Friday 28 October 2011

Gorgeous Cover Art!

I was happily browsing the forthcoming titles available on (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, 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 / 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.