Sunday, 23 December 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Through To You by Emily Hainsworth

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

Camden Pike is devastated by the death of his girlfriend Viv in a car accident, and blames himself for it. Then he meets Nina, a girl from a parallel universe. In her world, Viv is still alive, and he realises he doesn't have to let her go and he can be with this other her forever. Will he choose to give up everything he's ever known to be with the person he thought he'd lost, or let go of his girlfriend for good and stay in his own world?

I have to be completely honest and say that I rarely read sci-fi and similar books as I quite often get confused by them. However, the premise for this one was so intriguing that I decided to give it a go, especially since it's a mixture of sci-fi and contemporary. I'm glad I did - it has some really strong points, and is seriously impressive for a first novel. If it's not too strange a comment to make about a sci-fi book, it feels very realistic. Like Michael Grant's superb Gone series, despite the strangeness of the premise, the characters are completely believable, particularly the central quartet. Cam himself is perhaps the unluckiest guy in teen fiction, having suffered the death of his girlfriend, an injury which ended a promising football career, and his parents' divorce, but is likeable despite being understandably depressed at the start of the book. Nina's little brother Owen is a real sweetie, and the two girls Nina and Viv are intriguing characters.

It's also refreshingly unpredictable - I honestly didn't have any idea how this one was going to end up, and the twists and turns kept me guessing right to the last few pages. In addition, it's very atmospheric, with the start of the story being fairly slowly paced but with just enough intrigue to draw the reader in, and the action rapidly picking up speed in the second half.

Highly recommended and I'm really looking forward to reading Emily Hainsworth's next book!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday Feature: Erin Downing Interview And Giveaway

It was great to talk to Erin Downing, author of None Of The Regular Rules, about her book, writing, and publishing NOTRR as an e-book exclusive. Even better, she's been kind enough to give me an Amazon gift copy of None of the Regular Rules to use as a prize in a giveaway! If you'd like to enter the draw, just leave a comment on this post. Closing date Friday 28th December.

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

It depends on the day

I always write my first drafts with a teen girl in mind—usually, a teenage version of myself. I longed for more books like the ones I write now when I was in high school…but YA wasn’t quite the same thing back then. There were some great novels, sure, but for the most part I stuck to classics or adult novels or (if I’m being honest) the stuff I was assigned to read for school.

When I’ve finished a draft, I picture my critique partners…and worry. There are a couple people who read drafts of all of my novels. First, I send each book to my mom. She reads everything and tells me she loves it and that gives me the confidence to send it to the people who won’t be quite as gentle. I also send my books to Jennifer Echols, who reads everything with her eye on the romance. Jenn’s great at telling me to make my boys hotter, or fix a kiss, or when to stretch out a moment. I also send all of my books to Robin Wasserman, whose main job is to help me with plot. She’s an expert plotter, and she tells me where the book drags (and often has great ideas for how to fix it!).

Once the book is out in the world, I picture different people every day. Adults, teens, my grandma. I know people of all ages—women and men—enjoy my books, so it’s fun to think about who might be reading it at any given point in time.

2. Out of Sophie, Ella and Grace, who is most like the teenage you?

Honestly, there’s a little bit of me in all of my girl characters. Certainly Sophie is most familiar to me, but there are bits of Ella and Grace in there, too. I tend to be fairly cautious, like Sophie, and understand her restlessness. I think Ella’s voice and way of saying things (bluntly) is a lot like me. There are bits of Grace that remind me of my high school self, but hers is probably the furthest from my personality. My favorite part of writing novels is creating characters, and I know a little piece of me slips into almost everyone I write.

3. Given that you're an established author who's written several books already, some people may have been surprised when you decided to publish None of the Regular Rules as an e-book only. Was it a difficult decision to make, and why did you choose to do it this way?

No one was more surprised than me. It’s been an interesting couple of years for me in publishing, and there were a number of factors that led me to publish this novel as an e-book. I really respect the traditional publishing process—in fact, I was an editor at Scholastic for several years. Also, I publish all of my middle grade and tween novels with traditional publishers (The Quirks with Bloomsbury and my tween stuff with S&S/Aladdin). But I had a bad YA experience a few years ago that really changed the way I thought about this business. It’s sort of a long story—one that I haven’t ever shared with anyone. Here goes:

I’d been publishing books with Simon Pulse for about five years, and I was very lucky to get to work with two brilliant and supportive editors there. But then, a couple years ago, I ended up leaving Simon Pulse to sell a YA novel to a different publisher (not naming names…). They offered me quite a lot of money for a two-book deal; enough that I was able to quit my day job and write while my twins were in preschool. It was really hard for me to leave my dedicated team at Simon & Schuster, but the money was enough to make up my mind. So I went. Shortly after I signed the contract, my new editor—the one who had been passionate about the project and acquired it—left my new publisher. Over the course of the next year, my novel got shuffled from one editor to another—and edited and rewritten again and again and again. Eventually, it wasn’t even a book I liked anymore. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one. My agent called me about a year and a half ago to tell me that my fancy new publisher had decided to cancel the project. I was devastated and hurt... but also relieved. I hated the book and I was supposed to write a sequel! Blech. I had no interest in writing a sequel to a book I didn’t believe in and that my publisher didn’t like! But still, I was really sad and embarrassed and worried that I’d never want to write YA again. The years I spent on that project really did suck a lot of passion out of me, and I started to hate YA.

I took about nine months off YA (to write the first book in a middle grade series), and then I decided to try to write another YA novel just for me. I needed to write a book that I felt good about, and that wasn’t under contract anywhere. That book was None of the Regular Rules. I love this book, and I’m really proud of how it turned out. After I worked on it for about a year, my agent and I sent it out to a few publishers, and the response was the same from everyone: I really like this novel (love Johnny, love Sophie, love the list), but it’s a tough market and I’m not sure I love it enough to take a chance. Both my agent and I really believed in the book, and so we decided to look into publishing it as an e-book exclusive. Most of my YA book sales in the past few years have been e-books, and I’m absolutely fascinated by this market and the way bookselling is changing. So I decided to give it a shot with a book I truly believe in and love more than any other I’ve ever written. So far, it’s going great! I hit the Top 100 list for Teen Romance last week for the first time, and that was a really exciting day.

Sounds like a trying time - but I'm glad it had the end result that it did!

4. I absolutely love the gorgeous picture on your website's home page! Where did you get the idea for it, and who created it?

Thank you!! I love it, too. My website was designed by a really amazing guy named Manning Krull. He actually drew the custom illustration on the homepage just for me! I’m very inspired by Paris, and it just so happened that Manning lived in Paris when he was working on my website— he and I came up with the idea of a Parisian café scene to inspire the website design. I was absolutely blown away when he sent me the sketch!

5. If you'd written a list like Suzy's in the book when you were a teen, what would have been on it?

I wrote Suzy’s list, remember? It’s probably fairly similar to something I might have written myself...

6. Johnny Rush was fantastic! What are your top tips for writing hot love interests?

Oh, thanks! The most important thing for me is that my guys are realistic. I like flawed dudes. I don’t really like big, sweeping, hulky hero sorts of guys. I’m not a huge fan of paranormal romance novels where the guy and girl are somehow bound together by some sort of powerful and crazy force that is based on some sort of otherworldly connection that just hits them—bang! I prefer romance that kind of creeps up on you, the way it often does in real life.

I like everyday heroes, the guys who complement my main characters perfectly. I also like confident main characters—no one wants to be with a drip of a guy, so it’s important that he has a little edge to him and says what he’s thinking (secrets are fun, but shyness is a no-no for me). It’s also really important to me that my leading man sees my leading lady differently than everyone else…he needs to see her potential and help her find the best version of herself. That’s sort of a romance rule, right?

7. On the subject of Johnny, I also thought the chemistry between him and Sophie was superb. What's your favourite example of chemistry between two fictional characters?

Hands down, Meg and John in Jennifer Echols’ Going Too Far. I also really like Anna and St. Clair in Anna and the French Kiss. And I do really like the way my stomach flip-flops in Simone Elkeles’ novels…

I've just got Going Too Far out of the library but haven't read it yet - very excited to now you've said that! Anna and the French Kiss sounds fabulous and I can't believe I haven't read that one as so many people keep recommending it.

8. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what's the soundtrack to None of the Regular Rules?

I don’t really listen to music when I write. But! The title of None of the Regular Rules was inspired by a Trip Shakespeare song (None of the Regular Rules Were True)—so I did listen to a bit of Trip Shakespeare while I wrote this book. And I sometimes listen to my Edith Piaf Pandora station.

9. What are you reading at the moment?|

I’m trying to read some of the successful e-books that are out right now. I just finished Wife for Hire, and I’m about to start Nyrae Dawn’s Charade. I bought The Secret of Ella and Micha. But I also just got a memoir called End of Your Life Book Club. I’ve been eager to sit down and my friend Kelly Barnhill’s new middle grade novel, Iron Hearted Violet. I’m usually reading about six books at once—anything from chapter books to adult romance. I always like suggestions!

Ooh... a few there I haven't heard of! I'll keep an eye out for them.

10. What's next for Erin Downing?

I have a new series for younger readers that is launching in hardcover in May 2013 (THE QUIRKS, written as Erin Soderberg)—I just finished writing the second book in the series, and I’ll begin the third after Christmas. I also have a tween novel coming out next December (Best Friends Forever…or Until Someone Better Comes Along). I am nearly finished with an adult romance novel that I’ve been working on for a couple of years—I just might publish that as an e-book exclusive sometime this spring! We shall see…

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Book Review of Oranges And Lemons: Rhymes From Past Times by Karen Dolby

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

Karen Dolby's book is a loving look at nursery rhymes from many different times and places, handily organised into groups like 'Monday's Child: The Rhythm of Days' and 'Oranges and Lemons: Songs and Games'. In addition to the rhymes themselves, Dolby sets them into context and tells us of the stories behind them.

This is fascinating to anyone who has an interest in folklore and rhymes, even if the amount of detail given varies rather a lot between rhymes. 'Jack and Jill' has a particularly interesting set of theories associated with it, while the story behind the innocent-sounding 'London Bridge' will leave you shivering. Others however, like 'Aiken Drum', have only a couple of lines about them.

For me personally, the most interesting part is probably the speculation about the identity of some of the people that the rhymes were based on - just which of the King of Spain's daughters was it who appeared in so many rhymes? Was 'Who Killed Cock Robin' about the death of a bird, or something more sinister?

Most, though, have a decent amount of interesting facts about them, and there's a great collection of verses and some charming little sketches to go with them. It's set out so nicely that I could definitely see it being well-received as a gift - it's a beautiful book. It's also very comprehensive for a fairly small book - there's well over a hundred rhymes here and I can't think of any well-known ones that have been missed out. As well, it's surprisingly up to date with its most modern references - even DC Comics character Solomon Grundy gets a mention in the part about the nursery rhyme the character is based on!

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in old rhymes, or really in history generally.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Lydia Sharp

While I don't normally read that many novellas, I really enjoyed Lydia Sharp's Twin Sense. (One thing that e-publishing has been brilliant for is people being able to release shorter books at great prices!) When I realised she was a fellow member of the fabulous Absolute Write site, I got in touch asking for an interview and was really pleased that she accepted.

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

This isn't meant to be narcissistic, but I see myself. I see my teen self, the one who needed these stories some-odd years ago but couldn't find them, and I see my adult self who refuses to grow up. I know there are plenty of other people out there like me, or like I was, and that's who I'm writing for.

2. Who came up with the fabulous cover for Twin Sense?

The cover was a dual effort between me and Musa Publishing's lead cover artist Kelly Shorten, although Kelly must be credited with the actual product--I simply provided ideas. One of the benefits of being with small a press is how much say the author has in the final cover. Kelly and I went through 15 mock-ups before putting together the final. And I knew as soon as I saw it that it would be The One. It was insta-love (which is bad for stories, but great for book covers!).

3. You have a huge online presence! As well as your own blog, you contribute to Write It Sideways and Writer Unboxed, while I first found out about Twin Sense when you posted on Absolute Write. How important do you think the internet is to a writer today?

Very important. But I don't view it as just having a large online presence, as if to say that is my main goal. The main goal is always to genuinely connect with my audience. So I view social networking more as doing what I love doing, and doing what is necessary to survive in today's world of publishing. Everything you mentioned above came about through years of continual effort and refusing to let my public persona flicker out of existence. "Success" and growth don't happen overnight, and shouldn't be expected to, especially before you have anything published. It also shouldn't take over your time so much that your writing suffers. Building an online presence is never more important than producing quality work for your readers.

The good thing about the Internet now, even compared to when I started blogging 3+ years ago, is that there are so many more choices. Some view this as a bad thing, but that's because they think you have to do everything. You don't have to do everything. Try each venue once, for at least six months, then stick with the ones that work best for you and the needs of your career. Blogging suits me. In addition to the blogs you mentioned above, I've also blogged for the YA Contemps, Gay YA, and The Book Book (all of which are no longer posting new content, or I'd still be with them). Twitter works well for me too. I like the speed of it. I'm giving Facebook a try, but still not completely sold on it. Pinterest? Been there, done that, no thanks. Google+... Is that even still a thing? And there are many others--the point is, you don't have to utilize them all to see results.

In addition to being social media savvy, I believe writing communities like Absolute Write are essential. Not necessarily to sales, directly, but to learning the craft, the business, and forming a camaraderie with fellow authors. 

4. Despite not usually being a fan of love triangles/quadrangles/etc, I really liked the one at the centre of Twin Sense. What's your own favourite love triangle from someone else's book?

Thanks, I'm glad you liked it! I'm not usually a fan of love triangles either, but that's because they are often done poorly. When they're done well they can enhance the tension and conflict of any story. The first good one that pops into my head is fromMatched by Ally Condie. It was very basic--choosing between the one you're supposed to be with and the one you want to be with--and I think that's why it worked so well for me.

I also liked the complex love... pentagon(?) that E. Lockhart had going on in her Ruby Oliver series (one of my absolute favorites--you all must read it!). I learned a lot about how to keep the reader guessing by reading those books. Love triangles (and beyond) that are too predictable have the greatest potential for reader frustration. If it's obvious who the lead character is going to choose in the end, why should anyone waste time reading the story?

5. I know you've talked a bit about a novel called The Seven Deaths of Kat Monroe, which sounds brilliant! What do you prefer, writing novels or writing short stories?

Aw, thank you again! Seven Deaths is my fifth completed novel, and I've lost count how many works of short fiction I've completed. By short fiction I mean either flash fiction, short story, novelette, or novella. I have three short stories published in anthologies, and Twin Sense is my first published novella. To be honest, I don't have a preference. Each length presents different challenges and different joys. For instance, one of the nice things about writing a short story is how quickly I can reach the satisfaction of finishing it. However, I also love how deep I can get into my characters' lives through the long stretch of a novel.

6. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack for Twin Sense?

I can't NOT listen to music while writing, preferably with lyrics. For Twin Sense I listened to a lot of punk--bands that were really popular in the early 00s. That type of music is very fun, upbeat, and quirky, which helped me keep the right frame of mind for writing a romantic comedy. Here are a few of the songs I listened to for Twin Sense:

"In Too Deep" by Sum 41:
"Dammit" by Blink 182: 
"My Friends Over You" by Newfound Glory: 

7. What are you reading at the moment?

An ARC of Liberty by Annie Laurie Cechini, a YA sci-fi that will be a 2013 debut: 

8. What's next for Lydia Sharp?

Right now I'm working on a YA rom-com short story for an upcoming anthology with Musa Publishing that will release in spring/summer 2013. In addition to that, I'm in the process of querying agents for my YA novel we talked about above, Seven Deaths. I've also just begun work on a new YA novel, which will likely become my Big Project for 2013.

At some point in the future I'd also like to write the kind of novels people rave about at their book clubs, in between bites of cheesecake truffles and sips of wine. (yes, I know I'm dreaming, but at least my dream includes cheesecake)

Twin Sense 

As girlfriends of the Taylor twins, Layna and Sherri have only been friends by association. But when Sherri breaks up with Keith (for real this time), and Kevin gives Layna a promise ring (whoa, what?), Layna's whole world spins off balance. She avoids Kevin's unwelcome pressure to commit by spending more time with Sherri.

Without the twins around, Layna and Sherri are tempted to go beyond friendship status. Then Keith tries to win Sherri back, and Kevin apologizes for rushing Layna. Now she's stuck inside a double-trouble love quadrangle that has her reaching for the consolation cheesecake. The only way to sort out this mess is to make an impossible choice - between the one she wants and the other one she wants - or she might end up with no one.

Lydia Sharp is a novelist and short fiction author who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie. Then she got tired of finding sand in her clothes so she moved further inland, but she'll always call Ohio home. Laughing is her favorite pastime. Kissing is a close second.

You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon and the blogs linked above. You can also e-mail her at lydiasharp4sff (at) yahoo (dot) com

You can also find some Twin Sense extras on her blog! If you'd like to buy Twin Sense, you can do that at Musa Publishing, Amazon or B&N.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Just before Christmas, Lily leaves a notebook on the shelf of her favourite bookshop. Dash finds it and follows the instructions, setting off a chain of passing the book back and forth trading their hopes and dreams. Could the two be just as right for each other in person as they are in writing?

I have to admit, I struggled with the first quarter of this - Dash is super-snarky and it took me a while to get into his voice. Once I got used to it, however, I absolutely adored this book. There's a pair of fabulous narrators, an intriguing plot, and some wonderful supporting characters. It also captures the atmosphere of both the setting of New York City and the timing of the Christmas period perfectly.

This is a super-short review - I may edit it later if I think of more to say - but to be honest I can sum it up with 'Get someone you love this book for Christmas!' - it's an absolutely perfect read for the holiday period and is just, basically, wonderful.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Top Ten 'New To Me in 2012' Authors (of non-contemporary YA)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

My top ten new to me contemporary authors are over at YA Contemporary if you'd like to check them out as well. 

1. Elizabeth Wein - Like the contemporary list, this isn't in order. Also like the contemporary list, if it was in order, there'd only be one contender for number one. It's no secret that Wein's World War II novel Code Name Verity was my favourite of the year, a stunning, poignant, and absolutely heartbreaking book with two of the best main characters for years.

2. Natasha Farrant - On the subject of WWII books, Farrant’s The Things We Did For Love is also gorgeously written and again reduced me to tears.

3. HM Castor – Castor’s VIII, following the life of Henry VIII, is a brilliant portrayal of a historical figure which really brings out the man behind the king.

4. Scott Cramer – I’ve been pushing Cramer’s Night of the Purple Moon as hard as I can this year – it’s a brilliantly chilling sci-fi story which deserves to have a much wider readership.

5. Jillian Larkin – As a fan of the 1920s as a setting, I’ve been spoilt for choice by some of the brilliant books released this year. Larkin’s Flappers series is the best of them all, though.

6. Cora Harrison – If it’s the UK in the Twenties you want rather than Prohibition-era America, don’t miss Harrison’s superb Debutantes.

7. Will Hill – Yes, prior to this year I hadn’t bothered with Department 19, thinking I didn’t need to read another vampire book. How wrong can you be? Hill’s first book is stunning; the sequel The Rising surpasses it in every way. Twice the length of most YA books and Will Hill never wastes a word. Superb.

8. David Morgan - While the paranormal genre is filled with tales of werewolves, vampires, zombies, mermaids and fairies, there's still some really original stuff out there. Morgan's The Boo Hag, about a creature from South Carolina's Gullah culture is one of my favourite paranormals this year.

9. AC Gaughen - Despite the love triangle at the centre of Robin Hood retelling Scarlet annoying me somewhat, with Robin seeming like a control freak, Scarlet herself - not a boy but a girl, with a wonderful narrative voice and an incredibly well-plotted history with villain Guy of Gisbourne - won me over completely.

10. Laura Lam - I'm beyond confused whether people whose books come out next year belong on lists relating to 2012, but Laura Lam is too incredibly awesome not to make it onto this one. Her Pantomime is hands-down my favourite fantasy of the year, and deserves to be a massive success.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Review of Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

Warning: Spoilers below for Daughter of Smoke and Bone!

Karou and Akiva once dreamt of a peaceful world, but their dreams look further away from reality than ever. Is there any way that either of them can gain redemption?

If you haven't read the first book, that probably makes very little sense. This is intentional - if you haven't read the first book, this entire novel will make pretty much no sense, so I'd go and grab that one first. If you have read the first book, I'm hoping that you'll forgive me for the somewhat cryptic plot summary, because this is staggeringly hard to even begin to summarise without spoiling anything.

I have to be honest, I wasn't one hundred per cent sure I was going to read this one. I really liked most of Daughter of Smoke and Bone but felt that it trailed off once Akiva was introduced, and was a bit concerned this was going to be a let-down. I liked Karou enough to try this one anyway - and wow, I'm glad I did! Karou is nearly as awesome as she was in book one despite her understandable grief at the catastrophic turn her life took at the end of that book. Akiva goes from being moderately annoying to a really good hero, partly because of his real desire for redemption and partly because Taylor's villains are so memorably monstrous that anyone doing anything to stand up to them looks at least reasonably heroic.

And then there's Zuzana and Mik, Karou's human friends, who completely steal every scene they're in. They're brave, loyal, and utterly adorable, right from the opening scene (in which Zuzana tries to get her boyfriend to help her in dropping something rather unpleasant on Karou's ex-boyfriend's head as he shows off for the adoring media.)

Couple these fantastic characters with Laini Taylor's gorgeous prose, and a plot full of unexpected twists and turns, and you've got a book that's even better than the first one. Oh, and there's even a satisfying ending! In some ways, it's a massive cliffhanger but Taylor ties up one of the main plot threads really well while leaving things beautifully poised for the next book.

Very high recommendation to fantasy fans.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Andy Briggs

Really pleased to present an interview with Andy Briggs, author of the excellent and series and of the superb Tarzan reboot (can't wait for book 3 in February!) amongst his many other talents!

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

The most attractive, highly intelligent people on the planet! Actually, that’s an intriguing question. I write for myself - books, screenplays, comics - whatever they are, they are written for for me. I just hope that a wide range of people will enjoy my work, reflecting the fact that my tastes are extremely broad.

2. I've praised the Tarzan books because there's a really strong environmental message in them but it never comes at the expense of the action. How important is it to you that you get that message across?

The environmental message is vitally important. Personally, I don’t want any message shoved in my face, it should be subtly laced through a story. I like to become interested in a topic, then I will seek out further information myself. I only hope that there’s enough in my Tarzan books to open people’s eyes and give them a push in the right direction.

The Greystoke Legacy has an underlying theme involving illegal logging while The Jungle Warrior shifts focus on the illegal animal trade - the third biggest illegal activity in the world. The next installment, The Savage Lands, has coltan as a theme - something most people have never heard of, yet we all use.

3. You're multi-talented - as well as your Tarzan books, and series, you've written comics and started off writing for TV and film. Which type of writing is your favourite?

When I do a school visit, I never introduce myself as an “author”, I tell them I’m a writer. My passion is telling stories, and I am lucky enough to be able to write across a range of media to tell different tales. So, to answer the question, I don’t prefer one over the other - I enjoy them all equally. I do, however, enjoy writing a script (for example), the jumping into a book for the next project. I feel variety helps keep stories and ideas fresh!

4. Tarzan was originally published in 1912, making 2012 the 100th anniversary for the character. Why do you think he's still such a popular character a century on?

I have said elsewhere that Tarzan was the world’s first eco-warrior, a character more relevant now than a century ago - but the reason I think he is still so popular is that he represents a freedom within us all we still wish we possessed. How often have we been having a mundane day in work and longed to leap through the windows, jump across the rooftops or escape into the wild? Tarzan allows us a peek into the primeval instinct that our ancestors used every day, and is still hidden within us. Tarzan is in our DNA.

5. And on that note, if asked to pick one recent children's or teen novel that you think will still be loved in 100 years time, what would you go for?

I think, without a doubt, it would be Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. He’s such a fantastic character and Eoin brought that world alive with amazing clarity. Like Tarzan, I think there is something of Artemis in us all, the rogue that just wants to break convention and occasionally rule the world. I often feel like that.

Artemis Fowl is one of those series I really should get round to reading more of! Loved the first two and just haven't found time to read the rest yet.

6. It's been a great year for reboots - in addition to your own fantastic second book in the Tarzan series, Anthony McGowan has kicked off his sequel series to Willard Price's adventure books. Which classic children's book or series would you most like to see get an update?

I would love to read some new Biggles stories - whether they are new WWI or WWII epics or whether we see Biggles return as a jet fighter pilot, I don’t know. But he’s such a fun character that he could survive a makeover.

Seconded! I loved Biggles and it would be great to see some new stories.

7. One of my favourite things about the Tarzan series is the great location of a modern African setting. Have you been over to Africa for research purposes?

Of course! I thoroughly believe in research. Along with the jungle and savannas, I stood on the edge of active volcanoes (for books 2 and 3), explored underwater rivers and ancient ruins deep within the jungle (for book 3). I think it’s the only way a writer can capture the details that make locations feel real.

With each Tarzan book we donate a portion of the proceeds to EAZA’s (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) Ape charity. In January, Ape Action Africa are throwing me into the Cameroon jungle - essentially, I’m an Author, Get Me Out of Here - and we are doing a series of video blogs to show the plight of the apes, promote Tarzan, and raise awareness of the excellent charity. We aim to offer FREE video resources to schools and libraries across the country, which can be used in conjunction with the curriculum. There will be more details on my website in the coming weeks.

Sounds like it'll be fantastic - best of luck!

8. And on a similar note, what's your favourite location in someone else's books?

Middle Earth? Discworld? The choices are vast - but if I had to chose one single place, I would love to have a table at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - as described in Douglas Adam’s book of the same name.

9. What are you reading at the moment?

I have just started Michael Grant’s BZRK, then plan on reading Andy Robb’s GEEKHOOD.

I'm a huge fan of Grant's GONE series but haven't got round to BZRK yet. Andy Robb is on my 'to read' list as well!

10. What's next for Andy Briggs?

This summer we wrapped a movie I wrote and produced, currently called LEGENDARY, which will be out some point next year. There is a bundle of exciting TV shows and movies close to announcement and I have just finished a new stand-alone YA book. But who knows what will happen to any of these? One thing is for sure - TARZAN: THE SAVAGE LANDS is out February 7th. Then later in the year an animated TARZAN 3D movie hits the cinema. Next year will be another epic year for the ape-man.

Best wishes for all of those exciting projects, Andy! I look forward to reading and watching.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Pantomime by LR Lam

Pantomime is almost certainly the best fantasy of the year. That's virtually all I can say about it without getting deep into spoiler territory, which as regular readers will know, I hate. (Oh, actually, I can probably just about tell you that there's a circus in there as well without completely ruining it for you.) I'm not sure whether to praise LR Lam for writing such a phenomenal book or curse her for writing one that's almost completely unreviewable. There's such a big twist early on (which, admittedly, I guessed), that I can't even really say much about the start.

I'll try and say what I loved about it without actually referring to the twists and turns of the plot. Firstly, there's stunning world-building. Lam has created a world in which magic used to exist but seems to have disappeared, leaving only remnants such as the mysterious substance Penglass. Inside this big world, she's also created a fabulous society of circus misfits who are reliant on each other to earn a living but have their own intrigues, quarrels and love affairs. She's populated it with brilliant characters, capable of love, heroism, and cruelty. It's a book which looks at bullying, romance, family, and perhaps most impressively, issues about sexuality that are normally found only in a handful of contemporary books. All of these things have been woven perfectly into the rich tapestry of Lam's fantasy world, and feel every bit as natural to the world and as important, as the fantasy trappings like the Penglass and the Vestige.

This is one for open-minded readers, but it should be one for absolutely every open-minded reader. (It should also come with a box of tissues - while I cry my eyes out fairly regularly at many contemporary novels, I'm fairly sure that this is either the first or second fantasy ever to have that effect on me.) As if to prove there is no end to her talent, Lam actually manages to give us a cliffhanger ending which I thought worked really well. (She tidies up enough of the storyline to give us a proper conclusion, but it still had me desperately wanting the sequel right this minute!)

If it's not clear enough, absolutely massive recommendation as one of the very, very best of the 200 plus novels I've read this year, and I'm sure this will be a huge success.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Book Review of Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

Violet Willoughby is the daughter of one of England's foremost mediums. With her mother in high demand, she follows her, assisting in her work as she puts the cream of society in touch with their dear departed. Of course, it's all fake. Violet has spent seven years helping her mother con the gullible into believing she has real psychic powers, so Violet herself certainly doesn't believe in ghosts. Which makes it all the more surprising when one appears to her…

Rowena drowned last year in mysterious circumstances and is desperate to communicate with Violet so that she can expose her murderer. With Rowena's twin sister Tabitha possibly in danger, Violet must desperately try to find out who the killer is.

Violet is a really good heroine – likeable, spunky and clever. She's helped in her quest to solve the murder by her friend Elizabeth and the dark and handsome Colin, an orphan rescued by her mother, and the relationships between her and the other two are very well portrayed. Add to that her entertainingly dreadful mother, who provides much needed comic relief in between the thrilling search for the person who killed Rowena, and you have a host of interesting characters. I also loved the descriptions of the fake séances and the tricks with Violet, Colin and her mother used to convince people of her mother's gift – ingenious and a great insight into Victorian charlatans.

It's not perfect – I felt the ending was somewhat rushed, and it seemed rather convenient that Rowena's ghost had quite so much trouble in pointing out her murderer – but this is clearly a significant step up from much of the paranormal teen fiction out there today and deserves to find lots of success in a rather crowded market.