Cann's books will be made into a Gossip Girl type of series? Or if Sarah Singleton's work will be filmed by someone as awe inspiring as Guilermo del Toro? Or if Karen Mahoney's going to be picked up for a massive publishing deal for her series and rival someone like LKH?

The possibilities are endless and I'm really thrilled to be playing my tiny part in the deus ex machina.

But! enough philosophising from my part. The key message here is: yay! to the very pretty shiny new books which open whole new worlds and which has made one of the darkest weeks turn into something akin to frosting on a cake.
A big thanks to all the lovely publishers and authors who support MFB.