Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best of the Bunch #December 2011

It's that time of the month again: to decide which of all the books I read in December was the Best of the Bunch.

And the winner of the Best of the Bunch Award December 2011 is...

*dramatic pause*

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Suzanne Collins continues the amazing story of Katniss Everdeen in Catching Fire, the second novel of the phenomenal Hunger Games trilogy.

Well, it had to be, didn't it? I'm relatively new to the Hunger Games trilogy - I haven't read Mockingjay yet - but this month this was definitely the book that took my breath away. I don't know how she does it, but Suzanne Collins just has a way of burying her characters deep into your skin such that I just can't get enough of these books. Although at first I was slightly irritated by a re-hashed plot, I had a major revelation about halfway through that has now got me singing its praises from the rooftops! Read my full review here for more.

Congratulations Suzanne Collins!

Please share your Best of the Bunch award by adding your link below.

Friday, 30 December 2011

New YA Releases - January 2012

Here's a look ahead at what's got me excited in the world of YA fiction for January 2012. Let me know if you'll be reading any of these!

Extent: 352 pages
Publisher: Ember
Pub Date: 10th January 2012
Format: Paperback

Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin's determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the "manly arts" of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting 'dragons' and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier.

Extent: 432 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pub Date: 5th January 2012
Format: Paperback

Edgy Taylor sees demons when nobody else can. He also works all hours for the most brutal and abusive master in London. One night, when Edgy fears his master's temper may spell the end, a mysterious bespectacled old man intervenes to save him.

The man does not think Edgy is insane. Instead he takes dgy to the Royal Society of Daemonologie. Here Edgy discovers that chance had nothing to do with their meeting. And that chances are something he is about to run out of.

Extent: 320 pages
Publisher: Andersen
Pub Date: 5th January 2012
Format: Paperback

Furgul is a puppy born in a slave camp for racing greyhounds, and he has a terrible secret--he is himself only part greyhound. When the cruel owner of the camp recognizes Furgul's impure origins he takes Furgul to be killed, but Furgal manages a spectacular escape. Now Furgul must confront the indifference, complexity, warmth, and ferocity of the greater world, a world in which there seem to be two choices: live the comfortable life of a pet and sacrifice freedom or live the life of a free dog, glorious but also dangerous, in which every man will turn his hand against you.

In the best tradition of The Call of the Wild and Watership Down, novelist Tim Willocks offers his first tale for young adults, an allegorical examination of human life through a dog's eyes, infused with heart, heroism, and the mysteries of the spirit.

Extent: 277 pages
Publisher: Templar
Pub Date: 1st January 2012
Format: Paperback

There's no easy way to put this, so I'll say it straight out. It's time I faced up to the truth. I'm fourteen years old and I have Ishmael Leseur's Syndrome. There is no cure. And there is no instant cure to not fitting in. But that won't stop Ishmael and his intrepid band of misfits from taking on bullies, bugs, babes, the Beatles, debating, and the great white whale in the toughest, the weirdest, the most embarrassingly awful...and the best year of their lives.

Extent: 352 pages
Publisher: Indigo
Pub Date: 5th January 2012
Format: Paperback

'Sixteen's an interesting age: not quite a fully grown man, but not a kid either. Anything is possible when you're sixteen.' Finmere Tingewick Smith was abandoned on the steps of the Old Bailey. Under the guardianship of the austere Judge Harlequin Brown and the elderly gentlemen of Orrery House, Fin has grown up under a very strange set of rules. He spends alternate years at two very different schools and now he's tired of the constant lies to even his best friends, to hide the insanity of his double life. Neither would believe the truth! But on his sixteenth birthday, everything changes. The Judge is killed, stabbed in the chest with a double-edged sword that's disturbingly familiar, and from that moment on, Fin is catapulted into an extraordinary adventure. Through the Doorway in Fin's London, a hole in the boundaries of Existence, lies another London -- and now both are in grave danger. For the Knights of Nowhere have kidnapped the Storyholder, the keeper of the Five Eternal Stories which weave the worlds together. Because of the Knights' actions, a black storm is coming, bringing madness with it. Fin may be just 16, but he has a long, dark journey ahead of him if he is to rescue the Storyholder and save Existence!

Extent: 336 pages
Publisher: Templar
Pub Date: 1st January 2012
Format: Paperback

A story of secrets, lies and lost innocence. MADRAS, 1910: Posey Swift and Tilly Sweetrick are caught up in a scandal that will change their lives forever. Singing and Dancing across a hundred stages as members of a troupe of Australian child performers, they travel by steam train into the heart of India. But as one disaster follows another, money runs short and tempers fray. What must the girls do to protect themselves, and how many lives will be ruined if they try to break free?

Extent: 528 pages
Publisher: Razorbill
Pub Date: 5th January 2012
Format: Paperback

It is 1984, and fifteen-year-old Maya is on her way to India with her father. She carries with her the ashes of her mother, who recently committed suicide, and arrives in Delhi on the eve of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination.

Maya is separated from her father and must rely upon the mysterious, kindhearted Sandeep to safely reunite them. As her love for Sandeep begins to blossom, Maya must face the truth about her painful adolescence...if she's ever to imagine her future.

Extent: 352 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pub Date: 31st January 2012
Format: Paperback

Magic sparkles on the edges of the forest in a secluded village where a young girl named Evie possesses unusually strong powers as a healer. A gypsy's charms - no more than trinkets when worn by others - are remarkably potent when tied around Evie's neck. Her talents have not escaped the notice of the shy stonemason's apprentice. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next door. When the young king's carriage arrives one day, and his footman has fallen ill, Evie might just get her chance after all...

Extent: 277 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pub Date: 5th January 2012
Format: Paperback

For seventeen years, Eloise Hart had no idea the world of Faery even existed. Now she has been abducted and trapped in the Rath of Lord Strahan, King of Faery. Strahan was only meant to rule for seven years, as Faery tradition dictates, and then give up his crown to another. But he won't comply, and now chaos threatens both worlds.

The only one who can break his stranglehold on the Faery court is his wife... Eloise's aunt Antonia. Using Eloise to lure Antonia, Strahan captures his wife, desperate to end the only threat to his reign. Now Eloise must become the rescuer. Together with her best friends Jo and Devin, she must forge alliances with other Fae, including a gorgeous protector named Lucas, and Strahan's mysterious son, Eldric—who may or may not betray them.

Extent: 300 pages
Publisher: Alma Books
Pub Date: 19th January 2012
Format: Paperback

Corlie Roux s farm life in South Africa is not easy: the Transvaal is beautiful, but it is also a harsh place where the heat can be so intense that even raindrops sizzle. When her beloved father dies, she is left with a mother who is as devoted to her sons as she is cruel to her daughter. Despite this, Corlie finds comfort in her friend, Sipho, and in Africa itself and in the stories she creates for her brothers. But Corlie s world is about to vanish: the British are invading and driving Boer families like hers from their farms. Some escape into the bush to fight the enemy. The unlucky ones are rounded up and sent to internment camps. Will Corlie s strength and devotion to her country sustain her through the suffering and misery she finds in the camp at Kroonstad? That may depend on a soldier from faraway Canada and on inner resources Corlie never dreamt she had...

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Wishlist Diet #22

*The Wishlist Diet is part of the In My Mailbox meme hosted by The Story Siren*

Get in!

I am one lucky girl! My super amazing boyfriend bought me an iPad 2 this week to jolly up my commute into London and I have been glued to it all week. I have downloaded the Kindle app and now can't decide which device to use but I think the Kindle wins for reading because of the unlight screen. It can get a bit tiring staring at a lit screen for hours - not that I don't do that at work...

To Review:

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Kevin's Point of View by Del Shannon

So it'll be just two reviews this week and then I'm off for a Christmas break! I'll be back on New Year's Eve for 2011's final Best of the Bunch award ceremony and a cracking Self Publishing Spotlight on New Year's Day. All that's left for me to say is:

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Review: Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

Extent: 472 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Pub Date: 7th September 2009

After winning the brutal Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen returns to her district, hoping for a peaceful future. But Katniss starts to hear rumours of a deadly rebellion against the Capitol. A rebellion that she and Peeta have helped to create. As Katniss and Peeta are forced to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. Unless Katniss and Peeta can convince the world that they are still lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying. The terrifying sequel to The Hunger Games.

I pretty much looked like a fish washed up on the shore when I turned the last page of Catching Fire – gasp, gasp, gasp. I didn’t go anywhere without this book clutched in my left hand, it was so important that I keep it near me at all times in case something horrible were to happen to the characters.

I’d been waiting a long time to get back to Katniss and Peeta and investigate the fallout of their time in the Hunger Games. I think Katniss has developed wonderfully, she’s taken on a new kind of fragility along with her tough exterior. Naturally, she is still utterly confused and has a defensive wall so thick it must be impossible for any other character to read her. But that’s the great thing about being the reader, you are inside Kat’s head which actually makes her very easy for you to read. She comes across as a tough nut, which on occasion she really is, but you can understand the kind of emotional turmoil she is in. She’s pretty screwed up and I know in her situation anyone would be but she does have an enviable ability to keep it together and do what is necessary.

I can’t believe Suzanne Collins sent them back into the Games again! After a while I was actually pretty irritated at this. It began to feel a bit like the same record. I thought we had dealt with the sick horror of the Games in The Hunger Games and this book would be all about an uprising. Well, I know it is quite a lot about an uprising and when, at the beginning of the book, there was news of rebellions in some district I thought we were in for a great story. And then Kat and Peeta get stuck back in the Games and it’s the same old for over half the book. I thought at least that the tributes would have some kind of tacit understanding that when the Games began so did their rebellion and each of them refused to kill the others.

But then, I thought, maybe the author was trying to be a bit more subtle than that. The aim of the story is not to slap you in the face with what you expect – because how boring and predictable would that be? – but to listen more carefully to the dynamics of a rebellion in such a setting as the districts. A rebellion can only be effective if every district acts at once but when they are cut off from each other, how do they know when to act? I was being too simplistic and Suzanne Collins, of course, knows her story a thousand times better than I do. She’s really listened to the situation she has constructed and produced the best answer, that an uprising must happen from inside the Capitol. That, yes, the victors of previous Games must go back to the Games because despite what President Snow thinks, the worst thing to do is put experienced players back into the ring. It’s not a punishment, these tributes will have gone through it all before, will know the tricks of the gamemakers and will be rational enough to find a way out. Brilliant!

I’m so glad Suzanne Collins wrote this and not me, I would have made a terrible hash of it, wielding my sledge hammer of predictability. All credit to her for truly understanding the dynamics of the world she has created and the mechanics of the characters she has populated it with. I’m finding it very hard not to reach for Mockingjay!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Review: Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure - Ciye Cho

Extent: ebook (334 KB)
Publisher: Self Published
Pub Date: 6th June 2011

The universe of Orberana is a place of great wonder and peril, a dizzying landscape filled with clouds that can talk, clockwork beings that mark their own time, and painted animals that awake in the night.

Shiewo Morose is the captain of a flying ship powered by music. She is also a determined young woman on a mission: a quest to find the Wishing Fish that created Orberana.

Sailing above the clouds, Shiewo and her crew (Erduu the bamboo, Theo the cloud, Livingston the goldfish, and Felix the painter) are headed for worlds of crazed clockwork bureaucrats, tyrannic kings, and tornado children - worlds that will test not only the crew's bravery... but their very understanding of adventure.

Theirs is the odyssey of a lifetime...

Well, I thought I had a vivid imagination but it is as nothing compared to Ciye Cho’s. I feel utterly bland and boring now! Brace yourselves for this one because absolutely nothing is what you expect but absolutely everything is fantastical and beautiful.

The first thing that will hit you when you read Shiewo is the almost magical way that Ciye Cho stimulates your senses. Never in a book have I ever read of so many intriguing colours, tastes, smells or sounds, I don’t know anyone who can conjure up such a delight for the senses. The descriptions are just so vivid but I didn’t once catch the usual old clich├ęs that swarm around aesthetic depictions, everything is expressed in a manner entirely unique. I can only compare it to drinking a delicious new fruit juice, only the fruits are from a different planet. It’s so refreshing to have an author who is not only incredibly well tuned towards the senses but clearly values that aspect of her story and goes the extra mile to bring the dizzying wonders of her fantasy world to her readers.

Not only this but the story is so engaging too. I love the way Shiewo’s adventures play out in episodes, it definitely lends itself to a cartoon serial, but the characters are what strings each adventure together. When you create a world where anything goes, where plants treasure Aeolian Harps and fish make very good helmsmen, you are in real danger of trying to make these quirky aspects carry themselves, but Ciye Cho hasn’t done that. You can empathise with every single character she has created, they have great depth and strong personalities. I’m reminded of the characters in the Wizard of Oz who each have a problem they would like to remedy – Ciye’s characters have a similar quest. They are a band of misfits, each with the flaws of any human, each setting out to find the Wishing Fish to solve their problems. I can’t believe how attached I got to a multi-coloured cloud! But that is Ciye Cho’s magic at work. The list of characters and the places and situations they find themselves in may sound completely mad but do not be put off by it because within the pages you will find a great depth of human emotion as well as classic adventure that tastes wonderfully unique.

I’m so glad Ciye was kind enough to send me her book because I would have missed an entirely new and thoroughly enjoyable dimension to story-telling. I cannot recommend this book enough as a way of unlocking the restraints on your imagination, even if you thought you had none!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Wishlist Diet #21

*The Wishlist Diet is part of the In My Mailbox meme hosted by The Story Siren*

To Read:

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Kevin's Point of View by Del Shannon

To Review:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure by Ciye Cho

FINALLY I am giving in to the temptations of The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, there are only so many times you can hear people demanding that you read a book before you give in... I'll also be reading another self-published book this week, Kevin's Point of View by Del Shannon which sounds like a great MG book with loads of imagination.

This week I'll be posting my review of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins and Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure by Ciye Cho so stay tuned because they are both very high up on my recommendations list!

So, what you got this week?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Interview: Robert Day

I'm thrilled to welcome Robert Day to my blog today, author of the fantastical Demon Gates. I just love it when a high fantasy is written well, which Demon Gates certainly is, and I'm so pleased Robert agreed to a grilling so I can dig a little deeper behind the scenes. Here's the blurb:

The land of Kil'Tar has a long and bloody history of war between the Kay'taari and the Ashar'an. Aided by Dragonkind, the Kay'taari have protected the world against the Ashar'an and their demonic followers for many centuries. With demonkind banished to the Voids, and the Ashar'an all but destroyed, Kil'Tar has enjoyed an era of peace.

However, the seals binding the portals to the voids are failing, and the Ashar'an are abroad once again. Both the Kay'taari and Dragonkind are nowhere to be found on Kil'Tar.

Can Valdieron, a young man raised in the small village of Shadowvale, fulfill his destiny and rid the lands of this menace once and for all, or will he falter, and condemn Kil'Tar to demonic destruction?

Hop over to my full review of Demon Gates.

How would you describe Demon Gates in a tweet (140 characters)?

Demon Gates is an old school epic/high/dark fantasy which pays tribute to the fantasy authors of the 80's who helped give me my voice.

How did the idea for Demon Gates and the Nexus Wars Saga come about?

Having read a lot of fantasy (and books in general) growing up in the 80's and 90's, I had a lot of ideas running around in my head. So one day I thought "How hard can it be?"... the result is The Nexus Wars Saga.

Valdieron is a fantastic hero character who develops really well throughout the book, how did you come up with his character and the characters of his companions?

I guess Valdieron was the conglomeration of many main characters I had read about. I like to think he embodies the characteristics people find relatable in a hero - humility, humour, respect, honour, purpose and determination. Hence, his companions all have characters which reflect these characteristics in Valdieron, as well as create their own persona.

Is there much research involved in writing epic fantasy? Did you find out anything interesting in your research for Demon Gates?

For me there wasn't. The process all seemed very natural, and once I started, things seemed to fall into place. There came a certain point, however, where I needed to write down all these extras in order to keep tabs on my story and not have it wallow in its inconsistencies. Fantasy is pretty much whatever you want to make it, and as I was paying tribute to my favourite authors while writing it, I wanted to make it as perfect as I could.

I’m always intrigued to know how writers of epic fantasy go about building their world. How do you create a whole new world? Do you make maps or notes on the world to help you?

As answered in the previous question, there ended up being quite a bit of world-building in order to give my work an authentic and in-depth feel. This included a lot of data on characters, locations, a timeline, bestiary, calander and a crude map showing the realm of Kil'Tar. Luckily I have never had too much trouble creating names, and this creation process proved relatively easy, though time consuming and constantly evolving. The biggest challenge is making everything believable.

When and why did you decide to take the plunge and self publish your book? Did you always plan to publish it?

When my initial creation reached about 250,000 words, I figured it had grown to the point of having a life of its own. Where initially I had been writing just to see if I could, the story came together in such a way that the idea of being a writer became a dream, albeit a distant one. After a few half-hearted attempts at soliciting an agent and publisher, these dreams died as I worked on refining the content. I split Book 1 from the manuscript and was left with a good part of Book 2. Once both were finished, I edited and edited and edited some more, and continue to edit to this very day. Then one day I was introduced to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, and realised the avenue for getting my work to an audience was available.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have any rituals? Do you plan a story from start to finish or just see what happens?

I am a lazy writer :) With The Nexus Wars Saga, I have a grand overview in my mind, but the story is constantly evolving and changing as I write. I have no rituals, other than trying to get out of writing whenever possible, even though I know I shouldn't.

What is the story behind the cover?

With the basis of the story being the age-old struggle between good and evil, the Demon vs Dragon symbolises the conflict within the series. I was lucky enough to find a very talented artist who worked with mye to create the image in the form of the yin/yang.

If you had room on your shelf for only 3 books, what would they be?

Besides my own 2? ;) They would have to be:

1) Magician by Raymond E. Feist. This is, and will continue to be, the book that gave me the desire to write.
2) The Hobbit. Like many people, this book was my introduction to fantasy, and from there I have never looked back.
3) A good dictionary/thesaurus. A writer's best companion.

Can you give us an idea of what happens in the next books in the saga?

The following books in the series continue Valdieron's quest to find and possibly unite the pieces of the Disk of Akashel. It also sees a few more main characters come into their own and play some hopefully important roles in the outcome of the story. You will also find out a few things about the nature of Valdieron's heritage and discover his destiny is greater than even he imagined it could be.

A huge thanks to Robert for answering my questions, I would definitely recommend Demon Gates to anyone who loves a great epic fantasy, or anyone who enjoys a good story and great characters.

Find out more about Robert Day on his website or blog.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

100 Follower Giveaway Winner!

Well, my 100 Follower Giveaway ended on Sunday so it's time to announce the winner.

Drum roll please...

Congratulations to Jasmine1485!

Your books are winging their way over the seas to you in Australia so enjoy!

Thanks to everyone who took part in the giveaway, I really appreciate your support and I'm sorry I couldn't buy books for everyone because if I won the lottery I definitely would! For now, I just hope I can live up to your follows and provide you with some great posts and useful reviews so please stay in touch and leave comments - I read and appreciate every single one.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Review: The Dragon's Eye by Dugald Steer

Extent: 286 pages
Publisher: Templar
Pub Date: 1st October 2006

Adventure! Villains! And dragons, dragons, dragons! Brought to us by the creators of the runaway NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers DRAGONOLOGY and THE DRAGONOLOGY HANDBOOK, the Dragonology Chronicles are a series of dragon adventures told by one of Dr. Drake's young students. In Volume 1 of the Chronicles, THE DRAGON'S EYE, Daniel Cook and his sister, Beatrice, spend the summer with their parents' eccentric former tutor, Dr. Ernest Drake. Not only do Daniel and Beatrice begin to study dragonology, but they are also soon caught up in the race to find the stolen Dragon's Eye jewel - which has the power to reflect the true Dragon Master - before it is stolen by evil dragonologist Ignatius Crook. The two must work with Dr. Drake — as well as many friendly dragons — to foil Ignatius and recover the Dragon's Eye.

I love the Ology World books, especially Dragonology, and I think it’s even better when you’re a big kid who has had to accept that dragons don’t exist. Dragonology takes the subject of dragons utterly seriously, detailing different species, behaviour and tips on how to track and train them. The Dragon’s Eye is the first in a spin off series of YA fiction novels and ever since I read Dragonology I have been a little bit intrigued about what these books have to offer.

Well, quite a bit actually. I think the real strength in The Dragon’s Eye is the fact that it’s based on a pseudo-factual book, Dragonology. There’s a great sense that the book is based on real life events involving real creatures because there’s a boxful of literature that says so. The fantastical becomes the actual. It pulls on all the information you can find in the Dragonology books and gives it a storyline, and if you’re lucky enough to have the Ology books, you find yourself using them as some kind of reference guide despite the fact that you know it’s all made up. If you haven’t read Dragonology then fear not because The Dragon’s Eye is not dependent on it, you can still easily understand and enjoy the story as everything is explained. In fact, if you don’t know anything about dragons you’re in for a deep end learning experience as the lead characters don’t know anything to begin with either but end up experts.

The language has a wonderful Victorian quaintness about it, giving it an authenticity of the period and adding to the realism. Mixing this with the fantastical element of dragons makes for a great adventure story. I think my only real niggle is that it can be a bit too quaint at times. The lead characters are 12 and 13 so you imagine this is roughly the target reader age and it feels a little like the author is a bit out of touch with what 12 and 13 year olds are reading these days. It just lacks a bit of guts, you never feel like the heroes are in any genuine danger, the kind where the way out is not clear and there’s no one to rescue them. I found it a bit patronising at times and I’m sure modern young teens would feel the same – they can handle a lot more emotional depth in a story than this book allows.

Having said that, I still really enjoyed The Dragon’s Eye. Sometimes you just want a happy, heart-warming story where the good guys are guaranteed to win and that is certainly what is on offer here. There are also some incredible pencil drawings dotted around the book which add a great dimension and a visual treat. There should be more illustrations in books I say! Overall, this is a good story, harmless fun that’s toasty warm and that’s not just because there’s a lot of fire-breathing going on.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Review: Moondreams by Dean Johnson

Extent: ebook (453 KB)
Publisher: Self Published
Pub Date: 6th March 2011

Kirah, just home from her freshman year at college, contemplates the strange lamp and the unfamiliar mirror in her bedroom, at least what used to be her bedroom, what used to be her sanctuary. But things are not what they used to be. Even her best friends seem to be different, especially Ramon who suddenly has more than a friendly interest in her.

Fortunately, Kirah’s mother and stepfather make good on their offer of a month at a New Jersey shore beach house in exchange for an appearance on the dean’s list each semester. A little distance from Ramon, parents, “her” bedroom, is just the distraction she needs.

Along with a couple of friends who still appear somewhat normal, Kirah heads down to the shore.

Bryan had been working at the Auto Center for the past year after dropping out of college midway through his sophomore year. While he has grand ideas about his future, his actions do not match his ambitions. Searching for direction, Bryan clings to anything that comes his way, including a girl with two friends in a car with a flat tire.

To Bryan Kirah is everything he needs to be. To Kirah Bryan is the distraction from all the change she is longing for. Through each other they find what they were looking for, only it wasn’t what they thought it was at all.

A few chapters into this book I was scratching my head, I couldn’t figure out what the plot was let alone where it was going. But I persevered and I’m glad I did because by the end I had realised something: that books are not always about plot, but they are always about stories.

Moondreams focuses on the lives of two people, a girl and a boy, Kirah and Bryan, and how all the events of their lives lead up to their meeting. The story bounces back and forth through time, flashing back to significant events. At first I didn’t understand what was happening. Why do I need to be told about all these details? Why is this reading like a fictional biography? Where is Dean Johnson going with this? At the same time I was intrigued, perhaps this was building up to something. I was right. This story is essentially about a moment and everything that builds up to that moment. It’s actually really clever and I take my hat off to Dean Johnson for doing it so well. A book is usually a snapshot of someone’s life, a period when something exciting is happening with a beginning, a middle and an end but Moondreams takes that snapshot and explores how it came about, the decisions that Kirah and Bryan made earlier in their lives that brought them to a point where their paths crossed. It really makes you think about your own life’s course, all the significant choices you made that led you to meeting someone and what would have happened if you’d done something differently. It’s almost like an exploration of fate, if you believe in it.

There’s another part to this story, however, that gives the meeting of these two people a point and makes Moondreams a real heart-warming tale. Kirah and Bryan have both reached crucial points in their lives, massive junctions and they can’t make one of those significant decisions that shape their existence. They are stuck in holes but their meeting provides the shovels each of them needs to dig themselves out. Perhaps their meeting is the most significant event of their lives, deciding what they will do with the rest of it. It’s easy to visualise the story as two lines gradually heading towards each other and when they cross it’s only for a very short time but it’s a turning point, and then the two lines forever head out in different directions.

Moondreams is a brilliant piece of writing and an even more brilliant idea for a story. It has taught me that stories don’t always have to be about action and adventure, a snapshot of life, they can be about someone’s whole life, a fine weaving of innumerable decisions and chance events that determine where your next step will take you. It’s really not just a story but the story, the one that begins at the very beginning, has an infinite number of middles and an ending at every turn that’s completely open – life.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Wishlist Diet #20

*The Wishlist Diet is part of the In My Mailbox meme hosted by The Story Siren*

To Read:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure by Ciye Cho

To Review:

The Dragon's Eye by Dugald Steer
Moondreams by Dean Johnson

Hooray! I'm finally reading Catching Fire and it pretty much hasn't left my hand since I got it... And what's even better is that it's the new look UK cover - sooooooo much better than the original UK covers which I have been refusing to buy because they would let my shelf down. I'm also smashing through my self published review requests and this week it's Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure by Ciye Cho - sounds magic!

So... what you got this week?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Self Publishing Spotlight: Lastborn by Rachel Forde

Welcome to my Self Publishing Spotlight!

This month I'm very pleased to say my spotlight has landed on author Rachel Forde and her gripping high fantasy Lastborn.

Nara-Ya is a pugnacious adolescent girl on the run from a powerful sorceress. Fate lands her in the company of her polar opposite, the soft-spoken Donovan Brennan, who is simultaneously struggling to lead a Resistance movement, regain a throne for a wronged King, and prevent a war between the land he lives in and the land of his birth.

Brennan walks a fine line between his principles and success; Nara-Ya, by contrast, knows what she has to do to survive, and circumstances shunt her towards the life of a fighter and warrior. However, as war looms, as her friendship with Donovan grows into something more, and as Nara-Ya is forced to confront her darker instincts, she begins to question her destiny, and is forced to make a decision that will alter the fate of their world.

Lastborn is a complex and engaging story set in a fascinating fantasy world. This is a definitely a story for you if you love feisty, independent heroines because Lastborn has one of the feistiest of them all! You can read my full review of Lastborn here.

For now, Rachel Forde has very kindly written me this brilliant guest post about world-building, creating cultures and avoiding classic mistakes when writing a world of your own.

On Writing Culture

An important aspect of world-building in any book is culture. Unfortunately, it's also one of the trickiest things to get right, mainly because we all have a bias toward the culture and context we grew up in. We understand that world and its forms and values, and we judge other worlds by that standard.

We see the world around us through a filter - I'm a Euro-American, middle-class female, so I have a certain set of assumptions through which I interpret the world around me: I favor freedom over stability, individuality over conformity, equality between men and women, and even though I'm religious, I feel more comfortable with science than I do with magic and the supernatural. I'm not claiming any of these things are better or worse than the other - it's about what works to create a happy, stable society, not about what one powerful, wealthy society can force on another - but it does create a challenge when trying to depict village life in a Native American-ish society, or develop the inner motivations of a character from a pseudo-East African culture.

There are some mistakes that writers and storytellers frequently make:

1. Stereotyping and oversimplifying culture because of a lack of research. Not all Native Americans live in tipis. In fact, one tribe can be as culturally different from another as Norwegian culture is from Italian culture. The Daniyaasi tribe in Lastborn, (very) loosely based on the Ojibwe, has a different way of life and social structure than the Hakchi, Wakanka or Kidasa tribes, and their languages are mutually unintelligible.

2. Ethnocentrism, or assuming that one culture (usually our own) is the standard by which all should be judged. We all do this to some degree, no matter how tolerant we think we are. And please note that this doesn't mean we have to approve of everything that another culture does - I think the character of Faduma was being needlessly mean by calling Ayuma a "whore", but I also know how the actions that spurred the insult would have been understood in Faduma's home culture, and what the consequences would have been to everyone involved. I can empathize with Faduma's fear and frustration without agreeing with it.

3. Denigrating one's own culture as "inferior" compared to others. This one happens a lot, either by non-western authors who are overly enamored by Western culture, or by western authors in a misguided attempt to avoid sounding racist. Ethnocentrism is ethnocentrism, regardless of which ethnos is at the center. Ephola takes a pretty strong hit in Lastborn, because it's based on my home culture and I feel more free to criticize it, but the Makedans are not saints either, and there is much that is good about Ephola. Balance is key.

4. The "Noble Savage." Avatar. Ugh. Not a book, per se, but the most blatant example I've seen of this in a long time. In a nutshell, the "Noble Savage" stereotype claims that so-called primitive cultures are superior because they are so simple, while our (western) culture is needlessly complex. Once you unpack it, this is a very back-handed compliment. It treats indigenous people as if they were children, and underestimates the complexity and depths of the world they inhabit. Anyone who thinks "primitive" cultures are simple should try conjugating a few Ojibwe verbs, or untangle the web of kinship and clan connections in rural Somalia.

I don't claim to be an expert at this. Speaking candidly, one of my biggest regrets about Lastborn is that most of the protagonists are culturally "in-between". This was certainly easier for me to write, and probably reflects my insecurity about writing believably from another's culture point of view. Even so, I can't recommend it enough that every writer at least try to write character POVs from another culture's perspective. Even if the result is imperfect, it's an exercise that can benefit us outside of our writing, as we live and work among those who may not see the world in quite the same shades as we do.

So there you have it! A huge thanks to Rachel for participating in the Self Publishing Spotlight, her book Lastborn is available now - and I highly recommend it - from:

To find out more about the Self Publishing Spotlight feature or to submit a book, click here. I'm especially interested to hear from authors planning to publish in the new year.