Sunday, 28 September 2014

Why I've Been Quiet

Hey guys,

Just wanted to explain a couple of things about my recent quietness online. (Relatively, that is. Yes, I know I still tweet more than 99% of people, but I don't think I've tweeted 50 times before breakfast for about two weeks, which is near-silent for me.)

I still really enjoy blogging when I do it, love talking to so many awesome people, and am thrilled to have got to know so many of you offline. (Thanks to everyone who came to #drinkYA last night, by the way!)

That said, I've been going through a massive reading slump recently which has really knocked me for six somewhat. I don't tend to finish books I'm not enjoying and, for whatever reason, I've given up on well over half of my reads over the last six weeks, which is really rare as I'm normally quite good at picking stuff out I'm fairly sure I'll like.

In addition, offline life has become fairly stressful. I've got more stuff to do at work this year than last year and, while I really enjoy my job, the start of a new term is always challenging.

Also, I'm trying to sell a flat I part-own with a housing trust. Part-ownership of this flat was fairly clearly the stupidest thing I've done in nearly 33 years of my life, and seeing them tweet asking people if money worries are causing them sleep problems makes me want to laugh and/or cry. (I won't bore you with the details, but basically I asked them in January if I could buy the rest of the property so I could rent it out; they told me they may consider selling their share so someone could own 100% of the property then when I confirmed I'd like to do this took until June to let me know that their rules wouldn't let them do this. Apparently information hadn't been to hand in January and it had taken them over four months to find it!)

I may be around more in the next few weeks - hopefully at least - but wanted to reassure people that everything was okay, apart from my general annoyance at the housing trust's ineptitude. Also, in between all the not-so-good stuff, there are a bunch of books I've read recently that I really want to do full reviews for but just can't find the energy, so brief thoughts coming later today, with luck.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List

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

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski - Described by Rutkoski as "a fantasy with no fantasy in it", this sounds intriguing, and Daphne from Winged Reviews is a big fan and lent me her copy, so I definitely want to get to it soon.

Rock War by Robert Muchamore - I love Muchamore's CHERUB series and have been meaning to read this since... ummm, I'm not going to specify when. I may have had Debbie from Snuggling on the Sofa's copy for rather a long time. (Sorry Debbie!)

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks - I'm a huge fan of the Jeeves and Wooster series so was thrilled - if a little apprehensive - when I heard Faulks was writing a new one. I've seen some really good reviews, with fellow Wodehouse fan Sue at The Bookbag liking it a lot, and so I'm definitely expecting to enjoy it.

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper - I was lucky enough to get an invite to a screening of the film of this book on Monday - thanks Charlie/Orion Books! - and got a copy there. I'm a huge fan of Tropper's How To Talk To A Widower, and the film was great, so definitely want to read this one soon.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch - Scott was awesome at NineWorlds and Daphne's reading this at the moment; it sounds great! I have it for Kindle and am planning on starting it one lunchtime soon.

The Relic Guild by Edward Cox - If Ed's writing is as good as his hugs, this will be amazing! I've actually just started this and so far, if anything, it's even better than I expected.

The Copper Promise by Jen Williams - I got a signed copy of this (with an awesome dragon drawn in it!) at the superb Fantasy in the Court event held at Goldsboro Books last month. I have heard so many great things about this one, as well!

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson - This is the only YA on the list that I don't have a copy of, but I need to put that right soon! (Although possibly not THAT soon; release date is 1st January, I believe, so putting it on an autumn TBR list may be optimistic.) But George Lester and Charlie have both been raving about it and they have great taste!

The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth by Julia Lee - Meeting Julia again at #ukmgsocial last weekend reminded me I've had this a while and somehow still haven't read it! I definitely need to put that right.

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury - Yes, I've already read it. Yes, I need to read it again - firstly because it is THAT AMAZING and secondly because I think my copy is probably going to be in demand from other bloggers soon. (Also, the 'review' I wrote after it basically reads "OMG MEL IS FAB OMG THIS BOOK IS GREAT OMG I EVEN LIKE THE LOVE TRIANGLE!" and I probably owe it to the book to reread to write one that's at least semi-coherent.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Authors I've Only Read One Book By But NEED To Read More

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

Cath Crowley - I know Cath has other books out, but the problem is Graffiti Moon is so UTTERLY PERFECT that I'm not sure I dare risk anything else in case it feels like a let-down, even if it's brilliant!

Melinda Salisbury - The Sin Eater's Daughter is my favourite YA fantasy for a long, long time. I really can't wait to read more of this series!

Robin Stevens - Boarding school! Crime! 1920s! It's like a checklist of everything I really love to read about. Murder Most Unladylike was really good fun, and I can't wait for Arsenic For Tea.

Harriet Whitehorn and Becka Moor (illustrator) - Violet and the Pearl of the Orient is super-cute, with gorgeous illustrations and fab writing. Already desperate for book two from this super-talented pair!

Leila Sales - This Song Will Save Your Life was the best contemporary since The Sky Is Everywhere for me. It was heart-breaking, uplifting, and absolutely amazing.

Sara Crowe - Bone Jack is my favourite novel of the year so far. Completely wonderful, in the spirit of Susan Cooper's breathtaking The Dark is Rising sequence.

Sophia McDougall - I've been going through a massive reading slump recently; one of the VERY few books to penetrate my general gloom has been Sophia's stunning sci-fi adventure Mars Evacuees. Clever, funny, with a great voice, and a lot of depth to the characters, this is a must-read.

Jason Rohan - Egmont had a stunning start to the year, releasing Sword of Kuromori, Mars Evacuees, The Executioner's Daughter by Jane Hardstaff (which was NEARLY on this list as it's great) and Temple Boys by Jamie Buxton, which sounds excellent. This is a wonderful adventure story inspired by Japanese legends; second in the series is very close to the top of my 'most wanted' list!   

Bridget Tyler - Drummer Girl is a massively exciting contemporary which I adored; would love to read more from Bridget!

Tess Sharpe - Not sure I'll ever dare read anything from Tess again (certainly not in public!) given how much Far From You destroyed me, but it's an AMAZING read!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Blog Tour: The Castle by Sophia Bennett

I tend to avoid blog tours unless they're for books I really like, but the opportunity to do several fab ones recently has been too good to resist! Hugely pleased to welcome one of my favourite guest posters, Sophia Bennett, to talk about her wonderful new book The Castle.

You know the saying: location, location, location …

 (Neuschwanstein, Bavaria)
When I came to write my first adventure story, I always knew there would be a castle in it, and that the heroine’s quest would lead her there. I pictured it being on the south coast of England, which is scattered with forts and castles from the days when the French seemed about to invade at any minute. My editor, however, suggested it should be somewhere more exotic.

(Bodiam, Kent)
So I looked elsewhere. I considered Scotland for a long time. Not super-exotic, I know, but this book was partly inspired by my father and he grew up there, and I was thinking a lot about The 39 Steps, which is set in the Highlands. I wanted there to be an ice house in the grounds – which is what the aristocracy used before fridges came along – and I had a crucial scene all set up in one, ready to go.
(Fyvie, Scotland)
Meanwhile, I was also looking at castles in the Loire valley in France, where I used to be a tour guide for American students while I was at university. These riverside palaces are magnificent. Huge and romantic, with the Loire river floating graciously past, and Three Musketeers-type sweeping staircases and long galleries wherever you look.

(Chambord, Loire)
Then the weather in England just got worse and worse, and it rained ALL THE TIME and I got so fed up I decided to put the castle somewhere hot and gorgeous, so I could at least live there in my head while I was writing, and readers could live there too later on. The ice-house scene would have to go.  
I set my husband the task of finding me an island in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Italy, that wasn’t too big and wasn’t already too famous. (Monte Cristo, though otherwise perfect, was out.) Within a day or two, he’d found me a little cluster of islands called Le Sirenuse, off the Amalfi coast in southern Italy. One of them had an absolutely stupendous villa on it – now a VERY posh, VERY gorgeous, VERY expensive place for hire – that was built by Le Corbusier used to be the home of Rudolf Nureyev. As a huge ballet fan, I loved the connection. I spent many happy hours on my laptop, exploring links like this

(Gallo Lungo, Amalfi coast)
This was my island. The location for my castle. I was home. The palace I built there for the book has some elements of Nureyev’s villa in the upper stories, but it’s much bigger, grander and scarier. It’s based more on the ruins of Tiberius’s castle on the nearby island of Capri. Given the evil billionaire that I installed there, it seems only fitting that he should take after a mad Roman emperor.

(Villa Jovis, Capri)
Even the islands’ name was right: Le Sirenuse. This part of the Italian coast was thought to be the home of the Sirens, who were beautiful, but fundamentally trouble, so fitted my story perfectly. I renamed this particular island the Isola Sirena, which means mermaid in Italian, and the castle became Castello Rodolfo, after Nureyev. Sometimes, I picture him there, creating a ballet about the sirens. Sometimes I picture the emperor Tiberius popping in to visit, and chucking a few slaves off the cliff, for fun. The castle is heaven and hell in one setting, and that’s how I hope readers will react to it in the book.

I never completely gave up on my original south coast of England idea. For ages, I wasn’t sure where Peta, the heroine should live, because she was an army child, like me, who was always moving from place to place. Then I found out about St Thomas’s Church in Winchelsea, which fitted my story for many reasons. Peta’s home became an ancient inn once used by smugglers down the road in Rye. When I visited the town for research (it’s lovely – go there!), I discovered that Rye has a castle of its own, on the top of the hill overlooking the Channel to the coast of France.

(Rye, East Sussex)
I started out seeking out castles, and they ended up following me. To me, the Castello Rodolfo is as real as if some ancient, crazed aristocrat really had built it, to repel the pirates who ruled the Mediterranean centuries ago. I can picture its painted ceilings, lavender-scented pool, its dark, damp, dungeons, and its slave tunnels, so narrow and low that only children can use them. And Peta Jones, my heroine, feeling her way around them in the dark.

Now I’m working on new story based in a half-abandoned country house, where the silk bed hangings are shredded by light and time, and centuries of lovers have carved their names in its ancient glass. No it doesn’t really exist, but next year, hopefully, it will exist in a book. And once again, a girl will be busy discovering its secrets. And once again, I’ll be kind of wishing I could be there with her, exploring the dark passageways and working the mystery out. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Blog Tour: The Evolution of Sarah Midnight by Daniela Sacerdoti

The Sarah Midnight trilogy by Daniela Sacerdoti from Black and White Publishing is one of my favourite paranormal series, so I'm really pleased to welcome Dani to the blog today to kick off her new blog tour for the closing novel in the sequence, Spirit!

Like all genres, Paranormal Young Adult books have their rules and their clich├ęs. Each writer negotiates her way among them, to stay true to the genre and to themselves at the same time. When I started writing The Sarah Midnight trilogy, I hadn’t read any YA written by contemporary authors – unless you consider the last Harry Potter books as YA. I was also not on social media as such, so I really didn’t have much of an idea as to what YA was all about: all I knew was that I had a story and I wanted to tell it.

My Sarah was a vulnerable heroine, unaware of her own powers and not ready to fight. She was not, in any way, ‘kick-ass’. In making her so, I had unwittingly distanced myself from many other YAs, where the heroine was a ready-made fighter, strong, courageous and ready to take the world on the chin. This is often seen as a better role model for young women than a vulnerable protagonist who hasn’t found her feet. By making Sarah fragile in the first book of the series, I attracted some criticism – but to me, it was the only way to stay true to her character. Sean says of her that she’s like a ‘rose dipped in steel’ – and this sums her up. She’s not a natural fighter, but she doesn’t realise how much strength and power she has inside her until she finds herself in danger. Also, she’s been traumatised by many years of horrific visions, which she had suffered every night from her thirteenth birthday onwards, and this has left deep scars in her psyche.

At the beginning of the story, she relies heavily on Sean for support – he’s the one who knows about the world she’s been thrown into, while she’s been kept in the dark about her legacy. Sean is the bridge between what she knows, and the mystery of the Secret Families. But as the tale unfolds, Sarah looks deeper into herself – and her vulnerability turns into a harder, tougher shell as she gains control over her powers. She learns more about her family and her past, including the secrets that have been kept from her by her parents and which now dominates her present.

In the last book, Spirit, Sarah has become a fully-fledged fighter – not unafraid, but resistant to fear. She’s more confident in her own abilities and aware of her gifts. Now she’s facing another risk, which is to become too hard and lose her natural empathy. She goes from irritating Sean because she tries to speak to the demons and avoid fighting – to being close to cold-hearted killer in many situations. Sarah’s challenge in Spirit is to stay true to her heart, instead of hardening it beyond the reach of her softer soul. My Sarah is a young woman who grows into herself and is tempered like metal in water – I couldn’t help loving her and rooting for her, and wanting to see her dreams come true, I hope her readers will too.