Saturday, 25 June 2011

Saturday Sample: Firebrand by Gillian Philip

Again, my new feature where I post the opening few lines of one of my favourite books. I'd love it if you want to join in, do the same on your blog, and leave me a comment here with a link!


"The courtyard stinks of animals and muck and human waste. And wasted humans, I can’t help thinking, because beneath the stench and the louring sunset sky lies the taint of death, like a stain that can’t be shifted. My brother isn’t the first to die here, and he won’t be the last."

Longer extract can be found at the awesome Wondrous Reads, by the way.

Why I love it:

Narrator Seth MacGregor, hot-headed and fiercely loyal, is an absolutely superb central character and Philip creates a wonderful supporting cast for him and not one but TWO amazing worlds as we see Seth and brother Jamie in our world - in the 16th century - and their world, beyond the veil with the rest of the Fair Folk. The first in a four-part series, this is one which is definitely worth picking up right now - especially since sequel Bloodstone is out in a couple of months!

For more on Firebrand, my review is here while there's an interview Gillian Philip was kind enough to do for this blog here.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Friday Feature: Elizabeth Speller Interview

Elizabeth Speller's The Return of Captain John Emmett is rather prominent at the moment as it's one of the picks for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club this year. I thought it was so good -- particularly the evocative descriptions of England in the aftermath of the First World War - that I reviewed it here despite it not being YA. I'm really excited to bring you this interview with Elizabeth!

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?

I automatically see women, because women buy most novels, I gather, but in fact with this book a lot of men have contacted me to say how thought provoking they found it and how much they enjoyed the historical aspect.

2. How much of an impact has the selection of The Return of Captain John Emmett for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club had on you?

It is, obviously, a huge deal, especially for a first novel (my other books were non-fiction). I was astonished as there are so many new novels out there and meeting R & J was fascinating. But the bottom line is that what writers want (much more than money, or they'd never be writers!) is to have readers and R & J deliver readers. Love seeing the paperback everywhere too!

3. I¹m really ashamed to say that I hadn¹t realised your second novel, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, was a sequel to John Emmett until I looked on Amazon a few minutes ago. Is this going to be a long-running series? (I hope so!)

What I hope to do is move on through the period between the wars, with different mysteries but following how Laurence-and the world-moves on. The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton is a mystery set in 1924-the year some people first began to realise there might still be more trouble ahead internationally.

4. As I said when I reviewed Captain John Emmett, I thought the very best parts of a wonderful book were the descriptions of England just after World War I. How much research did you have to do to capture the time period so well?

It is a period I love and had written about in an earlier book (Sunlight on the Garden) but although I knew the big historical landmarks, researching the tiny points took ages-but was enormous fun! What colours were the trains of different railway companies? How many people had cars? Who wore what underwear? How quickly did a letter arrive? What areas were smart or poor in London? It was, for instance, a big surprise to find that in the early years after the Great War as many people threw parties or went to the races on Armistice day as took part in solemn remembrance.

5. If you threw a literary dinner party, which six people (real or fictional), would you invite?

Dr Samuel Johnson, Virginia Woolf, Louis MacNeice, Sydney Carton (from the Tale of Two Cities) and Dorothy Parker and Becky Sharpe (from Vanity Fair). But it would be a nightmare - they'd all row like mad, drink, flirt, sulk or hate each other.

6. What piece of advice would you give to someone hoping to be an author?

To read and read and read and to carry a notebook and pen at all times.

7. Do you listen to music when writing? Are there soundtracks for John Emmett or Kitty Easton in your mind?

There's a piece called The Banks of Green Willow by the composer George Butterworth, who was killed on the Somme in 1916, that always takes me back into pre-war rural England and I listened a lot to songs from Oh What A Lovely War for the spirit of the war itself.

8. Given the subject matter, would you have any hesitation in recommending John Emmett to teenagers? I know that you've mentioned disagreement in a school over what years it would be suitable for.

I think a lot depends on the maturity of the teenagers (I was a sensitive one and had nightmares about my GCE set text: Lord of the Flies!). Everything in it is researched and not gratuitous, but war and its effects on the psyche can be disturbing. I still think most 14 year olds could read it.

9. I love your website - particularly the superb trailer for the US edition of John Emmett! - and you're a frequent Tweeter. How important do you think the internet is for authors today?

I think it's crucial. It gets the name of a book out there but also, more personally, writing is a very solitary occupation and to be able to be in contact with readers and other writers is interesting and fun, and on line blogs and reviews by mainstream readers are probably as (or more!) important than newspaper reviews these days.

I love the trailer too-so simple yet so effective. Brilliant idea!

10. What's next for Elizabeth Speller?

Well, I'm writing my third novel and have a fourth lined up as well which takes Laurence further into the 20's as international tensions grow.

Thanks so much for the interview, Elizabeth - and I'd love to be a fly in the wall at that dinner party! Best of luck for the future and I'm really looking forward to reading Laurence's continued adventures.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Dream Dark by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Dream Dark by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl


From Amazon

When Link joined his best friend, Ethan Wate, on a quest through a mysterious network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, he knew the journey would be dangerous. But returning home to Gatlin, South Carolina was just the beginning...

Wounded during a climactic battle, Link discovers that tending his injuries won't be as simple as visiting a doctor and that healing his arm should be the least of his worries. For being bitten by a Supernatural does more than break the skin -- it changes a person, inside and out, turning Link into someone more and more like the dark creature who injured him.

In this never-before-seen short story by New York Times bestselling authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, readers witness Link's heart-racing transformation. Dream Dark is set before the much-anticipated third Beautiful Creatures novel, Beautiful Chaos, and as a special bonus includes an exclusive sneak peek at the first five chapters.

Dream Dark word count: ~10,000

Why I can't wait to read it:

Are you kidding me? A short story focusing on Link, possibly the best character in any paranormal romance ever? This is all set to be absolutely fantastic and it's great to see authors using the Kindle for stuff like this.

Now, assuming this does as brilliantly as I'd expect it to, any chance of a Ridley story in the future?!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Cherry Crush by Cathy Cassidy

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I lift my plate of macaroni cheese and chips and tip it over Kirsty McRae's head, wathcing the cheesy gloop drip down through her perfectly highlighted hair. Chips roll down her white shirtsleeves, leaving greasy trails, and ketchup spatters her creamy skin like blood.

Halfway through this and loving it, why have I never read Cathy Cassidy before?!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Monday Musings - Review of Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Twelve year old girls Zanna and Deeba are getting seriously worried by the weird things that keep happening to them. After a dark cloud attacks them, they follow a broken umbrella which is somehow managing to move by itself, and find a gap between their home city on London and UnLondon, a weird mirror image of the capital inhabited by creatures and animated objects which have been discarded by London's inhabitants and fallen through to the other world. Quickly, Zanna is recognised as the Shwazzy, or chosen one, beginning a quest to save UnLondon from the Smog - but this is no ordinary fantasy quest, and there are lots of twists and turns on the way, including several deaths and various betrayals.

Un Lun Dun is a glorious romp through a fantastically imagined world which works as both a spoof of conventional stories - I particularly liked Deeba's disgust at finding herself referred to in the book of prophecy as the Chosen One's funny sidekick - and as an exciting adventure in its own right. The scene in which the party are captured by Mr Speaker stood out as particularly imaginative, as did the utterlings - creatures created whenever Mr Speaker opens his mouth, taking shape from each individual word.

With a fantastic heroine, a host of brilliant supporting characters - Jones the bus conductor and Curdle the milk carton standing out for me, with an honourable mention for the binja (ninja rubbish buns) who I'd love to have seen even more of), this is a huge recommendation for all fans of great fantasy. I loved Mieville's world-building and would be really excited if this talented author was to return to UnLondon in the future.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Friday Feature: Interview with Gillian Philip

The superb author Gillian Philip has kindly agreed to be interviewed by me - very excited here!

I'm in awe of the variety of writing you do - besides your fantasy Firebrand, which I loved, and your new contemporary thriller The Opposite of Amber, there's the dystopian future of Bad Faith and the Darke Academy series and several others including short stories... what's your favourite genre to write?

Honestly? Truly? I have to whisper ‘fantasy’ because I don’t want to hurt the other characters’ feelings. Mind you, even in my contemporary or crime books, I often find I’m unable to resist bringing in an element of fantasy or the supernatural. The book I’m writing at the moment has turned quite unintentionally into a ghost story.

I think I like that extra bit of scope that fantasy (or a small fantasy element) gives to your plot. And if a book isn’t completely in the fantasy genre, I like playing with the idea that a plot element could be supernatural...or it could have a perfectly rational explanation. I like letting readers decide for themselves.

If you could collaborate with any author, living or dead, who would you choose?

I am not bad at collaborating, as I work with editorial teams at Hothouse and Working Partners, and that kind of writing is very much a team effort. But I’m not sure I’d like to collaborate with another writer on the same book. I’m far too inclined to want my own way. But I would dearly have loved to work with Russell T Davies on a series of Doctor Who. He never got hung up on the details of science, to put it gently, but I adored his stories. I loved his focus on the characters, on the who and the why.

I know you've done lots of talks and workshops at schools - how easy do you find it to get children engaged with the process of writing? (As a maths teacher, I'm assuming you find it a lot easier than I do to get their attention!)

I guess it’ll be much the same in both cases – depends a lot on the class and the children! I’m sure I have it easier because if a school is going to spend money on a session, they tend to send along the pupils who are already keen on creative writing. I’ve had some fantastic experiences in schools and I love doing them, so I’ve been lucky so far. But I have friends who have had terrible school experiences, and have been treated badly – by the schools, not by their pupils! The names of those schools do get passed round other writers... but so do the names of wonderful schools.

Like you, I would write FAR more if I spent less time on Twitter. On the plus side, it gets my blog ramblings out there into the world. How useful do you find Twitter and the rest of the net in publicising your books?

I mess about far too much on Twitter and Facebook – but on the other hand, like you say, it’s a wonderful way of getting your name out into the world. I’ve met so many terrific friends online I can’t possibly regret the time I spend there. And though it’s hard to quantify the publicity generated, I know I have gained readers, especially through Twitter. A couple of my characters even have their own Twitter accounts (sethmacgregor and KateNicNiven), though they get a bit unruly if I don’t keep my eye on them.

I keep thinking I should start a blog, and I do take part in some joint blogs, but I can’t help thinking that if I took a blog of my own seriously, it would be much more of a distraction than Twitter or Facebook. Besides, I don’t think I have anything unique to say that other bloggers aren’t saying already (and I can already retweet or share other people’s articles) – or that I can’t say in my fiction. One of these days I’ll give it a shot, though, to see if I’m really missing out.

Okay, I keep feeling I should stick to writing-type questions but I'm dying to know where you got the incredibly gorgeous manga style picture you use as the background to your fantastic website! Can you put me out of my misery and tell me please?

That was simply a freebie website design available on the net! I loved it as soon as I saw it, but I didn’t expect it to be as big a hit as it has been. Lots of people admire it, and I feel quite guilty that I can’t explain its special meaning in my work.

I’m rather reluctant to lose it, but I am currently having a website redesign, and I’m hoping to persuade Lawrence Mann – the cover artist for the Rebel Angels books – to do me a design for the website that might be more individual and relevant, but have a similar ‘feel’ to the manga girl. He’s a fantastic artist and designer so here’s hoping!

While whenever I get excited about a literary adaptation I end up massively disappointed by the results, there's still part of me which is forever optimistic whenever I read a book that it could end up being done really well as a TV series or film. Are there any of your novels which you could see working on screen, and if so, any particular actors, actresses or directors you think would be a great fit for them?

Oh, I’m terrible. I’m constantly casting my characters and directing the movie in my head. Also, I have discussions (verging on arguments) with friends about the appropriate actors. When there’s a character I see clearly in my head, I can never understand why someone else’s picture of them is completely different – but at the same time, that’s the fun and fascination of a book. I LOVE it that everyone ‘sees’ a book differently.

But anyway... yes. I always thought Gabriel Byrne should play Cass’s father in Bad Faith. Nick in Crossing the Line is a young Nathan Fillion. And I never knew what Seth in Firebrand looked like till I saw Billy Crudup in Stage Beauty (sometimes in a frock. Seth resents this). I was recently convinced by a friend that Alexander Skarsgard should play Conal. And just yesterday I saw Finn from Bloodstone, but grown up like she is in the next book – she was playing Jackson Brodie’s estranged wife in Case Histories. Oh yes, and Tilda Swinton plays a character in the current book I’m writing. You see? I’m terrible. But I suppose everybody does it. Even as I write this, Ian Rankin is on Twitter discussing the casting of a character with his followers.

Oh, and I think Kevin Macdonald would direct a good Firebrand...

What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

Persevere – that’s the most important thing. And I mean, persevere with writing, and rewriting, and rewriting – not with just sending out the same manuscript over and over again. If you’re lucky enough to get objective feedback, listen to it! – but trust your instincts too. Getting published isn’t impossible, as some people would have you believe, but it does take hard work as well as talent. Just keep writing!

If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?

“Where do you get your ideas from?” No, I’m joking, honest. I want to ask Cornelia Funke if she’s ever felt just a twinge of nervousness when reading Inkheart aloud.

Do you listen to music when writing? If so, what were the soundtracks
to the Opposite of Amber and/or Firebrand?

I don’t listen while I’m writing, but I need to find a soundtrack for each book, and I’ll listen to it over and over again while I’m cooking the story in my head.

The Opposite of Amber had a very retro soundtrack. That wasn’t deliberate; I just happened to be listening to the radio one day when I recognised Jinn’s favourite song: 24 Hours From Tulsa by Gene Pitney. After that, the rest of the songs came thick and fast. The girls had two versions of Spanish Harlem, one very creepy one by Phil Spector. And the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations played quite an important part at a certain point in the plot. Ruby of course had Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs and Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town – The Killers’ version.

My soundtrack for the whole Rebel Angels series is colossal, probably because there’s a different soundtrack for each of the four books. A lot of contemporary Gaelic and Scottish rock, obviously – especially Peatbog Faeries and The Silencers and Travis – but all mixed up with the Jam, Elbow, Bruce Springsteen... John Cale’s version of Hallelujah... Nick Drake’s Northern Sky...Mary Coughlan’s version of Ride On...Aqualung’s Strange and have to stop me now, or I’ll never shut up.

Thank you for such fantastic questions!

A pleasure - glad you enjoyed them and thank you for your wonderful answers!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Bloodstone by Gillian Philip

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Bloodstone by Gillian Philip

From Amazon UK: Nothing as of yet. But even if there WAS a blurb, I wouldn't read it.

Sometimes, there's a series so good that you don't need to have any clue what's about to happen in it. Sometimes, a book can be anticipated because you're completely sure that the author will do a fantastic job in carrying on a story.

Bloodstone is one of those books. I'll avoid spoiling Firebrand for anyone yet to read it (but, really, what are you waiting for?! Full review here if it takes any more persuading) but that book was such a great start to a series, with such an amazing central character in Seth MacGregor, that I was completely hooked on Philip's world of the Fair Folk and have been anticipating this for months. Her writing style is wonderful and her characters are awesome - in particular Seth and his brother Conal. Really glad that this is so close (release date August, I believe!)

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Other People's Husbands by Judy Astley (NOT YA)

For once all the books I'm currently reading are adult rather than YA!

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Several years ago, when pandora had been a fourteen-year-old pick-and-mix of erratic, furious hormones, Sara's sister Lizzie had given her a book on surviving teendom. Rule number one had been: 'only pick fights with teenagers over issues of essential personal safety (theirs and yours) otherwise all conversation for the next five years will be combative.'

Monday, 6 June 2011

Monday Musings - Review of The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller

(Please note, this isn't a YA book, although despite a bit of sex and violence there's nothing particularly explicit and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to mature teens. It's just certainly not written for teenagers, unlike the majority of stuff I review on here.)

Back from the First World War, his wife and child dead, Laurence Bartram feels he's lost his place in the world. Depressed and wondering what to do with himself, he settles to writing half-heartedly before receiving a letter from the sister of an old schoolfriend which will set him on a course that will bring him back to living life at its fullest - assuming his investigations don't kill him, that is. John Emmett had survived the horrors of the war and returned home to his mother and sister. The fighting had clearly left its mark on him and he struggled to fit into civilian life again, eventually killing himself, Mary tells Laurence. She's distraught, and desperate to know what could have driven him to do such a thing. Promising the attractive young lady that he'll try and find out what happened to his old friend, Laurence is plunged headfirst into a dark and murky mystery.

I was expecting something quite different from what I got here - the cover and the back of the book seem to suggest something slow-moving, while we actually get a very enjoyable and rather pacy thriller. As Laurence and his friend Charles, who knows half of the important people in the country and has come out of the war rather better than Laurence or John did, try to track down Emmett's past, they get caught up in a series of events which may have rather too many coincidences to be completely plausible but which keep the plot moving brilliantly.

The best part of the book for me, however, was Elizabeth Speller's description of England just after the Great War. Wonderfully evocative, she captured the class system, the changing face of the country, and the troubles both those who fought and those who were left behind had in adjusting to life at peace again.

This is a high recommendation and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for others by Speller.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Thursday Thoughts - Review of Alana Dancing Star: Samba Spectacular by Arlene Phillips

Alana's crazy about dancing and can't wait to take part in Step Out Studios' big Latin show! But her samba isn't the greatest, she doesn't have a costume because her mum hasn't had time to make one, and fellow dancer Verity is continually putting her down. Then she walks past a costume shop she could have sworn wasn't there last time she looked, dives in to try on a beautiful dress, and finds herself mysteriously transported to the Brazilian carnival. Time for Alana to shine!

I picked this up despite it being significantly below the age range I normally review for because I heard Arlene Phillips read extracts from a few of her Alana series a month or so ago at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury and was keen to read a full book. I'm really glad I did - even though it's shorter and simpler than I'm used to it's a charming read which I'm sure will be loved by its target audience. Alana, her friends at Step Out Studios, and mean girl Verity are all well portrayed, and the illustrations throughout the book are completely enchanting - beautiful line drawings which complement the text perfectly. There's a nice mix between the realistic bits taking place in Alana's normal life and the vividly described Brazilian carnival as well.

The transportation from putting on a costume will be instantly recognisable to readers of a certain age as being inspired by the Mr Benn cartoon - or so my mum tells me! It's a plot device which has led to six books already in this series and will no doubt allow Arlene Phillips to write many more if she chooses to do so. Dance mad kids will lap them up and this is the start of a series which will be enjoyed by lots and lots of girls - I've passed my copy onto my young cousins, who were hooked instantly.

I'm sure fans of this one will also be hooked by Anne-Marie Conway's Star Makers series.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Passion by Lauren Kate

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Passion by Lauren Kate.

From Amazon UK: Luce would die for Daniel.

And she has. Over and over again. Throughout time, Luce and Daniel have found each other, only to be painfully torn apart: Luce dead, Daniel left broken and alone. But perhaps it doesn’t need to be that way. . . .

Luce is certain that something—or someone—in a past life can help her in her present one. So she begins the most important journey of this lifetime . . . going back eternities to witness firsthand her romances with Daniel . . . and finally unlock the key to making their love last.

Cam and the legions of angels and Outcasts are desperate to catch Luce, but none are as frantic as Daniel. He chases Luce through their shared pasts, terrified of what might happen if she rewrites history.

Because their romance for the ages could go up in flames . . . forever.

Why I can't wait to read it: I really enjoyed both Fallen and Torment, the first two books in this series, and the ending to Torment was an intriguing one leaving me desperate to find out what happens next. Only a few weeks now!