Tuesday 15 November 2011

Angry Robot Open Door Month

So, y'all knew that I was involved with the Angry Robot Open Door reading of manuscripts. I wrote a blog post about it HERE stating which of the manuscripts I sent through for final approval to Lee and Marc.

Today I received a rather exciting press release from Angry Robot, which explains that two of the authors who submitted through the Open Door process have been signed up. And... well... they're two of mine! I am utterly over the moon about this and I cannot wait for you to read The Mad Scientist's Daughter and The Dead of Winter. They were such different novels, but both so great!

Here is the press release in full:

Like most successful publishers, Angry Robot only accepts submissions through literary agencies. Earlier this year, however, the company ran a pilot programme to see how many unpublished – but talented – authors there were without representation. During March, Angry Robot invited all un-agented authors to submit completed manuscripts as part of an “Open Door Month”. Over 990 novels were submitted during that period.

Today, Angry Robot are delighted to announce the first acquisitions from the first Open Door Month. Two new authors, each with a minimum two book deal, have now joined the Angry Robot family.

Cassandra Rose Clarke was the first signing to come through this process. Her two novels for Angry Robot show the versatility of this important new talent.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is the heartbreaking story of the journey from childhood to adulthood, with an intriguing science fictional twist. The Assassin’s Curse is a fantastical romp, starring Ananna, a no-nonsense lady pirate, born into pirate royalty.

Clarke said: "I'm beyond excited to have Angry Robot publishing my first-ever novel, and not only because of the delightful coincidence that my novel involves a robot who is, on occasion, angry. Angry Robot’s reputation is stellar and their author list incredibly impressive – I’m humbled to be included amongst their ranks!"

We take a somewhat darker turn with a pair of books from Lee Collins – The Dead of Winter and She Returns From War. Both novels follow Cora Oglesby, a bounty hunter with a reputation for working supernatural cases.

Collins said: "As excited as I am at the prospect of rubbing shoulders with Angry Robot's outstanding authors, publication was really a secondary goal of my submitting to them. My primary reason was the hope, however slim, of cybernetic augmentation."

Both deals were negotiated by Angry Robot’s editor, Lee Harris, who stated: “There is an enormous amount of talent out there, waiting to be discovered, and I am thrilled we have found two great new talents as part of our search.”

Both authors’ debut novels will be published by Angry Robot in autumn 2012, with their second books scheduled for spring 2013.

I'm jumping for joy - and very much hoping to be involved with the Open Door again next year!

Friday 11 November 2011

Lest We Forget

Take a moment today to remember those who have fallen in the protection of the innocent.

We shall always remember.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Rosebush by Michele Jaffe

Rosebush was a seriously compelling read. I started it over the course of one evening, and felt aggrieved at having to put it down to go to sleep. I then spent the next day picking it up every chance I had. I just HAD to know what was going to happen, and which of Jane's friends was responsible for what happened to her.

Jane's voice is very strong - written in the first person - and means that the reader ends up living every nightmare that Jane suffers. Her descent into doubting herself and possible madness is chilling and kept me absolutely gripped.

The whole "rich gal with secrets" thing has been done before on TV, but it was the first YA novel I'd read with that sort of theme, and it lends itself well to the short snappy chapters that Jaffe used to construct her novel. I also liked the flashbacks and the confusion that left me guessing all the way to the end who would turn out to be the would-be killer.

I felt a little strange at the fact that Jane was snogging three different guys during the time that she was in hospital - it went against the way that I "felt" she should act. I would have preferred to see just David and Pete as the guys that Jane feels drawn towards - Scott is a strange addition to the story.

This definitely has more depth than a lot of the YA that I've read, and has a deliciously dark edge. I would warn against starting this when you have other things that need to be done, because you won't be able to put it down. Enjoyable, and psychologically scary.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf – her wolf – is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: in winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human – or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

The positive of Shiver is the prose. It is delicate and fragile, like ice crystals and the wind through leaves. It is haunting and desperate, like the best parts of Romeo and Juliet. Maggie Stiefvater writes beautifully. I found myself drowning in the loveliness of the prose - to the point where I was *almost* able to ignore the flaws of the novel. If Stiefvater had managed to take the plot to the same places as the prose - stratospherically good - then this would have been an AMAZING book.

As it is, I think the best words to describe Shiver are ephemeral and fleeting - much like the summers that the wolves experience as humans before turning back to animals. As I read it, I was drawn into this story, but I can't imagine that it will stay with me beyond a few days.

Even while reading and luxuriating in the stunning writing, I found myself frustrated by Grace's character. She loves Sam just because. Why does she love him? Why is she so obsessed? Why is she willing to overlook the fact he is a wolf half the time?

I also found the background around the story very limited. Why are there werewolves anyway? Why have they settled in Mercy Falls? Why does Beck need more werewolves? Why did he decide that Sam should be a werewolf?

Why doesn't Olivia - who is such friends with Grace, apparently - come to her friend about the issues she's having? Why is the ending so very artificial?

Ack, just writing all of these questions makes me become more frustrated. Shiver should have been a superb novel. A brilliant book. A book that you are dying to share amongst all your friends. As it was, I enjoyed it and will want to read Linger and Forever, but it wasn't the classic that it deserves to be.

Friday 28 October 2011

Gorgeous Cover Art!

I was happily browsing the forthcoming titles available on Play.com (one of my fave activities on a slow Friday afternoon) and this gorgeous piece of artwork jumped out at me....

This comes hard on the heels of:


Pierre Pevel must be thrilled.

Nice work, Gollancz! One of the best looking trilogies of recent times, IMHO!

Do you like?

Thursday 27 October 2011

We Love This Book

Okay, so I just had a press release drop into my inbox and it's something that I figure my readers might just be interested in...

Introducing 'We Love This Book':

We Love This Book is the new, quarterly consumer book magazine, published by The Bookseller Group, alerting readers to exciting new books and providing a platform for publishers to reach readers in an imaginative and engaged way.

This is the second issue, published for the autumn, and it brings readers a crop of literary delights including an interview with Jeffrey Eugenides by Mark Lawson, a snapshot into the world of Sir Ranulph Fiennes through his ‘Desert Island Books’ selection, an exclusive piece by one of this autumn’s most hotly anticipated
debut novelists Erin Morgenstern and a glimpse at medieval life through the eyes of Peter Ackroyd as he embarks on a fascinating series of biographies looking at The History of England.

Among other highlights, Simon Barnes, chief sportswriter for The Times and bestselling author teaches us how to be a bird-spotter with our eyes closed; Alexander Masters, award-winning author of Stuart: A Life Backwards treats us to an intimate portrait of one of the greatest mathematical prodigies of the twentieth century who happens to live in his basement and Misha Glenny, author of the international bestseller McMafia explores the increasingly sophisticated world of teen hackers.

In addition to these exclusive pieces, this new issue includes We Love This Book’s regular features including the innovative ‘Book Tree’ taking us from Lolita to The Da Vinci Code, the ‘Three-Course Crush’ providing culinary delights from Dan Leppard, Matthew Evans, Jon Simon and Tristan Hogg and an extensive reviews section including both fiction and non-fiction, reviewed by booksellers and We Love This Book’s own reviewers, as well as readers’ choices of the best paperbacks.

The dedicated children’s section – with its own special cover – includes three features: looking at new innovations in pop-up books for a younger age group, the eternal popularity of dragons in children’s and young adult-fiction which includes interviews with Cressida Cowell and Christopher Paolini on their new books and a look back at the childhood of novelist and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, who is writing a new series of books featuring the world’s most famous flying car,
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The associated website, www.welovethisbook.com will come out of Beta to coincide with the launch of the second issue and will have additional features, interviews, reviews and blogs including an interview with the much loved fantasy author Terry Pratchett on the publication of his 39th Discworld novel, an exclusive twitter interview with Margaret Atwood, a slot with Conn
Iggulden talking about what’s next for the Khan Dynasty in his best-selling Conquerer series and recipes from Jamie Oliver, Rachel Allen, Gordon Ramsay and The Hairy Bikers.

The website will also include extensive event and festival information and a ”find a bookshop“ guide. Additional content will be added to the website all the time including image galleries, video, competitions and a “find a library” guide.

We Love This Book are also proud to be sponsoring Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Misha Glenny’s events at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival and Christopher Paolini’s appearance at the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature.

Subscribing to both the magazine and the associated newsletter can be done via the website.

I will certainly be subscribing - it looks like a lively mix of interviews and features with a good range of authors and genres being tackled.

What do you reckon?

Wednesday 26 October 2011

It's Oh So Quiet.... Shush....Shush....

Y'all must have noticed it's all been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately. Well, okay, a lot quiet.

I've been taking an odd break, which came about spontaneously thanks to a few factors. One is that I haven't felt the need to review the last few books I've read. Here are very short thoughts about them:

Rynn's World by Steve Parker - Good start, but ultimately tiresome with some very repetitive one-on-one combat scenes.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore - Enjoyable. Strong female character who had enough flaws to feel real.

Fire by Kristin Cashore - Took a while to get going. Fire annoyed me as a central character in this one, and I found the world building to be too insubstantial to connect with.

Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast - Hmm.... A guilty pleasure? Not sure it could even be classed as that! Awful writing, including throwing in a whole heap of "hip" teen terms that felt very awkward. The very definition of a perfect Mary Sue in the form of Zoey, who is wonderful and has loads of boys after her etc etc

Betrayed by P.C. and Kristin Cast - Yep, I went ahead and read the second one - despite my feelings about the first. And it all just got much, much worse. Not impressed. And, with the overt sexual themes, not terribly impressed that youngsters are reading it...

Now tackling Rosebush by Michele Jaffe and you might even get a full review of that!

The other thing keeping me away from reading/blogging is that I have started to knit again, and I'm enjoying it hugely. I have two projects on the go - a lovely chunky red jumper for me, and a soft baby blanket for Mieneke's second little bundle of joy. Those are definitely keeping me busy.

What have y'all been up to?

Thursday 13 October 2011

Conjugal Rites by Paul Magrs (review by Steve Aryan)

This is the third outing for the dynamic duo of old biddies, Brenda and Effie, where they battle the supernatural in Whitby, and then go for a nice cup of tea and a slice of walnut cake in the local cafe. This time around the supernatural menace is something much closer to home and a lot more personal for Brenda. Book 2 ended on a bit of a cliffhanger when Brenda received a note from her betrothed, the person for who she was originally created in the literal sense. Her Frank is coming back and he wants them to be together forever and won't take no for an answer. But Brenda is a modern woman and after many years of moving from place to place she has finally found a place she can call home. She doesn’t want to move on but she doesn’t think he is just going to go away because she asks him nicely.

As if that wasn't enough to worry about the town seems to be turning against Brenda and other locals because of a new late night radio show run by the creepy Mr Danby. Gossip and rumours are abound and the ever glitzy and sparkly Christmas Hotel and its humongous evil owner, Mrs Claus, seems to be the nexus of all the goings on. A convention of retired and wrinkly superheroes in costume with rubbish powers adds even more fuel to the fire and by this point I was just waiting for someone to strike a match. The result was very colourful as anticipated, but the story went in a very different direction to the one I expected which was a good thing, as I don’t like it when I can predict what will happen next.

This novel was different to the previous two books in a number of ways. Firstly the novel is more traditional in that it is set around one story, whereas the previous books were split into different sections or connected novellas and each had its own mystery. That isn’t a complaint at all as there is a lot of to sink your teeth into with this book and I’ve been waiting for Frank to turn up at some point ever since I found out who Brenda really is.

The story is also more fantastical than the others. It dips into it and then just throws the characters into it head first. The supernatural and bizarre has always been present and quite often its written as quite tongue in cheek. Brenda and Effie both have a certain amount of experience with it, but they’re also quite dismissive. They have a duty, but they don’t like any shenanigans spoiling the peace and quiet of their lives and their schedules. They want to deal with it as quickly and quietly as possible, without attracting undue attention to themselves, so life can go back to normal again.

Whereas the previous books were dotted with nice Easter Eggs from literature and history, Conjugal Rites leans more heavily on what has been set up before in the series. There are still a few little nods here and there, but it felt to me like a very different sort of book. I think this story was one that had to happen at some point, and without spoiling anything, I’m glad to say I didn’t see the end coming. This isn’t the last book in the series but it’s clear from this point forward the foundations of the series have shifted a bit. Effie previously had a man-friend and that nearly ended in disaster and it upset her friendship with Brenda for a time. This time it’s Brenda’s turn to rock the boat and I have a feeling both of their beaus will end up coming between them.

Overall this was a funny, dark, silly, giddy and laugh out loud book. It’s incredibly rare that I ever laugh out loud while reading, but Paul Magrs does it at least once every book in this series. A wonderful, light hearted and very enjoyable read.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

A Big Welcome to Steve Aryan

I'm really sad about the news over at Walker of Worlds - Mark is a great friend of mine and his is one of the blogs I've had in my RSS feed since the early days of starting out blogging. Hope you feel better soon, Mark, and come back to us refreshed!

Having said that, it also means very GOOD NEWS for me and my blog readership! I have offered a home to Steve Aryan, for his reviews of comics and novels. It's a great fit for me, since I *never* cover comics and I know some of you lot read them avidly.

So, please give a massive welcome to Steve!

Sunday 9 October 2011

What's Your Favourite?

On Friday I had an amazingly retro evening, watching some classic cartoons (which are improved immeasurably by a glass of wine, I found :-p) and I thought that it would be a good idea to share 10 of my absolute favourites. I'm desperate for you to share yours too! Leave me some love in the comments.

10) Dungeons and Dragons

So... the cartoon that kicked off all the fun was Dungeons and Dragons. I loved it when I was younger. It doesn't quite stand up to how I felt about it from childhood (as in, cried when I missed it! I was very young) but it was still incredibly entertaining. I can never decide whether Uni was inspired or the natural forerunner of such comedy sidekicks as Jar Jar Binks. And Eric was horribly whiny and annoying!

9) The Dreamstone

This was actually one that my brother was obsessed by. I considered myself too sophisticated for cartoons, but soon discovered it wasn't so as I became sucked into the story. It is basically a fantasy story in cartoon form, with good and evil, awesome characters who develop through the course of the series and some sterling animation. (This is a long clip but totally worth it!)

8) The Frog Song

Prepare for an earworm. This is a one-off rather than a proper cartoon series or anything, but I ADORE it!

7) The Trapdoor

I guess technically not a cartoon, but still animation of a kind. My whole family would watch an episode of this immediately after dinner. It is gently amusing, with some great little characters and insanely imaginative monsters. My four year old nephew is just beginning to get into this and I'm so pleased.

6) The Family Ness

Another that I watched some of on Friday evening. This is impossibly Scottish, but very charming and still something I'd happily watch casually *grins* And this song is just a joy! Altogether... "You can knock it, you can rock it...."

5) She-Ra

So, my brother loved He-Man, but I was always about She-Ra! She was just awesome. Kickass, clever, beautiful - what more do you want from your heroines as a child?! Oh, and I loved the horse Swift Wind. I am all about the horses... "For the honour of Greyskull!"

4) My Little Pony

Told you it was about the horses - adored this programme - and the movie is absolute quality (*tries to keep a straight face*) I had hundreds of the toys, collected the sticker albums, subscribed to the monthly magazine, was part of the fanclub. I lived and breathed My Little Pony for many years *nostalgic*

3) Thundercats

Couldn't do a list of fave cartoons without including Thundercats, really, could I? It was a massive part of my childhood, and one cartoon that EVERYONE seems to mention as something they used to watch. Who was your favourite character? I loved the twins.

2) Tom and Jerry

A bit more old school this, but classic Tom and Jerry is one of my feelgood watches. It is so clever, so musically brilliant. Both characters are amazingly drawn and my sides have ached while watching it - yep, proper full on belly laughs.

Enjoy seven wonderful minutes of The Cat Concerto, one of the all-time best works of animation...

1) Transformers

And, finally, my very favourite cartoon. We're not talking the series or owt like that. We are talking the animated movie. I love every single second. Everything about it. But one man said it all way better than I ever could - check out this post by James Long: 10 reasons why Transformers the Movie is PURE AWESOME!

Those are my ten beloved cartoons. Which did I miss, in your view? Which do you miss watching? Which of these do you agree with?

Friday 7 October 2011

BSFA Award Nominations

Okay, this is a timely reminder! After the BFS Awards discussion that has been taking place this week, it seems appropriate to remind readers of this blog that the BSFA nominations are open, enabling those members of the BSFA to nominate those works that they believe should be celebrated.

Here are all the details:

What are the BSFA Awards?

The BSFA awards are presented annually by the British Science Fiction Association, based on a vote of BSFA members and – in recent years – members of the British national science fiction convention Eastercon. They are fan awards that not only seek to honour the most worthy examples in each category, but to promote the genre of science fiction, and get people reading, talking about and enjoying all that contemporary science fiction has to offer.

The 2011 awards will be held at Olympus 2012, The 2012 Eastercon, 6th - 9th April 2012
Radisson Edwardian Hotel, Heathrow, London, UK.

Who can nominate?

You may nominate a work if YOU:
Are a member of the BSFA


Send or give your nominations to the Awards Administrator to arrive by midnight on January 13th 2012.

We are officially open to receive nominations for the 2011 BSFA Awards from September 2011… but did you know you can send in your nominations now? As soon as the previous year’s ceremony is over and done with, I am happy to accept your nominations for the next year at any time. So, you don’t have to try to remember about that great story you just read, or the wonderful piece of art you just saw. Tell us about the things that impress you, and come September we’ll make sure eligible nominations are included on the list of nominated works on the website.

What are the categories?

The Best Novel award is open to any novel-length work of science fiction or fantasy that has been published in the UK for the first time in 2011. (Serialised novels are eligible, provided that the publication date of the concluding part is in 2011). If a novel has been previously published elsewhere, but it hasn't been published in the UK until 2011, it is eligible.

The Best Short Fiction award is open to any shorter work of science fiction or fantasy, up to and including novellas (40,000 words or under), first published in 2011 (in a magazine, in a book, in audio format, or any electronic or web-based format). This includes short fiction published in books and magazines published outside the UK

The Best Artwork award is open to any single science fictional or fantastic image that first appeared in 2011. Again, provided the artwork hasn't been published before 2011 it doesn't matter where it appears.

The Best Non-Fiction award is open to any written work about science fiction and/or fantasy which appeared in its current form in 2011. Whole collections comprised entirely of unrevised work that has been published elsewhere previous to 2011 are ineligible.

Subject to these other rules, you may nominate as many works in each category as you wish. You may not make multiple nominations for a single work.The shortlists for these four awards will normally comprise the five works in each category that receive the most individual nominations by the deadline. In the event of a tie for fifth place, the number of shortlisted works may be reduced to four or increased to six, for example, as appropriate. Works published by the BSFA, or in association with the BSFA, are ineligible for a BSFA award.

Not sure if the work you want to nominate fits the above criteria? Don’t worry, the definitions are kept as open as possible to allow for multifarious multimedia interpretation… if you’re not sure, just ask!

Please do not vote for your own work.

Please return your nominations to Donna Scott, BSFA Awards Administrator awards@bsfa.co.uk / 11 Stanhope Road, Northampton NN2 6JU

Got all that? Great! If you're a member of the BSFA, then get voting. Use your voice. And if you're not a member of the BSFA, then you ought to consider it. You are supporting one of the genre constitutions, and you get snazzy magazines and such throughout the year.

Personally, I'm thinking about nominating Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

What would you nominate?

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Haven't the British Fantasy Society Awards always been a bit odd?

Okay, so there is currently a massive uproar from the awards of the BFS, held at Fantasycon 2011 last weekend. The most detailed explanation of this hoo-ha can be found here, written by Steve Jones. I can totally understand the issues that are being faced by the BFS, and that a shake-up of the awards is overdue, but I can't help feeling that the awards have always been...well, a little odd compared to others.

Here is a list of the award winners for Best Novel since the BFS Awards came into being:

2004 - Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
2005 - The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower by Stephen King
2006 - Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
2007 - Dusk by Tim Lebbon
2008 - The Grin of the Dark by Ramsey Campbell
2009 - Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney (pen-name for Graham Joyce)
2010 - One by Conrad Williams
2011 - Demon Dance by Sam Stone

In my view, when looking at that list, Sam's win suddenly doesn't look quite as out of left-field as it did to me before checking out the other winners. After all, novels from small presses have been celebrated in the past. There has always been a tendency towards the weird and wonderful and niche in the awards (barring perhaps Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman). Although most of these are celebrated authors, with great talents, it would be strange to see the same names on any other awards being handed out. Just for contrast (although admittedly of only small value, because of the differences between them), here are the Best Novel winners from the Hugos from the same period:

2004 - Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
2005 - Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
2006 - Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
2007 - Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
2008 - The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
2009 - The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
2010 - The City and the City by China MiƩville
2011 - Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

How can two awards for Best Novel reveal such inordinately different names? How can the BFS Awards (British FANTASY Awards) have revealed such a list of horror writers as their preferred talent?

Just for fun, let's also throw in the winners for the World Fantasy Award:

2004 - Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
2005 - Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
2006 - Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
2007 - Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe
2008 - Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
2009 - The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford
2010 - The City and the City by China MiƩville
2011 - ????

Once again, the BFS Awards have shown themselves to be distinctly odd with respect to the particular winner they've picked (although, again, I state that some of these differences are thanks to the assumed ineligibility of some of these winners compared to the BFS Awards).

Having said that, let's look at some of the fantasy novels that have been published and were eligible in the same year that Sam Stone's Demon Dance was declared top dog of fantasy novels (bearing in mind that I cannot easily find any reference to what makes a novel eligible, so I'm guessing it would be by a British author and published within 2011):

- The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
- Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
- The Hammer by K J Parker
- The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
- The Neon Court by Kate Griffin
- Savage City by Sophia McDougall
- By Light Alone by Adam Roberts
- Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper
- The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove
- Corvus by Paul Kearney

I have to say, if I were Sam Stone I would be feeling embarrassed to have been handed an award when the above weren't even shortlisted... (in fact, I see that she has been moved to return her award, which is incredibly fair of her but also a damning indictment towards a system that allowed it to be awarded in the first place).

But is this Sam's fault? Only to the extent that she lobbied her fans to vote in a system that allowed them to vote. The first past the post system utilised by the BFS means that Sam could fairly easily drum up enough support in an award that is notorious for not receiving very many votes.

For me, the issue is not so much the winner, but is the longlist and shortlist itself - far too heavy on horror, small press and niche authors - and the lack of support from the members. Over the years the members must have grumbled each year at the Best Novel winner, and yet NOTHING has been done to make extensive changes to date. Therefore, in my mind, the fault lies with the majority who don't vote and then bitch about the winners afterwards. In my mind, if you have the opportunity to vote in an award/election/anything then you do so otherwise you forego bitching afterwards.

Personally, I think that positives are already emerging from this matter - although Sam has been put into a vile position, and although some harsh words have been passed across the divide between the two camps, it looks as though new members are being encouraged to join the BFS and effect change by nominating and voting next year. I certainly plan to do so. So here is the call to arms: if you've even been remotely interested in the Awards handed out this year and feel it could and should have been different, get yourself a membership of the BFS and start making a difference. Next year, the BFS should be handing out awards that mean something from a massively strong shortlist. We have one of the finest communities of fantasy writers in the world and need to use the awards to celebrate that fact.

The Ugly Sister by Jane Fallon

When it comes to genes life's a lottery . . .

As Abi would the first to know. She has spent her life in the shadow of her stunningly beautiful, glamorous older sister Cleo.

Headhunted as model when she was sixteen, Cleo has been all but lost to Abi for the last twenty years, with only a fleeting visit or brief email to connect them. So when Abi is invited to spend the summer in Cleo's large London home with her sister's perfect family, she can't bring herself to say no. Despite serious misgivings. Maybe Cleo is finally as keen as Abi to regain the closeness they shared in their youth?

But Abi is in for a shock. Soon she is left caring for her two young, bored and very spoilt nieces and handsome, unhappy brother-in-law - while Cleo plainly has other things on her mind. As Abi moves into her sister's life, a cuckoo in the nest, she wrestles with uncomfortable feelings.

Could having beauty, wealth and fame lead to more unhappiness than not having them? Who in the family really is the ugly sister?

The Ugly Sister by Jane Fallon is an examination on how and to what extent a person's looks can affect them and those around them. I appreciated the message contained within the pages (that beauty is only skin deep and true beauty comes from within), but felt that Fallon rather over-emphasised the matter over the course of the novel.

Due to the message she was conveying, it was hard to like a number of the characters within the pages. I'm used to more character growth in my chick lit novels, whereas The Ugly Sister showcased some incredibly one-dimensional people. Cleo, one of the sisters, is the main culprit. I actually dreaded reading more about her complete self-obsession, and I wondered why on earth Abi would be so hellbent on trying to work on a reconciliation. Cut your losses, girl! (that's certainly what I would be saying to a friend if she was in the same situation as Abi...)

In addition to this, I felt deeply uncomfortable with one of the romantic frissons that takes place in The Ugly Sister. For me, it was immoral in many ways. Fallon tried to deal with it as well as possible, but I just felt that it was an unnecessary part of the story. All of the rest of the story could have been just as effective (maybe more so?) if that romance had been excluded.

I did like the children, and their journey through The Ugly Sister. It was delightful watching them regain a sense of childlike joy, and become as children really should be. I did like the idea of the elder, Tara, deciding not to follow in her mother's footsteps by becoming a model - but I think it might have been more empowering had she decided to become a model, but remain grounded about the realities of what beauty actually means for a person.

One aspect that I thought Fallon dealt with well was the idea of a single mother who has concentrated so much on the bringing up and development of her child that she has neglected her own development, and has no real idea how to fill her life when that child leaves. For me, this was incredibly realistic, and I enjoyed reading Abi's thoughts on how to deal with it, and the dangers of becoming stuck in a job that ultimately didn't fulfil.

This, however, was a small part of a novel that I found to be littered with flaws. I didn't like the characters. I didn't enjoy the breaking of the fourth wall during narrative. I didn't like the central romance. And I didn't like being bludgeoned by the message that beauty is only skin-deep (seriously, I've seen Disney being subtler on the same matter). So, for me, The Ugly Sister is a pass. It was only briefly entertaining and not really worth the price of entry.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

September Retrospective

A Look Back at September

This was the month where I let go of my blog for two weeks and headed away on vacation. I left you with plenty of guest posts, which looked to be received in a great way. Have to confess, I was ready to have such a long break from blogging - it did me loads of good, and helped to bring me back refreshed. Although my blogging might start to take a backseat to real life for a couple of months. My hockey season has started and I need to get back into training. My dance exam needs a LOT of practice! With all this in mind, and with the sheer number of books currently squeezed into my shelves, I have decided to decline all review copies. I simply can't do them justice and I'm way more stressed than I should be about reading. I am still reviewing - a lot of people seemed to think I was quitting altogether - but I will be choosing my own books in a guiltfree manner.


A slight dip in form, with only nine books completed, but, honestly, my two week vacation did not allow much time at all for sitting and reading.

73) Dangerous Waters by Juliet E McKenna
74) Shelter by Harlan Coben
75) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
76) Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith
77) Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
78) Getting Away With It by Julie Cohen
79) The Portal by Alan Zendell (self-published)
80) VIII by H M Castor
81) Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

- A little more balanced this month, with 6 books by women and 3 by men - over the year, though, the women are absolutely dominating.
- 3 YA (historical, fantasy and thriller); 1 chick lit; 1 steampunk sci fi; 1 straight sci fi and 3 fantasy.
- A terribly rare month for me where all nine novels tackled were review copies.

Best Book of September

I simply can't choose between these two books - they will be competing for which of them takes away the 'Best Book of the Year' title. The first is:

The second is:

I'm dropping the Pages Covered and Places Visited features for this month.

Plans for October

I have just now dug out all of my Black Library titles. There are a whole heap that I love the look of but have never managed to get to until now. Expect to see a large number of this featuring over the next month and onwards. Apart from that I am deliberately making no plans and just enjoying my reading!

Over To You

How did your September go? What did you read? What did you get up to? Spill!

Monday 3 October 2011

Fantasycon 2011

At the weekend I attended Fantasycon 2011 in Brighton at the Royal Albion Hotel (one of the dreaded Brittania chain...) Last year I was also at Fantasycon in Nottingham - and I had a few issues with the content of the convention. I was a little worried that this convention would again be all about the horror - and I was thrilled to be proved entirely wrong.

The schedule warmly embraced every facet of genre - fantasy, SF, horror, comics, YA. Last year I struggled to find panels to attend - this year I was full of woe about this panel clashing with that reading, or that guest of honour being put against that book launch. No complaint about the scheduling - there was just so damn much that I wanted to see. Add to this the fact that the organisers also decided to throw in a burlesque and a disco, and Fantasycon 2011 might be one of the better conventions I've been to.

In the end, despite my grand intentions, I only attended two readings and one panel (and I do regret that - but talking with all the very cool people in attendance seemed more important at the time!) I saw Lou Morgan and Anne Lyle reading from their forthcoming novels - both did an excellent job to rooms that were reduced to standing room only.

The panel - The Rise of YA - actually made me a little angry. The panellists made numerous disparaging comments about Twilight and other novels of that ilk, which seems curious regarding they also write for the people who are reading and enjoying Twilight. There didn't seem to be much knowledge or appreciation for the YA scene - it seemed as though the panellists haven't read much in the way of YA since Judy Blume *sad* There was no mention of Monsters of Men hitting the Arthur C Clarke shortlist. There was no talk of the fact that the YA shelves are simply full of books with exceptionally strong female protagonists, presenting a wonderful example for teenage girls growing up. There was no discussion of the fact that YA right now is mostly about celebrating the fact that we are different, but that that's okay. In my mind YA is forward-thinking, dynamic, progressive and an area that writers should be desperate to be included in - rather than something to be looked down upon, and considered to be only about Twilight. But enough of that...!

The rest of the time I spent nestled in a corner of the bar, talking to many fantastic people about such diverse and important topics as alligators, magnetic dwarves and leaping cacti. Yes, Fantasycon 2011 lived up to the madness and joy of other excellent conventions.

Thanks to everyone for the excellent company, and to the organisers for such a tremendous job. This was a good one!

VIII by H M Castor

VIII is the story of Hal: a young, handsome, gifted warrior, who believes he has been chosen to lead his people. But he is plagued by the ghosts of his family's violent past and, once he rises to power, he turns to murder and rapacious cruelty. He is Henry VIII.

The copy for VIII states that it will do "for Henry what Hilary Mantel did for Thomas Cromwell - VIII is Wolf Hall for the teen and crossover market." I don't dispute that VIII most certainly introduces the life of VIII, but I have definite misgivings about the novel.

Key amongst these is the pacing of the novel. Over half of VIII tackled the early life of Henry and his marriage to Catherine, after the death of his brother. The remaining half showed the rest of his reign and the other five wives. In a novel that only just tips 300 pages, that is far too much to try and squeeze into the final half of the book. It made for a very rushed narrative, where Castor was unable to really showcase the way in which Hal changed from charming young man to absolute tyrant. When this came after such a leisurely opening, it caused me to catch my breath. It also meant that whole swathes of Henry's reign were not even touched upon - the whole monasteries malarkey wasn't even mentioned, and I believe this could and should have been added to the narrative.

The other facet of VIII that I didn't enjoy much was the ghost story/horror element. You have here one of the most famous personalities of all time; one of the most horrific tyrants; one of the most boisterous and downright larger-than-life monarchs - VIII didn't need any embellishments of this sort. It could have stood on its own two feet simply telling the crazy story of this King who beheaded two of his wives and divorced two others; destroyed the monasteries and introduced himself as the Head of the Church. Who needs ghosts when you have all of that actual material?

Lastly on the negative front, I found the style of writing a little odd - first person, but in a present tense e.g. "It's a beautiful morning, and the sunlight makes a halo around my mother's figure as she walks." Because this is such an unusual narrative choice in the novels I read, I found it jarring and that feeling never entirely left me.

Despite this failings, I still found myself entertained enough to read through VIII. Skipping the 'boring' bits and focusing on the soap opera style relationships and tensions of Henry's life definitely made it an interesting read. Castor has a nice flair for narrative (aside from the POV choice) and, for younger readers, it provides a good stepping on point for historical fiction. It has enough historical accuracy to appeal, and presents a decent perspective of Henry and how he became the tyrant we all know.

VIII is a decent stab at historical fiction for younger readers - and, in fact, one of the main failings was not being longer, so that Castor could do justice to the life of Henry VIII. Having said that, through personal preference I'm not sure I could read a longer novel from first person present tense perspective! Castor effectively showcases the monster that Henry is believed to have been, from arrogant young boy through to a man who truly believes he is God's hand on earth. An effective, although rushed, novel.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Floor to Ceiling Books No Longer Accepting Review Copies

The title of the post says it all.

For a few reasons, Floor to Ceiling Books can no longer accept review copies of books.

I will be emailing all the publicists that I know to communicate this.

I want to say a massive, MASSIVE thanks to all those publicists who took a punt on a blog that was only just starting out, and who have continued to support me over the last twenty one months.

I am changing my review policy to reflect this.

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

What if Cleopatra didn’t die in 30 BC alongside her beloved Mark Antony? What if she couldn’t die? What if she became immortal? Queen of Kings is the first instalment in an epic, epoch-spanning story of one woman’s clash with the Roman Empire and the gods of Egypt in a quest to save everything she holds dear.

As Octavian Caesar (later Augustus) and his legions march into Alexandria, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, summons Sekhmet, the goddess of Death and Destruction, in a desperate attempt to resurrect her husband, who has died by his own hand, and save her kingdom. But this deity demands something in return: Cleopatra's soul. Against her will, Egypt's queen becomes a blood-craving, shape-shifting immortal: a not-quite-human manifestation of a goddess who seeks to destroy the world. Battling to preserve something of her humanity, Cleopatra pursues Octavian back to Rome - she desires revenge, she yearns for her children - and she craves blood...

It is a dangerous journey she must make. She will confront witches, mythic monsters, the gods of ancient Greece and Rome, and her own, warring nature. She will kill but she will also find mercy. She will raise an extraordinary army to fight her enemies, and she will see her beloved Antony again. But to save him from the endless torment of Hades, she must make a devastating sacrifice.

Queen of Kings, by Maria Dahvana Headley, should have been a book that I adored. It has a fantastic premise; it involves one of the strongest female characters from history; it has both Egyptian and Roman flavour (some of my favourite periods of history); and it includes a cover quote from Neil Gaiman. I should have been proclaiming my love of this book from the rooftops - and yet...

I liked it, but didn't love it. Headley's prose is dark and elegant, and her imagination is vivid. The tale comes across very much as an historical epic such as The Odyssey or The Iliad. It is fantastical and gripping in many ways, but at times I found myself turning the pages only because I had read so far and ought to at least finish, which is not what I envisaged when I started Queen of Kings.

Despite the fact that Queen of Kings is deemed to be meticulously researched, I found that Headley didn't imbue her writing with a true feeling of the time period. Egypt could be exchanged wholesale for Rome, with no issues. I didn't see any of the colour and attitude of the Egyptian people. Certain historical facts seemed to be thrown in just because Headley had discovered it, not because it fit that particular scene. I especially disliked a couple of situations where characters told other characters myths and legends that were incredibly dry and felt as though they'd been taken from Mythology 101.

Added to this, I completely failed to engage with Cleopatra as a character. Now, this is a Queen who ruled at a time when women were deemed only fit for childbearing. She seduced famous generals of the time. She was romantically associated with two of THE most famous Roman personalities: Mark Antony and Julius Caesar. This is a woman who doesn't need any real dressing up to be fabulous and interesting and someone who should leap from the page. Unfortunately, Cleopatra in Queen of Kings is relatively lifeless (and I don't intend any pun there...) I couldn't understand her motivations at all - at one point she seems entirely focused on Mark Antony, then suddenly her children are what she is concerned about.

Like I say, Headley's writing is very skillful and hence I'm sure there are others who will adore this dark fantasy about Cleopatra - in fact, this review details many of the plus points from another reviewer's point of view. For me, the characterisation of this famous queen was lacklustre and I didn't "feel" the historical aspect. If you have any interest in Ancient Egypt, then do yourself a favour - pick up River God by Wilbur Smith and avoid Queen of Kings.

Saturday 1 October 2011

The Portal by Alan Zendell (self-published)

Harry Middleton is born in an America staggered by a century of decline, a time of medical and technological marvels beyond the reach of most people in a shattered economy. Pessimism and despair are more common than optimism and hope, and a desperate government bets the future on space. The lunar and Martian colonies have not provided the hoped-for salvation, so despite an angry, disillusioned public, the first star mission will soon be launched.

Harry is a special child, smart, precocious, his only confidante an embittered grandfather. When the old man dies, Harry is lost, until he meets Lorrie. At thirteen, they bond, certain they’ll spend their lives together, but a year later, she disappears, and Harry is desolate.

With help from his friend Carlos, Harry begins a quest to find her, but he quickly learns how powerless he is. Even the police lack the resources to help. Harry and Carlos can only depend on themselves and each other. An unlikely duo, Harry is an academic prodigy while Carlos is a stud athlete. Realizing that school and baseball are their tickets out of the morass they’re caught in, they inspire each other to greatness in both.

Trying to move on with his life, Harry has a college sweetheart, but as long as Lorrie haunts him, he knows the relationship is doomed. He gains celebrity and wealth, but the thing Harry wants most, finding and saving Lorrie from whatever fate took her from him remains beyond his reach. And always, in the background, are the deteriorating state of the country and the coming star missions.

The Portal by Alan Zendell is one of the most smoothly written self-published novels I have experienced. Zendell's writing is of a good quality, and there are very few mistakes that registered while I was reading my .mobi copy of this book. He has a very natural quality to his prose that kept me entertained throughout.

I enjoyed the story a great deal, but felt that there could have been a great deal more emphasis on the futuristic aspects and the drive to inhabit other planets in a bid to escape the mess created on this world. Zendell pitched a good idea here, but didn't fully explore it. Rather, we have more of a psychological thriller - as Lorrie disappears from Harry's life, and we discover the emotional impacts this will have on his future. This saddens me a little, because I would have preferred much more concerning the state of Earth and the reasons for looking towards the stars. The areas of The Portal that dealt with this really were of high quality, and presented a dark future of what might happen to our own world.

The areas of the novel that I didn't enjoy concerned the "tell, don't show" aspect of Harry's relationships. The novel is written from a first person perspective, so we hear all of his agonising, all of his thoughts and feelings - and yet it never felt very natural. The sex scenes were there more for show, it seemed, than as a way of driving the plot forwards.

Despite this, I would recommend taking a look at The Portal as a decent example of what self-publishing can achieve. Zendell is a writer with talent - one of those who probably would be able to gain a publishing deal with future novels if he continues to turn out work of this standard. Definitely worth reading if you are sceptical about the quality of self-published novels.

Friday 30 September 2011

Blog Tour: VIII by Harriet Castor

Today I am pleased to be part of the blog tour for VIII by Harriet Castor. The other tour participants are as follows, so make sure you check any you might have missed:

(Click to embiggen!)

This is the blurb/info as lifted from Amazon UK - VIII is published on 1st October 2011!

VIII is the story of Hal: a young, handsome, gifted warrior, who believes he has been chosen to lead his people. But he is plagued by the ghosts of his family's violent past and, once he rises to power, he turns to murder and rapacious cruelty. He is Henry VIII. The Tudors have always captured the popular imagination, but in VIII, Henry is presented fresh for a new generation. H M Castor does for Henry what Hilary Mantel did for Thomas Cromwell - VIII is Wolf Hall for the teen and crossover market. The contemporary, original writing style will have broad appeal and VIII brings the tension of a psychological thriller and the eeriness of a ghost story to historical fiction.

Finally, a very warm welcome to Harriet...

Writing my new book VIII, a YA novel told through the eyes of Henry VIII, took a huge amount of research. I’m not complaining – I loved every bit of it. But today I wanted to tell you a little about some of the more… well, unusual aspects of the research process.

You’d expect me to have read great tomes on Tudor history, to have studied documents, visited palaces and consulted experts on everything from costumes to archery techniques, wouldn’t you? Yes, you’d be right.

But how about my endless obsessive watching of Elton John videos (or rather, two in particular)? How about my mining of Youtube for clips of Robert Downey Jr and John Malkovich? How about studying a huge in-depth biography of Elvis Presley?

No, I’m not mad. Don’t start backing away. Look, I’m a trained historian. Cambridge University, BA, First Class – honest! Let me rummage for my certificate…

You see, I wanted to steep myself in the detail of research, the known facts, the contemporary maps, the historians’ theories, the politics, the policies – all that. But I needed to find the emotional reality of Henry’s story too. This, for me, is a very different process. Because although historical research enables you to make the past vivid and present to yourself, at the same time it highlights the differences between the past and your own world. This is, of course, very necessary – you need to be aware of these differences, work with them, dig into them for insights. But, but. At the same time, because I was writing VIII in the first person, speaking in Henry’s voice, I needed to forget those differences and bring Henry closer… I needed to become him. And above all, I needed to get that Holbein image – of Henry standing arms akimbo, bearded and jewelled – out of my head. I could not inhabit an icon. I had to make Henry a human being.

Take, if you can, a couple of minutes to watch the video below. It’s a fantastic film made by the artist Sam Taylor-Wood of Robert Downey Jr lip-synching to Elton John’s song I Want Love. Downey is alone in palatial surroundings; to me the film speaks viscerally, immediately, of the loneliness of power. And of how easily it can push you into strange states of mind. Downey – or Henry, as he was to me when I was writing VIII – looks hard yet vulnerable, cold yet emotional… and dangerous. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufbexgPyeJQ

Completely by chance, another video I found hugely useful was also an Elton John one – here it’s Justin Timberlake doing the lip-synching, to This Train Don’t Stop. It’s a brilliant portrayal of the isolation and disconnection of the constantly accompanied ‘star’ (as Henry was in his own day). How, it makes me ask, can such a person remain emotionally undamaged? What madness must it be to live in that situation and have no one (pretty much) to check you, to have life-and-death power over everyone around you? Surely that sort of power must be a hellish, lonely trap? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsuHAn54wPs

When Henry was young he was handsome, charismatic, ridiculously talented. Constantly surrounded by a gang of male friends and hangers-on. Yet, inside, he was in many respects child-like and insecure. Here, Peter Guralnick’s monumental and brilliant 2-volume biography of Elvis came in. Of course Elvis didn’t develop into the monster that Henry became – but, in a radically different time and place, he shared so many of Henry’s natural advantages, and he did manifestly fail to cope with his power and success. How could his story not be relevant to my study of Henry?

John Malkovich’s meltdown in the Coen brothers’ film Burn After Reading put flesh, for me, on Henry’s rage, while a particular scene with Robert Downey Jr and Nicole Kidman in the film Fur epitomised one of Henry’s relationships. Another scene with Robert Downey (him again! My casting for Henry, you see) in The Singing Detective conjured Henry’s grief – these were visual, emotional talismans that I came back to time and time again as I was writing.

The real creative alchemy happens inside the writer, of course. It’s no use trying to stitch together moments from other works – and I don’t in any way mean to suggest that that’s what I was doing. These film and video talismans inspired me as a piece of old glass or a walk by the sea or a painting might inspire… and I have no notion whether anyone else can see, in what I watched, what they signified for me. Perhaps it’s too deeply personal. But I hope, in reading VIII, that you might appreciate the results.

Twitter: @HMCastor

Thanks so much for stopping by, Harriet!

Getting Away With It by Julie Cohen

After years of misbehaving in the quaint country village where she grew up with her identical twin sister Lee, Liza escaped to LA for a thrilling life as a stunt woman. But when her job brings her a little too close to death for comfort, Liza has to go back to the one place she couldn’t wait to get away from—home.

Only, when Liza arrives she discovers that her seemingly perfect sister has run off, leaving behind their difficult, ailing mother, a family ice-cream business that’s frozen in time and a dangerously attractive boyfriend. And what’s more, everyone thinks Liza is Lee. This is Liza’s one chance to see how it feels to be the good twin. She might be getting away with it, but there’s no getting away from facing up to who she really is…

This seems like such a frivolous novel to begin with - the very girly front cover, the identity swap of the twin sisters at the centre of the novel, the stuntwoman job of Liza - that I felt as though it would be a throwaway book; one of those you read and then instantly forget. Getting Away With It is far from this - in fact, I think it will prove to be pretty unforgettable.

Cohen does incredibly well because at the start of the novel I really didn't take to Liza at all - she was selfish, prickly, arrogant and generally horrendous to everyone she comes into contact with. Lee, on the other hand, is sweet and vulnerable and anxious to please - I found her to be a little bit like a doormat in the way she allowed people to treat her. Both sisters were clearly trapped in places that they didn't want to be, and the absolute joy of this novel is watching them develop and change and open their wings. Liza's journey is by far the most satisfying - her growth as a character really is brilliant - but it was also lovely seeing Lee start to take charge of her life.

Getting Away With It also contains some incredibly touching moments. Liza and Lee's mother has Alzheimer's, and her change in personality and her confusion and impatience with her disease caused me to choke up a few times. This ensures that the novel never feels frivolous.

Add to this the fact that Cohen has done her work concerning twins - she emphasises a number of times that, no matter the connection between twins, they are always two whole and unique people rather than two halves of the same whole. I absolutely love this, since I imagine that often twins must become very tired of being compared to each other and being treated in the same manner.

The only part of the novel that made me feel a little uncomfortable was the Will situation. Will is the aristocratic boyfriend of Lee at the start of the novel, and I felt a little bit odd that he and Liza strike sparks, especially considering he has already slept with Lee. Having said that, Cohen does write a very, very good sex scene!

Getting Away With It is begging to be made into a movie - it's written beautifully, and I can easily imagine a film about Liza and Lee. I've even entertained myself wondering who could possibly play the twins!

I absolutely loved Getting Away With It. It was a long luxurious novel with plentiful character development and truly lovely writing. In the future I will be reading any of Cohen's output. She is that rare creature - someone who can write a novel that becomes more than just a particular genre; who writes a book that should be tried by anyone. Don't be put off by the girly colour; this is not just a chick lit novel, it is a damn good yarn. Highly recommended.

Thursday 29 September 2011

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words?

I posted the following cover artwork on Twitter and asked people what genre they believed it belonged to:

The general consensus was 'crime' or 'thriller' and I confess that this was my first thought on seeing the cover.

I have, however, read this novel in an embryonic stage (submitted to Angry Robot Open Door Month, before being signed by Jo Fletcher Books - it's excellent!) and I would say it is distinctly horror.

Now, cover artwork is often a little bit of a minefield, in terms of getting it right - and here it seems as though Jo Fletcher Books have chosen to go with artwork that plays down the horror angle. Is this because horror really doesn't sell?

Or, on the other hand, are they trying to tap into some crossover appeal and beckon in the crime/thriller readers? In this case, they are going head to head with some real heavyweights and so A Cold Season might find itself disregarded.

I did find it very interesting to see people identify a whole genre by a piece of cover art i.e. crime. I worry, though, that the wrong readers will therefore pick up this novel. Honestly? I think that Alison Littlewood has been done a disservice with this generic cover and I would hope that people look beyond that to the novel inside.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages - not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers - beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor has received a great deal of pre-publication buzz - trailers, limited proofs and plenty of information. This often makes me a little concerned about whether the book can possibly live up to all my expectations. With the case of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I am pleased to say my expectations were absolutely surpassed - this is an exceptionally special book.

It tells the story of Karou, blue-haired artist living in Prague - ward of Brimstone, a chimaera who creates wishes in the world of Elsewhere. Karou has always felt as though she doesn't belong entirely in either world, and only comes to find out why when she meets akiva, one of the seraphim - and her mortal enemy.

From the very first page Taylor opens up a world of folklore and fairytale. The winter location of Prague feels 18th Century and very mystical - a perfect setting for the otherworldly Karou. She - with her tattoos and blue hair and artistic ability - is one of the strongest female protagonists I've seen in a YA novel for a while. She is strong yet vulnerable, talented, sardonic and brave.

Taylor's prose is exquisite. It is whimsical and delightful, playful and wistful by turn and kept me enthralled from first page to last. I just can't emphasise enough how beautiful it made this book to read.

The story feels a little like the weaving of a tapestry - thread after thread pulling together to create a glorious whole. I really enjoyed the unveiling of some of the mysteries - and I'm glad that some of them have been left to discover in the further two novels of the trilogy.

For me, one of the areas that most YA fails in is the way the romance develops and the manner in which the two protagonists fall in love - but here is was completely believable and organic, especially thanks to some of the reveals later in the story.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is something incredibly special. While watching it I felt the same way as I did when I watched Pan's Labyrinth. It's an Event and deserves the capitalisation. This really is not to be missed.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Guest Book Review: Ole from Weirdmage's Reviews takes a look at the Legends anthology

Ole from Weirdmage's Reviews lives in deepest darkest Norway, and reads an utterly obscene amount when he is not lurking on Twitter. He has become a great friend, and deigned to write a review for me. Settle in, guys, this one is an epic!


This anthology contains eleven stories from what was arguably the top fantasy series at the time it was published in 1998.

I’ve chosen to write a little review of every story in this anthology, including a paragraph about how it represents the series it is a part of. At the end there will be a short review/comment on the whole anthology.


This is a prequel to the first Dark Tower book, The Gunslinger.

Although unlike most of Stephen King’s writings, this still bears some of the hallmarks that make it distinctly a Stephen King story. Like many of King’s stories it is set in a post-apocalyptic world, but this is not our world - it is instead a world that mixes the fantasy and western genres.

The story itself reminded me a lot of H.P. Lovecraft. The reader knows all along that something is wrong, but we are seeing the events through the eyes of the main character, and are told it as he discovers it for himself.

If I had to classify this story into a SFF subgenre, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it horror.

King manages to put his own twist on several creatures that will seem very familiar to both fantasy and horror readers. It is a very good story and that it is mostly confined to one small location makes it stronger. The pace of the story is relatively slow, and there isn’t really much action, but for this story that is the strength. I’d go so far as to say that this is one of the better Stephen King short stories I have read.

Having read the first three books of King’s Dark Tower series I found this to be an almost perfect story. It is an interesting look at what Roland was up to before the events of The Gunslinger.

If you have yet to read anything of the Dark Tower series this is a good introduction. You get to know a bit about the series’ main character, and you are also given quite a good glimpse into the world that is the setting for the series.

NOTE: The two page introduction to the story contains spoilers for the Dark Tower books. If you don’t like spoilers, do yourself a favor and skip it.


Set in Lancre, this story stars the witches Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.

It’s basically a story about what happens when someone acts out of character and does things that are not expected of them. And anyone that has read the Witches series-within-a-series will understand, and perhaps even sympathize with the eerie feeling that the secondary characters have throughout this story.

It is a good standalone that shows us two of the most popular Discworld characters on their home turf.

There’s plenty that will make you laugh, or at least smile here. I think everyone will to some degree recognize some of the situation that Pratchett describes.

Pratchett shows that he can bring the same craft and imagination to a shorter story that he does to his novels. This is a great example of the master of humorous fantasy at his best.

For any fan of Pratchett’s Discworld books this story will probably be worth picking up the anthology for. If you have somehow managed to never read a Discworld book this would be a good place to start.


This story takes place over a generation before the events of the first book in the series, Wizard’s First Rule.

This is a bit hard for me to review because, having read the whole series, it is hard for me to really keep my feelings of this story separate from that. I’ve given it my best shot though, and I hope I have given this story a chance to stand on its own.

There’s quite a bit of Goodkind’s overwriting here. The story starts slowly mostly due to unnecessary descriptions that don’t really add anything to it, and I got a bit impatient for it to really get going. I can’t help but feel that this story will be somewhat confusing to anyone who is not familiar with the series, and that it does not really function as a standalone.

On the plus side there are a couple of twists towards the end of the story that are well handled, and that raises the quality of the story a little bit.

The first time I read this anthology, in 2002, it actually got me curious enough about the series to check it out. That is because there are some good ideas here and actually in the series itself too. Unfortunately Goodkind is not very good at handling his ideas, and his blatant preaching of right-wing politics and semi-fascist views on what is heroic tend to leave a slightly sick feeling in your stomach as you read his work.

This does showcase what you can expect from the first part of the Sword of Truth series, but I have to say that the series only gets worse as it progresses, and I can’t really suggest you start on the series unless you think this is one of the best stories you have ever read.


This story is quite different from the others in this anthology. Not only is it an alternative history story, but it is written in a close approximation of the style of fairy tales.

I actually found it quite hard to cope with the style and tone this story was written in; it was just too short for me to get used to it before it was finished.

The story follows many of the tropes you would expect from a fairy tale and the magic you find here has very little difference from what you usually find in folklore. The alternate history setting felt a bit wasted to me. It doesn’t really come into play except that it introduces a famous American, and gives a wholly different version of his legend. This was actually done in a very good fashion, so it might seem as if I am contradicting myself a bit here. But I still can’t let go of the feeling that the alternate history aspect could have been removed without it really affecting the story.

If you look at this story as a Young Adult, or perhaps Mid-Grade, fairy tale this is quite a good story despite the problems I had with getting into it. For fans of fairy tales, and those who have an interest in US history, I think this will be a good read.

Since I haven’t read any of The Tales of Alvin Maker books I can’t really comment on whether this story is a good representation of what to expect from the series. And as I didn’t really connect with the style of writing Card used here, I can’t say I feel very tempted to pick up the series in the future.


This story is set in the years after the novel Valentine Pontifex.

A murder at an archeological dig is the setting for this story starring the Pontifex Valentine. Although space travel exists in the Majipoor universe, and the different species here are aliens rather than fantasy races, it is a fantasy setting.

This is a very intriguing and varied story. One of the themes it tackles is reconciliation after a war between two different groups and the suspicions and prejudices that follow that.

As someone who has a stronger than average interest in archaeology the setting here is an immediate draw for me. Silverberg also manages to use the archaeological setting as more than just window-dressing, it is integral to the story as a whole.

The murder mystery part of the story is not very complex or original but I didn’t feel that this mattered much since what is really important here is the whole setting more than the story itself.

This should hit the right note for fans of crime, archaeology, and fantasy.

I have read the first Majipoor book, Lord Valentine’s Castle, and the story collection Majipoor Chronicles. This story makes for a good addition to those books, as well as a very good taste of what you can expect from the series. I feel like re-reading Lord Valentine’s Castle after reading this story.

NOTE: Both the introduction to the series, and the story itself contains spoilers for the Majipoor series.


This story starts out as what seems like a run-of-the-mill unrequited love-story, and with a male point of view character. After the first part it suddenly changes to the point of view of the women he was in love with, and he disappears completely from the narrative. What follows after that seems like a re-telling of Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites. However nothing really happens at all before the female main character saves the day without there being any real explanation as to how she managed to do this.

Dragonfly contains the beginning and ending of a standard “chosen one” fantasy tale, but it completely lacks the middle part of such a story. There is very little character building, no heroine’s journey and no discernible development of any power that is needed to fight evil. It is a bit like reading the chapter of The Lord of the Rings where Gandalf tells Frodo that the ring is the One Ring and then skipping ahead to Frodo and Sam exiting the cave on Mount Doom and congratulating themselves on a job well done –and that is all you get.

Added to the, in my opinion, extremely poor story you have a tendency from Le Guin to infodump and overwrite that made it a hard story to get through. I really wanted to skip ahead to the next story before I was halfway through this one. I couldn’t help but feel that the time I spent reading this story was a total waste.

About fifteen years ago I read the four Earthsea books in Norwegian. I don’t remember anything else about them than that I liked one of them and thought one of them was bad. I was actually planning to buy Wizard of Earthsea and see what I thought of it now. But after reading this story I have moved the Earthsea books to the bottom of my to-buy/read list, and I’m even a bit reluctant to start reading The Dispossessed by Le Guin, a book I have already bought because I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.

For me this story couldn’t have failed more than it did, and my suggestion is to skip it if you read this anthology. I don’t think it is worth reading.


Told in the first person, this is the tale of Breda. It encompasses several different threads without feeling in any way like it tries to do too much.

Breda tells the events of her fifteenth year with the wisdom and hindsight of old age. The story is strengthened by giving us a quick recap of events prior to the story’s beginning, and although it is quite short it manages to build up a good background to what is happening.

The central love story, that binds together a story of exile and Breda’s stepfather’s search for an answer that is very important to him, is made all the much better for the analysis Breda gives as she narrates the story.

Williams’ writing is excellent here. Breda’s voice as a narrator is incredibly natural. He also manages to incorporate a surprising twist into a story that at its heart is very familiar.

It’s been years since I last read the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, and reading this I realize a re-read is long overdue. The story is a great addition to the world of an excellent fantasy trilogy.


This story of a roaming knight without a lord, a hedge knight, is set about one hundred years before the beginning of A Game of Thrones.

With the central stage for the story being a knightly tournament it reminded me very much at times of the two film adaptions I’ve seen of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, and I wonder if either of these has served as an inspiration. If the tournament had been the only element to the story it wouldn’t have been very interesting as that part in itself is not really very original. But Martin has mixed in another element, and although this is not very original either the mix of the two makes for an interesting and entertaining tale.

Martin’s writing is very good and he manages to convey quite a lot about the life of hedge knights in general, and the main character Dunk in particular, in what is relatively speaking a few pages. This feels very focused and tightly written, something that makes it a very good story in my opinion.

Only having read the first volume in A Song of Ice and Fire, and that some years ago, I can’t really remember if the events told here have any bearing on, or are even mentioned, in the series. It is however a point that is not really relevant as this works perfectly as a standalone story. It also serves as a good introduction both to Martin’s writing style and the world in which it is set.

If you have ever wondered if you should start reading A Song of Ice and Fire this is a great place to start.


It’s refreshing to read a fantasy story about some of the “invisible” people who are a part of every world. This tale is about runners, messengers who run from place to place like a non-tech Internet, or perhaps more accurately a human Pony Express.

What I liked most about the story is that McCaffrey has chosen to not set it during some momentous event. It would be easy to tell a tale of a runner delivering a world-changing message against all odds. Instead we get the personal story of Penna, a young woman from a family of runners who is just starting out in her career.

There are a lot of details here of the life of a runner, and it is a good glimpse into a closed group of a society. McCaffrey manages to deliver the details without making the reader feel like they are having information dumped on them. It feels like an integral part of the story and adds to the overall feel of it.

I must say that this one of the stories I really enjoyed, perhaps mostly because it was so different from what you usually see in fantasy.

I’ve not read any of McCaffrey’s Pern novels, and don’t know much about the world. But this story did feel like it at least gave me some sense of how the society on Pern is set up. This one glimpse into the Pern series has made me curious about the series, and I now plan to try it out.


This standalone story is set during the events of the Riftwar Saga trilogy.

Central to this story is the wood boy, Dirk. As the name implies his job is to ensure that there is an adequate supply of firewood.

Actually I think this story would have worked well even if it was just a tale of daily life during enemy occupation, which it basically is. Feist has added an extra twist to the end of the story, however. This twist works very well, and separates the story from the normal “growing up in fantasyland tale” that we already have in McCaffrey’s tale. It is not a very happy tale, and that may make some readers feel let down by it.

I think the story is well written. It is short but it does tell a lot. Dirk is also a realist and quite an interesting person to get to know better. And I don’t think the story suffers from being read as a standalone.

There are some events from the Riftwar Saga mentioned here. And this story is a good indication to what you can expect if you choose to move on to Feist’s series.


This is a prequel to The Eye of the World, the first novel in the Wheel of Time series.

Here we get the story of how Moiraine and Lan meet. If you are not familiar with the Wheel of Time series, they are two of the main characters.

The story itself is a bit of a mess, many things are not explained and many of those that are get lost in Jordan’s tendency to over-describe inconsequential details. Trying to get a grip on what is important by looking at how much room they are given in the text will not be very helpful.

There are definitely some good ideas here, but as I said above they get lost in a lot of waffle. This is a shame, because by cutting out the unnecessary description there would have been more room to explore them.

This is what I would define as a true prequel. In the way that I don’t really see how you could make much sense of what is happening without being familiar with what is going to happen later. But it does give a good idea of what I found when I read The Eye of the World, the only Wheel of Time book I have read.

If you have read my The Eye of the World review on my blog you will know that I didn’t like it. So I will suggest this as your starting point with Jordan’s series. It may leave you a bit confused, but at least you don’t have to read that many pages to find out if it is something for you.

I do realise that the Wheel of Time has many fans. And if you are one of them, you may think you have already read this. But this version predates the New Spring novel and is much shorter. So you might want to get hold of this anthology to read this story as it was originally written


There’s really not much to say here. Although I did not think every story in this anthology was good, this really is essential on the bookshelf of any fan of fantasy. If you have already read and enjoyed any of these series you’ll like the addition that the short stories make to them. And if you have never read an epic fantasy series, and are curious to whether you should, this anthology lets you check out the worlds of eleven authors in one place.

Not the greatest anthology in fantasy publishing, but the most essential.