Monday, 31 October 2011

Best of the Bunch #October 2011


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

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

*dramatic pause*

Arrival by Chris Morphew

Luke is having a rough year. When his parents split up, his mum drags him to Phoenix, a brand-new town in the middle of nowhere.

But Phoenix is no ordinary town. There are no cars, no phones and no internet. Luke thinks this is as weird as it gets.

Then he discovers that someone is plotting to wipe out the human race. Phoenix is suddenly the safest and most dangerous place on earth.

And the clock is already ticking.

There are 100 days until the end of the world.

As you might have gleaned from the blurb, Arrival takes place on the verge of an apocaplypse and in true YA style, it's up to 3 teens to save the world. Amazing!

This is a proper action-adventure-mystery-thriller, a really gripping read with plenty of tension and a wonderfully frustrating lack of answers by the end that will have you reaching for the next book, Contact. It's so well written, similar to Michael Grant's Gone series but less gory (thankfully!), and a real asset to the story is that it's set in Australia which is such a refreshing change from the US or UK. I wish there were more Aussie books available in the UK and if anyone knows of any please let me know!

Anyway, you can read my full review of Arrival here.

Congratulations Chris Morphew!

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

Sunday, 30 October 2011

New YA Releases - November 2011

Here's a look ahead at what's got me excited in the world of YA fiction for October 2011. Let me know if you'll be reading any of these!

*please note I don't read hardbacks (with the odd exception) so although some of these have been out in hardback for a while they will be on this list as they are now coming out in paperback or on Kindle*

Extent: 384 pages
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 24th November 2011
Format: Paperback

In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his certain death - only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.

Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.


Extent: 320 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Pub Date: 15th November 2011
Format: Paperback

Colt McAlister was having the summer of his life. He spent his days surfing and his nights playing guitar on the beach with friends. He even met a girl and got his first car. But everything changes when his parents are killed in a freak accident.

He's forced to leave his old life behind and move to Arizona with his grandfather. The only person he knows at the new high school is a childhood friend named Dani. And Oz, a guy he's sure he's never met but who is strangely familiar.

But what if his parents' death wasn't an accident? His mother, an investigative reporter, was going to expose a secret mind-control program run by one of the world's largest companies. Before she could release the story, what if agents from Trident Biotech made sure she couldn't go public?

Vowing to uncover the truth, Colt gets drawn into a secret world of aliens, shapeshifters, flying motorcycles, and invisible gateways.

The Invasion has begun.


Extent: 368 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub Date: 10th November 2011
Format: Paperback

Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?

Extent: 528 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Children's
Pub Date: 3rd November 2011
Format: Paperback

The squabbling Norse gods and goddesses of Runemarks are back! And there's a feisty new heroine on the scene: Maggie, a girl the same age as Maddy but brought up a world apart - literally, in World's End, the focus of the Order in which Maddy was raised. Now the Order is destroyed, Chaos is filling the vacuum left behind... and is breaching the everyday world.A chilling prophecy from the Oracle. A conflict between two girls. And with just twelve days to stave off the Apocalypse, carnage is about to be unleashed...

Extent: 224 pages
Publisher: Matador
Pub Date: 1st November 2011
Format: Paperback

Fifteen-year-old Molly is gauche and awkwardly tall, a great disappointment to her parents who only have time for their careers. Constantly at loggerheads because Molly is determined to become a swimmer, the family go to stay in a 17th century manor house now used as a religious retreat. Inadvertently, Molly triggers a time-chute and reappears in 1648, at the end of the Civil War, to find she has taken the place of Molly Hampton, the eldest daughter in a Puritan family. After suffering a beating, an entire morning spent in chapel, a smelly privy, a muddy farmyard, and cold water to wash in, Molly labels the seventeenth century "barbaric" and is hell-bent on escaping back to her own life. But the manor house belongs to Sir Richard Blaisdale, a Royalist family, and is barred to her. Forced to continue with the charade, Molly meets Richard, supposedly her best friend, only to find herself falling in love with him. Gradually, Molly begins to change her mind believing that she can stay and take Molly Hampton's place, little realising that danger and disaster lie in wait for her...Time Breaking, the latest riveting offer from author Barbara Spencer, is written for young adults aged 12 -16.

Extent: 224 pages
Publisher: Medallion Press
Pub Date: 1st November 2011
Format: Paperback

Teenager Jack Lawson lives an average and ordinary life in a typical southern English town, until the day a white fox introduces himself as Jack’s guardian spirit and gives to him a mysterious talisman. Jack’s life continues to spin out of control when his friend Alex, after warning that the town is in grave danger from demons controlled by the Cult of Dionysus, is kidnapped by the cult. Enlisting the help of his friend Lucy, Jack embarks on a journey unlike one he could have ever imagined—one filled with sublime mysteries and fantastical adventures. A story written by a teenager for a teenage audience, this work encourages readers to reconsider their assumptions about the fantasy genre while deciphering the book’s parallels with real-world mythology and philosophy.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Interview: Jason Beineke

I'm very pleased to welcome Jason Beineke, author of Blackstone: Drawing the Circle, to my blog today for a grilling. Jason was kind enough to send me his book after it featured on Leighanne's Lit's Best of the Bunch September 2011 and I thought it was a brilliantly written piece of epic fantasy. Here's the blurb:

Blackstone is a mercenary sorcerer who does not rule any valleys and has yet to be bound to another sorcerer. Undertaking work for the sorceress queen, Spiral, he finds himself the expendable pawn in an assassination mission. Turning against the queen he fights Spiral’s loyal sorcerers and finds himself tasked with the guardianship of the marked man’s son. As the two flee from Spiral they have to work through their mutual bitterness and distrust of each other. A new tangle is thrown into their relationship when Blackstone frees a werewolf from her cage set in a town square and reverts the werewolf back to a young woman, cursed since childhood with lycanthropy.

Fleeing from the townsfolk who had previously kept the young werewolf, Loralune, captive, the three person band must confront Loralune’s transformation under the full moon, the posse that runs them to ground and a sorceress looking for revenge against Hiroe and Blackstone. Survival against these threats leaves them vulnerable to other, more insidious dangers.

Click to read my full review of Blackstone: Drawing the Circle.


How would you describe Blackstone: Drawing the Circle in a tweet (140 characters)?

A mercenary sorcerer, an orphaned squire, a cursed werewolf, running from tyranny, falling into nightmare.

How did the idea for Blackstone come about?

As with most of my writing I was first gifted with the image of a single scene in the book while I was doing data entry and listening to heavy metal music one night at work. The scene is now incorporated in the chapter, "Bitter Spaces", in the book. Often I come up with an ending to a story or novel first, then the opening and work on filling in the spaces in-between in my mind. This can be a long process, as evidence by the fact that Blackstone: Drawing the Circle was first dreamed up in the late 1990's.

Blackstone, Hiroe and Loralune are a wonderful group of misfits, how did these characters come to you?

Blackstone was heavily influenced by the character, Gats/Guts, from Kentaro Miura's Berserk manga. It is, by far, one of the best fantasy mangas I have ever read. It is still an on-going series, but it is definitely NOT for children. To learn more, please check out the following Wikipedia entry.

I am unsure what the influence for the character of Hiroe was. He appeared in the same original scene snippet as Blackstone did. Often, there is a mental relationship between myself and the characters that I write. It is possible that Hiroe represents an idealized version of what I wish my own adolescence had been. I cannot be sure. His name is also unusual and really did not fit the cultural setting I put him in. However, I would have been extremely hard-pressed to have come up with a different name for him. He has always been "Hiroe" to me. His hair queue, however, was not always a part of him, but came to “grow” on him over the years that the series gestated in my mind.

Loralune the Moonhavoc was the third character to come to me and I think she was there to help balance things out between Blackstone and Hiroe, injecting the feminine into the trio. I also knew that I wanted her to be a vibrant and active character in her own right and not shunted aside into the background. She will definitely have a powerful role in the second novel as more of her own past is revealed and she asserts her dominance. I am looking forward to see how readers react to her.

Spiral was influenced by the Hindu god, Shiva, in the form of Nataraja, "The King (Lord) of Dance". Her appearance was influenced by Freya from the manga series, Ragnarok, even though the character of Freya only appeared for a few pages in the series.

Snowflake just came to me one day while I was struggling with the first major battle scene. In the world of tropes, she is the most "tropy" of the characters in the series, but her impact has definitely been lasting!

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

It might surprise people, but there is a LOT of research to be done in epic fantasy! I model the setting for the series on the Asian continent and while to date there has not been that much in common between the Phoenix continent and the Asian continent, it will become a bit more apparent in the coming books. The second book is largely situated in a mirror of the country, Dagestan, a southern Russian Republic in the Caucasus. To learn about the cultures of the Caucasus I read a lot of novels and non-fiction related to the area, history and cultures. Among my research material was Nicolai Gogol's Taras Bulba, and Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokov, Voyage to the Caucasus by Alexandre Dumas (pere).

One must never forget that topography and geography play such a vital role in fantasy fiction. These two things take on their own characteristics in a good story and deeply influence the living characters of a work.

The scientific level of a fantastical society is probably the most difficult thing to work with. How much science/technology is there? Is it consistent throughout the book or the cultural segment in the book? Future Blackstone novels will deal with this somewhat, but most particularly when the group travels to an equivalent of Sun Ce's court during the Three Kingdoms period of China. By the first century AD, China had invented and forgotten an incredible amount of technology that 1400 AD Europe would have been hard-pressed to copy.

One almost needs a degree in Medieval History in order to properly convey the fantasy world when it is set analogous to Medieval Europe. What were the customs, the clothing, the foods, the environmental stressors on a people, the role of religion in everyday life, political structure and hierarchies, etc.? Patrick Rothfuss has done a wonderful job of scene setting for his books, Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear. I am deeply envious of him for this.

Tamora Pierce has done a lot of travel in regards to researching for her novels. Her Circle of Magic series is based in a Mediterranean setting and also pulls in Chinese culture as well. Allison Goodman’s Eon and Eona were also set in a Chinese Empire world and one could tell that there was a LOT of research done on the part of Ms. Goodman to convey the social subtleties involved in the novels.

Lastly, what is the structure of magic in a world? Readers might well think that writers just make this up as we go along. To a large extent we do. However, the good epic fantasy writer will map out the magical system of a world. Is it Chaos manipulation, invocation, tapping of ley lines, weaving, etc?? It can become quite complicated. With Blackstone, I have not set too many definitions as I wish the story to be more character and plot driven than driven by the magic. To that end, I have also had to focus on making sure that magic is not a deus ex machina. As the series progresses, one will see that having magic definitely does NOT solve all that many problems (like transport).

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?

The first thing a fantasy writer has to think of is how does the world/geography impact the story and its characters? In the Blackstone world I make general use of the Asian map and have tweaked it in my head to suit my purposes (such as changing the overall shape to roughly resemble a rising phoenix, with the Indian subcontinent taking the place of the phoenix’s tail). As with magic, set locations are a bit fluid. I will not be creating an actual map to go with the Blackstone series, but will be descriptive where I feel it needs to be.

For my upcoming NaNoWriMo project I will be carefully constructing a map (based on Southeast Europe, particularly Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey), filling in names and producing notes on different features. This will be a very "set" landscape and will create definitive boundaries for me to work within.

It should not be assumed that most fantasy writers work as I do in setting up their worlds. Since I was first writing as a teenager, I have usually "borrowed" geography from a real-world setting and restructured it for my own purposes. I know that many fantasy writers do not do this and take time to create their own, original maps.

As for populating a world, there is a lot of leeway to a writer. What are the racial, social, cultural, musical, historical and environmental impacts on a race? One also cannot forget religion and ethos and how they affect society. (I purposely removed religion from Blackstone as sorcerers fill much of the space that would otherwise be taken up by a "belief system", which will be explored in depth with the fourth novel.)

One of the best books to show archetypes of creating worlds was Frank Herbert's Dune. On the one hand it always rankled me that each world had such an overarching archetype applied to it. However, I feel that Mr. Herbert was trying not to bog the reader down in too much detail and information. We had the sands of Arrakis and its spices, the waters of Caladan that produced rice, the industrial wastelands of Geidi Prime, etc.

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

Basically, I was getting tired of receiving instant rejection notes from agents. Most of them were not interested in a male-centric YA series and one can see something of a dearth of male-centric YA books on the market. At one time adolescent males read--a lot! I know I did and was influenced strongly by some really great fiction from a lot of writers with both female and male lead protagonists. Nowadays our adolescent males are too involved in video games and mindlessly wandering malls, among other pointless endeavors.

So, being tired of knocking on doors and having the doors slammed in my face, I said to heck with it and took the plunge. It has been expensive (my cover artist may be in China, but he ain't cheap!), required a major investment in time and placed me on a rather steep learning curve. However, I have found myself immersed in many communities, made many friends and had my writing skills challenged, which has forced them to grow. Would I like someone else to take care of the marketing, promotion, submissions to reviewers and sending me a royalty check? Yes! Am I in a hurry for that to happen? Not really.

Blackstone was always meant to be published. When it appeared more and more likely that the life of the book hinged upon a small group of people controlling the classic publishing industry I said to heck with it and went to the Amazon Kindle Self-Publish route. Many thanks to Jeff Bezos for again blazing the trail! Other services are now out there, such as Smashwords, but it was Bezos who freed many writers from the constraints of the publishing world.

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?

As stated earlier, I usually get hit out of the blue with the finale of a story, then backtrack to create the beginning and work on filling in the spaces in-between. That is why it took a decade to write this book. I also had writer's block for most of that period as well. I would come up with the scenes, the dialogue, etc., but could not bring myself to type it up. Since that block has finally fallen away (circa 2009), it is like the dam has burst for me, creatively.

When it comes to the actual writing, I find that I do my best work at night and the later the better. Most of Blackstone: Drawing the Circle was written after midnight (I had an evening job so that worked out well). I have to write in chronological order, I can't bring myself to skip around and then sew it all together. Particularly tough scenes or chapters will hold up the entire work until I slog through it. Not the smartest way to do things, but it's how I find myself writing. Having a beer next to me doesn't hurt and I also listen to a lot of music, most of it being instrumental and from movie soundtracks. Hans Zimmer has become one of my muses!! My recent novelette "Night of the Tower" was scripted in time with a number of pieces from Vanessa Mae's Choreography album.

The Blackstone series has a lot of books lining up in my brain, waiting to be birthed. The next books will be Butcher’s Winter, Masquerade of the Black Sun, Fields of Gold and City of Shadow, Alone and Jade Tiger. This will be followed by the second set of novels, the series entitled Love’s Dread Wage. Outside of the Blackstone world I have at least a dozen other writing projects swimming in my head. The question right now is finding the time to get these works done.

What is the story behind the cover?

One of the reasons that I went with the indie publishing route is because of book covers! Some book covers are absolutely horrid and have little writer input to them. This was one of Glen Cook's gripes about his Black Company series, the covers often had little do with the books (he had other issues with the publisher as well). Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller series have much better foreign covers than domestic American covers. The cover used for Name of the Wind in France just blew me away, it was gorgeous! The one used in the States was an utter travesty and I nearly didn't read the book because the cover put me off so much.

In regard to the cover for Blackstone: Drawing the Circle I had the picture drawn up in my mind, but I have no artistic ability (which is why I am not a manga-ka). I was able to relate what I saw in writing and thankfully I found an incredible artist in Lin Bo (http://0bo.deviantart.com/) who was able to bring off the cover beautifully. I differ a little bit with Lin on how Hiroe and Corvus look on the cover, but I am not complaining as the overall cover follows what I wanted.

Seated upon the thrones are the different adversaries particular to each of the protagonists. For Blackstone it was Spiral, whom he first employed himself to, then turned against her. For Loralune the Moonhavoc it is the Warden of Wachen, who had caged her and tormented her. In one of the rough drafts for the cover, the Warden was holding a chain in his right hand that appeared to dangle from him backwards towards Loralune, implying the "leashing" of the Moonhavoc. It subsequently disappeared in the final version >_< For Hiroe, all of the antagonists featured here have caused him troubles, but the most lasting effects are from the Dream Reaver seated before him. The children in front are the different versions of Corvus, the fetch that serves Spiral. He was fun to write about, and I had fun killing him, too :) Should I ever get the back cover done one will see that Blackstone, Loralune and Hiroe are each holding a sword behind their backs, as though getting ready to plunge the tip of the blade into the breast of their antagonist.

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

Dune by Frank Herbert
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Mask of the Sorcerer by Darrell Schweitzer (this was a huge influence on the Blackstone series, and it also has one of the worst cases of Crappy Cover Curses every seen!)

Do you have any hints for what we can expect from the next book?

The second book has been written and is currently awaiting proofing, editing and the cover (and funds for cover art are not really present at the moment). The title of the second book will be Blackstone: Butcher's Winter.

Surviving the tribulations of an angry werewolf and the dreaded dream reaver, Hiroe and Loralune manage to bring the badly injured Blackstone to the town of White Oak. White Oak is a sanctuary valley where all are welcome so long as they harm none. Here they are introduced to the sorcerer, alchemist and troubadour, Musty, who oversees the healing of Blackstone and the lifting of Loralune's curse. As Blackstone recuperates, Hiroe finds himself drawn into brotherhood with other youths of the town. From there he falls in love and contemplates spending the rest of his life in the quiet valley.

But the bliss of sanctuary never lasts and Blackstone's band learns that Musty has his own enemies and they have followed him to White Oak. Driven into exile, the quartet slog their way through snow covered lands as winter tightens its grip upon the world.

One day they come upon a runestone and halt to assess their path. Before they can complete their plans they are driven past the runestone by a presence so powerful as to make all three sorcerers quiver in fear. What they run to is not any more pleasant for they have crossed the boundary into the lands of Darbeni, home of Blood Eye.

Maintaining his life force and power by feeding on the blood of children, Blood Eye has reduced the populous of his nation into cattle, overseen by the animated bodies of their own stolen children.

Unable to leave Darbeni until Blood Eye is brought down, Blackstone and his band find themselves ushered to the forefront a rebellion not of their choosing or liking.

Even fighting the combined might of Blackstone, Loralune the Moonhavoc and Musty, Blood Eye proves able to resist them and only their combined cunning will buy the group any hope of surviving this winter of butchery and horror.


A huge thanks to Jason for doing the interview, I hope everyone enjoyed it!

If you'd like to know more about Jason and his books then stop by his blog at jasonbeineke.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter at @JasonBeineke. Blackstone: Drawing the Circle is available to download now from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Review: Seven Days on the Mountain - Scott Whitaker

*DON'T MISS*
Extent: ebook (404 KB)
Publisher: Self Published
Pub Date: 28th June 2011

Callie Grady wakes in the middle of the night to explosions and screams. It’s her birthday, but the only present she receives is the end of the world.

Or so she thinks. The world is on fire and Callie and her family flee their rural town and head to the mountains where they hope to hide out in the cabin that’s been in her family for generations.

Only there is a new civil war and US soldiers massacre fleeing citizens on the highway. War planes skewer the skies above. Chased into the hills, her family is attacked and her mother is killed. Helped by friends from her childhood, Callie and the surviving members of her family attempt to rebuild a life while the world rages about them.

Taken to “Uncle” Jessup’s mountain home, everyone must adjust to life in the new America, where the country reels from a new civil war. The survivors rely on solar power, elbow grease, and old fashioned hard work as they try to recover from loss.

However, isolation from the world isn’t all bad, as “Uncle” Jessup teaches them to hunt, fish, and scout the mountain and Callie wrestles with idea that she may be attracted to her childhood friend Alex Jessup, or Johnny Penny, or even worse, both of them.

It isn’t long before danger threatens and Callie, Alex, and Johnny are forced into the wilderness by marauding soldiers bent on establishing control of the mountain. They leave behind a dying “Uncle” Jess, his wife, and Callie’s father and brother. The last thing they see before they leave is the steady approach of deserted soldiers. Deep in the woods, the fate of their loved ones weighs upon them and soon Callie, Alex, and Johnny decide to return to either save their family and friends or die trying.

However the mountain has other things in mind.

Winter hurls snow and ice upon them. A deranged madman holds up in a fire watch post and sets a trap for the unsuspecting heroes; an aging actress holds court in the mysterious ruins of an apple orchard, a haunted cabin and insane bear bar the way up mountain while the back roads teem with bands of bored soldiers with itchy trigger fingers.

Will Callie and her friends survive the journey up the mountain?


Here is a story that has made me realise that the heroes of many other dystopians that I read and love have a pretty cushy existence. Seven Days on the Mountain definitely harks back to the good old dystopians that used to appear on the bookshelves as a testament to their own merit rather than as a passenger on the me-too band wagon of recent years. Not that I have anything against the majority of those passengers, a lot of my favourite books fall into that category, but Scott Whitaker’s creation makes no attempt at claiming popularity through zeitgeist, it is an examination of humanity the likes of which has endured in literature since the dawn of story-telling.

I love post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels, and the reason I love them is because they really put humanity to the test. Of all the post-apocalyptic and dystopians novels I have read, I think the most effective explorations of humanity are those that take place on the brink – just when life and society as we know it collapses. Characters undergo a deprivation, rather than a privation; they have had the luxuries of a modern, western society and then the proverbial rug is pulled out from under their feet. What do they do? How do they survive? How do the new parameters of life affect them? This is exactly what happens to Callie: one day she’s living the cushy life of an average American teen and the next the world she has adapted to is lost. Scott Whitaker plunges Callie into the gritty realities of bare bones survival. It’s a world where Darwin rings true for humans once more, where only those who can adapt fast can survive and there is no room for the weak. It’s brutal and I love it! Callie is a wonderful hero who, although she starts off as a scared little girl, soon finds out how quick she can learn and how tough she can be. The story is a testament to the strength that a person can find within them when it is really called for, not just physical strength but strength of the mind and heart too. In a survival situation, there will always be people who are driven to the edge of insanity or whose natural evil blossoms – as Scott has shown in his villains – but there will also be those whose goodness and mental fortitude strengthen and in the end prevail. Callie undergoes an extraordinary journey through the horrors and brutality of a world without rules, she goes from being a scared little girl to a female fortress, a fighter and avenger.

Seven Days on the Mountain is gritty and tragic but it is also an immensely satisfying read due largely to the realism that Scott Whitaker has created. It is a brilliant study of humanity and it gives me hope that a person could have the strength of mind and the conviction of heart to survive any situation, to root out evil and restore balance to life.


Monday, 24 October 2011

Review: Darke - Angie Sage

*NEW*
Extent: 656 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pub Date: 3rd October 2011

Angie Sage's Magykal series continues in frantic, high-spirited fashion in this latest number. To save the Castle and the Wizard Tower from certain destruction, Septimus Heap wades into the Darke to battle evil; but he isn't alone: Jenna, Marcellus Pye, Alther Mella, Marcia Overstrand, and even Septimus' problematic brother Simon assist in the fray. A nice mix of action and wit.


The Septimus Heap books have to be one of my favourite children’s series and definitely go a long way towards filling my Harry Potter hole. I never buy hardback editions of books – I can’t afford to spend over £10 on one book! – but for Angie Sage’s books I make an exception because each tome is just such a beautiful item and the pages deserve to be thick and crisp. Each chapter has a beautiful pencil drawing on the first page which gives me huge green eyes of jealousy that I can’t draw like that but really add a magical, tangible dynamic to the story.

I have to specify when and where you need to read a Septimus Heap book: on a chilly winter’s evening, preferably with a howling wind outside, when there’s no on else at home and you can curl up in the comfy chair by the fire complete with duvet. OK, that setting is not essential but that is definitely where you can feel the full benefit of the wonderful warming sensation you get from reading Angie Sage. It’s like reading a big mug of hot chocolate with a generous serving of whipped cream and marshmallows. Darke is especially in need of a duvet because Septimus and in fact the entire Castle find themselves swallowed up by a terrifying Darke Domaine. This is what I love about Angie Sage, she always manages to conjure up something completely different for each book, putting her characters in new situations so they are always developing in new ways. That, in my opinion, is the true skill of a great series writer. Septimus’ world is just so stuffed full now with engaging settings, fascinating mythology and colourful characters, it really feels like you are stepping into Angie’s world every time you open a new book. It’s always a thrill to meet with old characters again and discover some new ones. In Darke, you actually get to know a lot better many of the other characters apart from Septimus as the story divides between several character groups. Sep’s sister Jenna blossoms into a courageous leader, selfless Beetle takes heroism to a new height while the wayward Simon redeems himself.

I think the strongest message in the Septimus Heap books is definitely that of family which is perfect for the middle grade/young teen age group it’s aimed at. Very often Angie Sage introduces a lost soul character who struggles through the book but in the end is either rewarded or redeemed by finding his lost family. Quite a few characters end this way in Darke, which is actually a nice resolution at the end of the Darkest book in the series. Angie Sage has really struck a great balance between the looming threat of the situation and lighter moments. She pushes her characters to the edge but always reins in the tension with characteristically witty moments, making the characters more flawed and endearing – even the baddies!

I cannot urge you enough to explore this series, even if you don’t usually read books geared more towards younger teens. It’s definitely one of those Harry Potter moments where anyone can read them to enjoy a brilliant story and a big grin session. They are not overly “young” to read and have a decent level of complexity both in the world Angie Sage has created and in her stories to make them engaging whatever age you are. I’m in my mid-twenties and I just love them – and I can’t wait for more!


Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Wishlist Diet #16

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

To Review:


Darke by Angie Sage
Seven Days on the Mountain by Scott Whitaker

The observant amongst you may notice that I'm not reading anything this week. I'm taking a blog holiday for a couple of weeks, which will most likely involve reading Jane Austen at a leisurely pace! I'll still be posting my reviews this week, a great Q&A with epic fantasy author Jason Beineke on Friday, new releases for November on Saturday, Best of the Bunch October 2011 on Halloween (which I hope everyone will join in with!) and my November Self Publishing Spotlight on 1st November. Then you won't hear anything from me until Jane has recharged my batteries, which will most likely be 14th November.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my posts this week and the beginning of next week and I'm dying to know what everyone else is reading this week.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Interview: Christy G. Thomas

I'm very pleased to welcome Christy G. Thomas, author of Sidhe's Call, to my blog today for a grilling. Christy sent me her book back in August and I thought it was just so good I just had to find out more! Here's the blurb:

Bound by duty, sixteen-year-old Morgan must begin forewarning human deaths. After all, that’s her job as a newly-appointed Ban Sidhe (banshee), a death caller. Conflicted when the Inner Ring—the elite group of ruling Sidhe—assigns a fifteen-year-old boy, Aidan Tanner, as her first death to keen on her road to adulthood, Morgan must make a critical decision. Will she help end such a young life or follow her instincts and refuse to make the call? And if that isn’t difficult enough, Morgan’s help is needed as the Sidhe and human worlds are about to face a crisis foretold in the Thousand-Year Sidhe Prophecy. With the lingering pain of her mother’s absence and the mystery of her father’s recent disappearance, the young Ban Sidhe feels lost. Aided only by her overly-critical twin sisters and an eccentric seer, Morgan must confront her weaknesses and make the hardest decision of her life. Alone.

Aidan, on the other hand, is a seemingly average human teen who has to deal with his parents’ inexplicable red-eye drive from the Salt Lake Valley to Northern Idaho. While being away from his friends for Spring Break seems like torture enough, it is the recent discovery of his father’s secret that leaves him troubled. While struggling to keep his anger in check, Aidan finds that no matter how hard he tries to hold himself together, his once-simple life is splitting apart. But the more he discovers about his father’s family and history, the quicker he comes to understand that appearances are deceiving. Beyond that, Aidan doesn’t realize that a young Ban Sidhe is seeking to call his death.

You can read my full review of Sidhe's Call here.



How would you describe Sidhe’s Call in a tweet (140 characters)?

Living hidden within rural Idaho, a young and shy banshee must call forth the death of a young boy. Will she do it? Or will she rebel against her ancient kind's mysterious traditions?

Where did the idea for Sidhe’s Call come from?

The idea of writing a book about a Ban Sidhe (banshee) came from my thoughts about supernatural and faery beings in general. I thought, I wonder what life would be like from the banshee's point of view? Since my primary exposure to Ban Sidhe was through Americanized versions like those found on Scooby Doo, I didn't know much about the myth surrounding the Sidhe. But once I began to explore the history, I was hooked. This led me to begin thinking like a Ban Sidhe, but I also put a human bend to her thoughts. If I had a socially conscious girl, who actually felt compassion, what would her responsibility to the Sidhe cause her to do and think?

But the overreaching theme of finding purpose in death came from my experiences of losing my brother eight years ago from cancer when he was in his early thirties and my father's death just a few years ago. The same questions Morgan asks herself are often the same ones I found that I asked myself. They were ideas that I simply could not let go.

Morgan and Aidan have very distinct voices, how did these characters come to you?

Morgan was the first character I thought of - in fact, her Incantation scene was something I thought up during a long trip home from Utah. I still remember the cliffs near King Hill in Idaho sending my mind racing with ideas. Everything for her seemed to come together.

However, I originally wrote Morgan's parts in third-person (except the final chapters—they were originally first-person). I made this change once a first draft was complete, but I have not regretted the decision for a moment. At that point, I felt like I knew her so well that I had to tell her story in her own voice. It was necessary, in my mind, because she was a part of me.

Aidan was a blend of many students who have walked through my door. I teach high school language arts, so I have a vast number of teens who inspire me to create and write. I must say, writing his chapters, even though they were in third-person, were always a delight. I wanted him to be a bit moody, but not too annoying. I wanted people to empathize, but not pity him.

What kind of research did you undertake to write Sidhe’s Call? Did you find out anything particularly interesting?

There was originally the research on banshee myth, which is not as large of a compendium as other mythologies with which I was familiar, but it took hours of reading and searching for information online to feel as though I knew enough to get started with building a Sidhe world. Most interesting to me was that once I started researching Sidhe in general, I opened up a whole pantheon of creatures and lore. Two of my favorite creatures I encountered and added to the novel(s) were kelpie and cu sith. I was intrigued with how both species operate—their "rules," as it were, to how they survive and roam the earth.

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

Ever since I wrote the final words of Sidhe's Call, I knew I had to publish. Somehow. I went the traditional route at first--querying agents, getting a couple of bites, and the typical rejections. This went on for a few months, and it was full of the highs and lows of which every author speaks. But I believed in my work, and I thought that if I really believed in its potential, why not promote it myself? I decided that rather than having an agent decide my future, I would let my audience decide. In July 2011 I decided to take the plunge, and here I am! If an agent comes along later, great. If not, I have my fans, and that's even better.

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?

When I am not teaching, my most productive writing times are in the morning, usually before the family is up and about. Sometimes I just sit down and write whatever is on my mind—sometimes it's simply fleshing out an idea that has been percolating in my brain for a few days and will not give me rest. Sometimes if I write it down, the obsession is out of my system and I can continue on with the story or file away the idea. This is what kind of happened with Sidhe's Call. I had an idea, but this one would not let go.

Once I start an idea and decide to continue with the project, I typically write out a rough plot structure. But I add and subtract details as they come to me in the writing process. I also worked on character charts as I wrote the story, planning what to save for other books in the trilogy.

One of my odd writing rituals is that when I have writer's block, I take a shower. It relaxes me, gives me some think-time, and I can process as the white noise of the water blocks out other distractions. Plus, my husband is always grateful when after three or four hours of furious writing I finally get around to taking a shower at ten in the morning.

What is the story behind the cover?

My husband and I discovered Winchester Lake when we were dating, and it has been our go-to place for seclusion and beauty in the Idaho mountains. In fact, the first time we went camping there it was the middle of winter and we were the only ones crazy enough to freeze to death and tent camp with our two dogs. What has stayed with me all of these years is my first glimpse of the frozen lake and the ice-fishers. Winchester Lake, although slightly modified for my book, is on the cover. The photograph is one which I took during my summer visit, even though I did not know at the time that I would be using it for the cover of Sidhe's Call. When I was thinking of a design for the cover, I remembered the picture. I knew it was perfect. I know it's not a traditional-looking young adult book cover, but I don't have a very traditional young adult novel, either.

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

Unfair question! Right now it would have to be: Lord of the Rings, The Sun Also Rises, and 1984.


Apart from Sidhe’s Call, what is your top young adult fiction recommendation from 2011?

Sadly, I have not read any new releases from the current year, but I have read some amazing works released near the end of 2010. So, I'm going to cheat and recommend Scorch Trials by James Dashner, which has the third in the series coming out this year. For once I found a young adult book which I could not predict and kept me wondering. I would recommend the third one, but of course, it has not been released yet.


Do you have any hints for what we can expect from the next book?

Unsolved murders, a bit of humor, a trailer park, a green cloak, and more twists in Morgan's on-going tale!


A huge thanks to Christy for doing the interview, I hope everyone enjoyed it!

If you'd like to know more about Christy and her books then stop by her website at ampletimetowrite.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter at @ChristyGThomas. Sidhe's Call is available to download now from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or you can get it in paperback from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Review: Blackstone: Drawing the Circle - Jason A Beineke

*DON'T MISS*
Extent: eBook (372 KB)
Publisher: Self-Published
Pub Date: 6th July 2011

Blackstone is a mercenary sorcerer who does not rule any valleys and has yet to be bound to another sorcerer. Undertaking work for the sorceress queen, Spiral, he finds himself the expendable pawn in an assassination mission. Turning against the queen he fights Spiral’s loyal sorcerers and finds himself tasked with the guardianship of the marked man’s son. As the two flee from Spiral they have to work through their mutual bitterness and distrust of each other. A new tangle is thrown into their relationship when Blackstone frees a werewolf from her cage set in a town square and reverts the werewolf back to a young woman, cursed since childhood with lycanthropy.

Fleeing from the townsfolk who had previously kept the young werewolf, Loralune, captive, the three person band must confront Loralune’s transformation under the full moon, the posse that runs them to ground and a sorceress looking for revenge against Hiroe and Blackstone. Survival against these threats leaves them vulnerable to other, more insidious dangers.


I think high fantasy is one of those genres that can go epically wrong as well as epically right, it is the domain of extreme imagination and a big mistake is to think that all readers are going to get along with the writer’s imagination, with a completely new world. I am very happy to say that Jason Beineke’s book is one of those high fantasies that has gone epically right.

Often my big beef with high fantasies is that authors can lose their characters in their efforts to establish the world they have created but in Drawing the Circle, the characters are really at the forefront of the story. I’m not saying Jason has neglected his world-building, far from it. He has a really beautiful, lyrical way of drawing the reader through Blackstone’s world, creating vivid settings and fascinating cultures. Jason’s heroes are really complex and engaging. I love a band of misfits thrown together by fate, and these three really are on the peripheries of society: a mercenary sorcerer, an orphan of unknown potential and a werewolf. I’m particularly grateful to Jason for going back to the roots of lycanthropy, before changing into a wolf at the full moon became sexy. He creates a terrifying experience for readers and a real sense of pity for Loralune, forced to undergo this painful and hideous transformation at night. Hiroe and Blackstone’s relationship, I think, is the real cornerstone to this story. Two people who come together because they were fighting on opposite sides in a battle and then forced together by Hiroe’s slain father. Resenting each other’s presence to begin with, the growth in their relationship is really touching to read and is a real testament to the written character.

Beware, however, because within these pages you will encounter some of the most hideous evil forces that usually only inhabit the darkest parts of your worst nightmares. I’m a real advocate for the “bad guy” and Jason’s dark forces really turned my stomach, sitting vividly in my imagination not only whilst I was reading but also when I had put the book down. It’s a great test of an evil character if they stay with you long after you’ve finished the book!

I’m really glad Jason sent me his book to read as it really is the kind of book that keeps my faith in epic fantasy and leaves me wanting more. The characters are really strong and individual and as the story developed I became really attached to them, but it’s not as if the story itself was any less important. It’s a really gripping story line with a fantastic twist that has strange dreamlike qualities: you have an inkling that something isn’t quite right but you’re not sure if your suspicions are correct. It keeps you turning the pages, busting to know what is actually going on. And now I’m busting to read the next in the series!

Find out more about Jason Beineke and his books on his blog.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Review: Arrival - Chris Morphew

*DON'T MISS*
Extent: 320 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Pub Date: 7th July 2011

Luke is having a rough year. When his parents split up, his mum drags him to Phoenix, a brand-new town in the middle of nowhere.

But Phoenix is no ordinary town. There are no cars, no phones and no internet. Luke thinks this is as weird as it gets.

Then he discovers that someone is plotting to wipe out the human race. Phoenix is suddenly the safest and most dangerous place on earth.

And the clock is already ticking.

There are 100 days until the end of the world.


Firstly, I just want to get off my chest the fact that I am so pleased to find a book written by an Australian and set Down Under. There are tragically few Aussie books on the market in the UK and far too many US books (not that most of them are not brilliant reads, there’s just a huge imbalance) which makes it so refreshing to find a book in a genre I love set in a country I barely get to read about. For once I haven’t got my terrible attempts at American accents going through my head! Not that my Australian ones are any better...

I don’t know why I haven’t heard more about Chris Morphew, I found Arrival and the subsequent Contact through specific searches for new releases. I’m scratching my head because this book is just brilliant and people should be raving about it! I don’t know if there is such a genre as pre-post-apocalyptic but that’s what The Phoenix Files are and I just love exploring this situation: humanity is on the verge of extinction through an evil plot and their only hope is three teenagers. Epic!

Chris Morphew is a master of writing mystery, he expertly laces in a layer of threat that constantly flutters under the surface and has you checking over your shoulder despite the fact that you're just in a comfy armchair. He has a similar talent to Michael Grant in the Gone series whereby he raises hundreds of questions but by the end of the book he’s only scratched the surface of answers. It’s infuriating but unbelievably compelling at the same time and exactly how a thriller should be: mystery masochism. What’s even better is that the author has created a fantastic voice to take you through the mystery. Luke is witty, sharp, attentive, wonderfully ironic in places and above all highly inquisitive which is my number one quality in a hero – I can’t stand passive heroes! Jordan and Peter are also fantastic characters, Jordan is a great heroine, feisty and courageous, while Peter is loyal, funny and clever when he wants to be. They make a great team and I would definitely trust them with safeguarding the future of humanity.

I think the best thing you can do in a thriller is to create an unknowable enemy, I guess you could call me a thriller agnostic. The organisation that brought Luke to Phoenix is right in his back garden, running the town, but they are faceless. You only see the minions of the organisation in the security force and the possible effects that the organisation is having on other characters. They are like a virus, infecting everyone but invisible to the naked eye. It adds a great sense of immeasurable threat that keeps you sat bolt upright in the chair you are usually found slouching in.

I’m so glad I happened upon these books as I’m always hungry for a great mystery thriller and a good world-ending scenario always goes down well! I’m definitely reaching for the next book, Contact, and the third one better not be far behind it or my head may explode and you don’t want that on your conscience do you Chris?

If you are in any doubt as to whether you should read this book, maybe I should just read you the first sentence: “The end of the world is one of those things that you never really expect to end up being your problem.” Get it, read it, love it!


Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Wishlist Diet #15

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

To Read:


Darke by Angie Sage
Dreaming Dangerously by Kathleen Suzette Harsch

To Review:


Arrival (The Phoenix Files #1) by Chris Morhpew
Blackstone: Drawing the Circle by Jason A. Beineke

Much excitement this week as I splashed out on one of the few series that I actually buy the incredibly expensive hardback for because the books are soooooo beautiful. I LOVE Angie Sage's books and Darke is the 6th in the Septimus Heap series - I am enjoying every single page so far! I'll also be reading another self-published book this week by Kathleen Suzette Harsch, a paranormal story about a girl who dreams the future. Sounds great!

So, what have you got this week?

Friday, 14 October 2011

Interview: Stephen Wallenfels

I'm so excited to have Stephen Wallenfels, author of the amazing survival thriller POD, on my blog today. POD won my September 2011 Best of the Bunch Award, so it is officially the best book I read in September and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to dig a little deeper...

You can read my full review of POD here.


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

When alien ships invade the greatest danger is not from the skies.

Where did the idea for POD come from?

Where most of my ideas come from — a dream. Only this one was different than most because it felt so real I had to get up and make sure it didn't actually happen. The dream started with me wandering downstairs in the gray of early dawn, looking out the living room window, and seeing a giant sphere sitting in the middle of the road. A scan of the backyard revealed many more extending to the horizon. After waking up, and making sure there is no alien invasion underway, I started to play the "what if" game. That led to the concept of POD, which started out as a short story titled, Pearls of Death.

How did the characters of Megs and Josh come to you?

POD (aka Pearls of Death) was a 12,000 word short story told from Josh's POV. I wanted to tell the story in real-time, and from the POV of a teenager because their worldview is changing and they have a great potential for an interesting character arc. Megs was added when my beta readers wanted the story to be longer. At 12k words it is getting long for a short story, so I added another character in a different setting. I chose LA (same timezone), a parking garage (cover, but room to move around and hide and be scared). So I sat down to write and Megs is the one that spoke to me first. After three pages I was in love.

I've read on your website that you also have a "regular" job, how do you juggle writing with working?

It's tough. No doubt about that. Although I really like my job, in a perfect world I would be writing full-time. So I get up at 3:45am every day except Sunday, boil a mug of tea, and write until 6am, have a quick breakfast with my wife, then write again until heading off to work at 8:30am. Sometimes, if I have the energy, I will edit the work I did in the morning. Otherwise I just read and relax. Go to bed by 9:30 and do it all over again the next day. An important thing to note is that if I'm not writing, I'm typically thinking about writing. When my characters want to talk, I have no choice but to listen.

POD is your debut novel, what was the process of getting published like? Did you always plan to publish POD?

Getting published is tough, and the way things happened for me is the way things happen for most. Lots of luck, mixed with equal amounts of unrelenting determination and persistent self-doubt. Ultimately I believed so much in POD that I applied to a week-long writer's workshop, was accepted and learned how to do things right. It was incredibly helpful, and at the workshop is where I met the man that eventually accepted my manuscript and became my publisher, Stephen Roxburgh. Yeah, I was lucky. But sometimes you have to put yourself in the way of luck, otherwise it will miss you by inches and you will never know.

Megs and Josh both have really strong voices that make them so engaging as characters. How do you go about creating voices like these?

I listen to them, challenge them, and allow them to surprise me. I resist outlining because in my chaotic world that limits the realities of life—which is really a chain of surprises linked by periods of tension where we wonder, what next? Good writers are good listeners.

What do you think of the cover design?

The UK design is amazing. Lots of mystery with an ominous, other-worldly look. Plus, the feel of the book, the texture, is different and does a great job representing what I wanted to express inside the pages. I also like the Aussi design for different reasons - very...cinematic. It helps me see where I would love POD to go - the big silver screen. But not in 3D, please!


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

This is a very, very tough question. It is essentially Sophies Choice only with books. And if you ask me this same question next week, my answer would probably change. But for now, here they are the chosen three: The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein (the cycle of life and the heartbeat of human nature) The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (the best father-son love story ever written) The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell (dramatic story, stunning prose, epic).


Apart from POD, what is your top teen fiction recommendation from 2011?

For sheer "can't put it down" adventure with an intriguing plot and a heroic, conflicted protagonist, I'll have to jump on The Hunger Games band wagon. Suzanne Collins wrote a terrific book. I read it in two days while I was in LA, supposedly jumpstarting the second half of my sequel to POD. But I got so wrapped up in The Hunger Games that I stayed up way too late reading. I'll have to admit I struggled through the second book, Catching Fire. It took me three months to finish. Another fine YA book that is not on a lot of popular reading lists but won a "boatload" of critical acclaim is Ship Breaker by Paolo Bagcigalupi. In terms of sheer brilliance of writing and an unforgettable female antagonist, read Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. Rea Dolly is the real deal. That book may be 2010, but I just had to fit it in.


Do you have any hints for what we can expect from the next book?

Earth is fundamentally changed. Josh and Megs must survive in this new world while humanity ponders these nagging questions: why did the PODs come here, why did they leave, and are they really gone?


A huge thanks to Stephen for stopping by, I hope everyone has enjoyed the interview. I cannot urge you enough to get your hands on a copy of POD, it is just brilliant!

Find out more about Stephen Wallenfels on his website and find out more about POD on Goodreads.