30 June 2012

BOOK TOUR REVIEW: KINGDOM

Today I am very excited to be part of the blog tour to promote Kingdom, a dystopian, biopunk-thriller, and the first part of the Tiber City Trilogy. 

Author: Anderson O'Donnell
Series: Yes, #1
Publisher: Tiber City Press
Release date: May 2012
Kindly given by the author for an honest review

In a secret laboratory hidden under the desert, a covert bioengineering project—codename “Exodus”—has discovered the gene responsible for the human soul.

Somewhere in the neon sprawl outside the nation’s collapsing economic core, a group of renegade monks are on the verge of uncovering a secret that has eluded mankind for centuries.

In a glittering tower high above the urban decay, an ascendant U.S. Senator is found dead—an apparent, yet inexplicable, suicide.

And in the streets below, a young man races through an ultra modern metropolis on the verge of a violent revolution....closing in on the terrible truth behind Exodus—and one man’s dark vision for the future of mankind.

 WELCOME TO TIBER CITY.

Kingdom follows the stories of three different men: Campbell the reformed scientist, Michael Morrison the power hungry CEO, and the rich but lost young Dylan. From the very beginning the plot felt like it was building up towards some sort of collision between these characters, gathering pace as it went, and I became more and more intrigued and curious to find out how their stories might entwine. Although I couldn't easily relate to these characters, I felt a lot of sympathy for the positions they were in, often at the mercy of a harsh and unforgiving society and the evil Morrison. In particular Dylan grabbed my attention - he was surrounded by drugs, sex and the rich and famous lifestyle. Yet he struggled with the death of his father and tried to shut out his pain with cocaine, alcohol and pills. His search for answers made him vulnerable and captivating.

The atmosphere in Kingdom is very ominous and dark - O'Donnell has created a gritty and murky future, that feels like a permanent cloud is hanging over it. Society, and Tiber City in particular, suffers from extreme poverty, bountiful crime and violence, and a general feeling of apathy and desperation. I certainly hope I never end up in future like this one! This setting and context was an intrinsic part of the plot and was written in such description that I became completely immersed in the characters. I could hear, smell and see everything they could. This might not suit every reader's taste as it could slow the pace at times but it clearly sets O'Donnell's writing style as unique and eloquently graphic.

A big part of the plot was biogenetics and the alteration of human DNA. As such Kingdom had a firm base in science and I was a little surprised when the story took a turn towards exploring faith and what makes us human. It certainly added a depth to the plot and made me think about the essence of being human as well as the ethics of altering human genetics in the pursuit of perfection. Michael Morrison's attempts to perfect the human species at all costs made him a dangerous character; without any conscience or compassion he is the ultimate evil CEO scientist.

Kingdom is a powerfully descriptive and thought provoking dystopian with a dark and gritty atmosphere.

Rating: 3.5*

You can find out more about Anderson and his new book on:

Anderson's Website where you can download the first 4 chapters of Kingdom.
Twitter
Facebook
Goodreads

29 June 2012

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: ANDERSON O'DONNELL

Today I am really excited to have author Anderson O'Donnell joining me on the blog to kindly answer a few questions about his debut dystopian novel Kingdom. You can read my review here on the blog tomorrow or you can head on over to Amazon to grab yourself a copy. Be sure to check the bottom of the post for the links!

You have a new book called Kingdom coming out, tell us a little bit about it?
KINGDOM is a gritty, bio-punk myth. Its genre fiction at its finest—violence, sex, and dystopian madness reign supreme. Unlike some other genre fiction, however, KINGDOM asks some big philosophical questions, and refuses to be “just another genre novel.” Specifically, KINGDOM explores the possibility that there is a gene for the human soul—a gene that cannot be reproduced by genetic engineering.

What sparked the ideas for Tiber City?
Tiber City is my love-letter to all those dystopian metropolis with which I grew up: Gibson’s Sprawl, O’Connell’s Quinsigamond, Shirley’s San Francisco, Ridley Scott’s vision of LA in BLADE RUNNER...even Stephen King’s Derry. I wanted to capture the dark energy and sense of awe and possibility that ripples through those cities, while putting my own spin on them.

What kind of research did you need to carry out before writing Kingdom and how long did it take you to write?
Well, KINGDOM addresses some pretty heavy bioengineering issues and, given that I was an undergrad English major, I needed to do some research. But at first, I went a little too far—some of the explanations/expositions overwhelmed the flow of the narrative. But after a fair amount of trial and error, I think I struck the right balance.

Who was your favourite character to develop and write for in Kingdom?
Without question, Campbell. His quest for redemption became quite personal, and it was fun to play with the classic “noir” anti-hero archetype.

What intrigues you about the Bio-punk genre/theme?
I love that it’s still evolving—that its revitalizing so many of the Cyberpunk genre’s questions and themes: What does it mean to be human, and how does technology impact our definition of humanity. I think Cyberpunk lost a little steam when the Internet turned out to be, at the moment anyway, more or less a glorified toy. Where are all the virtual reality databanks, right? Anyway, Biopunk is making the Cyberpunk genre relevant again, because the concerns expressed by Biopunk are happening, and they are happening faster than anyone could have anticipated.

If you were to 'sell' Kingdom using a single quote or line from the book, what would you choose?
"Dylan was dreaming of giant reptiles—dinosaurs whose names as a child he could rattle off on command, names he had now forgotten—attacking great cities of the West, a blur of leathery wings, scales, and fire, atonal screeching ricocheting off steel skyscrapers as terrible Behemoths descended out of the nothingness, plunging toward the hearts of these cities, rendering cathedrals and skyscrapers an indistinguishable rubble."

Do you prefer to plan out the plot-line and scenes or do you just write and see where you end up?
Generally, I have an idea about a scene: I know what I want to accomplish that that scene, and the gist of where it takes place, when, etc. The rest comes as I write (hopefully!). This way seems to provide enough structure that I can get started and that I don’t wander too much; the prose can stay focused and move along. But its not so overly structured that it suffocates the creative flow.

Which authors or characters inspired you when you were growing up?
William Gibson, Bret Easton Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Stephen King, James Ellory and Jack Kerouac. Those are my big six, and I can’t overstate how important their work is to me, both as a writer and a man.

As a debut author, what one particular element to the writing and publishing process has been the most exciting?
Without question, having other people read—and react to—KINGDOM. After spending so much time preparing the manuscript, its been incredible to see the story have an impact on some people. After all, that’s what its all about: art, even genre fiction, has an intrinsic value, sure, but, at the end of the day, its about challenging/influencing how people feel…and if KINGDOM can do that, then all the hard work is worth it.

Thank you so much Anderson for taking time to answer my questions! If you would like more information on Anderson or his first book Kingdom, you can find it here: 

Anderson's Website where you can download the first 4 chapters of Kingdom.

27 June 2012

HARRY POTTER COMPETITION: 15 YEARS OF MAGIC

Bloomsbury are currently holding a fab competition to celebrate the 15 year anniversary of Harry Potter. For your chance to prove you are the #1 Harry Potter fan and win some stunning prizes, read on ...

HARRY POTTER COMPETITION 
CELEBRATING 15 YEARS OF HARRY POTTER MAGIC 
THE SEARCH FOR UK AND IRELAND'S BIGGEST HARRY POTTER FAN
26th June - 31st July 2012

From an idea born on a train journey, to its creation in a small cafe in Edinburgh Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the book that started a global phenomenon. Rejected by many publishers and with an initial hardback print run of 500 copies, it has now sold over 90 million copies worldwide. It is the book that put Harry’s destiny in motion and created a whole new generation of readers. It is hard to think now that before 1997 none of us knew about Hogwarts, Quidditch or Voldemort (who was voted as the favourite literary villain in a recent Bloomsbury poll).

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Bloomsbury is launching a nationwide competition to find the UK’s biggest HARRY POTTER fan.

Bloomsbury is inviting fans to write a letter of no more than 50 words explaining why they love HARRY POTTER. We are looking for the most creative, clever and entertaining reasons and, while the word limit is set to a strict 50 words, entrants are encouraged to draw, doodle and make their letters as elaborate as possible.

HARRY POTTER fans can only enter by visiting a local bookshop or library and posting their letter in the specially designed postboxes. Over 1800 bookshops and libraries have already signed up to take part. The competition will run from Tuesday 26th June to Tuesday 31st July 2012 after which we will name the UK and Ireland’s biggest HARRY POTTER fan. The winner and runners up will be announced on Saturday 1st September.

Details of how to enter, a list of participating bookshops and libraries, and details of the prizes can be found on the website: www.bloomsbury.com/harrypottercompetition

Bloomsbury has created an exclusive short video to celebrate this anniversary which can be viewed at www.bloomsbury.com/harrypotter or by watching the trailer below:



26 June 2012

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: MADELINE ASHBY

Today I am really excited to have author Madeline Ashby joining me on the blog to kindly answer a few questions about her debut science fiction novel vN and her passion for science fiction. vN looks at how humanoid robots could be used to enhance our lives, and whether they may not be all that different to us.

vN will be released in August 2012 by Angry Robot, and you can read my review of it here or you can head on over to Amazon to grab yourself a copy. Be sure to check the bottom of the post for the links!


Your debut book vN is coming out in August 2012 [UK; July in US]. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
vN is the story of Amy Peterson, a self-replicating humanoid robot who's lived with her synthetic mother and organic father for five years. She's been grown slowly, at the speed of an ordinary human child. When her synthetic grandmother shows up and tries to kidnap her, she eats her alive. Literally. Then her grandmother lives on as a partition in her drivespace, providing snide (and disturbingly violent) commentary as Amy goes on a journey of discovery that includes escaping jail, getting her first job, and figuring out why she alone can harm human beings.

What sparked the idea for self-replicating humanoids?
It started out with a question I had while watching Naruto and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. (They used to air on the same night, in Toronto.) I wondered if Naruto, a ninja-in-training who can make multiple "shadow clones" of himself, used the copies in parallel process. Could Naruto use them to do high-order math problems, like a bunch of PS3s rigged together as a supercomputer? Could the clones have ideas on their own? Then I wondered the same about the Tachikoma units in GITS:SAC. (My first husband had a theory that the Tachikomas would become von Neumann machines in their quest for individuality and sentience, replicating extra versions of themselves to take over after they got scrapped.) At the time, I was working on a thesis on anime and cyborg theory, so these themes of identity and replication and reproduction were in my head all the time. I started wondering what it would be like to be a person who iterated multiple versions of herself, von Neumann-style.

What makes von Neumann-type humanoids different from humans?
vN cannot hurt human beings. They can't even really simulate what it would feel like to do so. All models have a built-in failsafe that cripples their memory and processes if they even consider hurting a human being. They start to stutter, like a buffering video. They have "a humane response to inhuman behaviour," as one human puts it, in the novel.
Aside from the failsafe, vN also iterate copies of themselves. They reproduce asexually, depending on how much they eat, and what they reproduce is an exact replica of themselves. So they have some issues about the differences between themselves and their iterations. I suppose that doesn't make them any different from humans, really, but it does re-frame the problem.

What qualities do you admire most in Amy?
Amy is very brave. Almost foolishly so. But I admire it all the same, because she doesn't pussyfoot around wondering what to do. She's willing to try and fail. She sees a problem and tries to solve it. That's because deep down, she doesn't accept things as they are. She knows they could and should be better. She insists on that. And I like that about her. Amy does not avoid the fight. She runs straight for it.

Who was your favourite character to develop and write for in vN?
Hmm. It's a tie between Javier (a supporting character) and Portia (Amy's grandmother). Portia is more fun to write. She tends to be factually right, but morally wrong. She's also completely comfortable with her villainy. She relishes it. She's proud of it. It makes her happy. But Javier is different. He's a very active character who's resourceful enough to get things done, and experienced enough to know how the world really works. So I think they both add something crucial to a story about someone growing up too fast.

If you were to 'sell' vN using a single quote or line from the book, what would you choose?
Hmm. That's tough. Maybe, "I'm tired of loving humans."

If you could, would you have a vN as a partner?
Maybe when I was elderly. I think vN would be good partners for a lot of people, but the elderly in particular. People who have had plenty of relationships already, or even just a few strong ones, who need someone who won't abandon them and who will love them unconditionally as their lives become steadily more awkward and difficult, and who won't die on them in the process.

What attracts you to the science fiction genre?
I grew up watching and reading science fiction. It was a constant presence in our household. I was the kid who explained The X-Files to all the adults, because they couldn't understand the plot. But in general, what drew me to science fiction were the words of Ursula K. LeGuin: “The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary.”I think science fiction has the power to do exactly that. I think it can showcase many possible futures, so we're better equipped to choose the ones we want. And I think that in a culture that is so unabashedly anti-intellectual, anti-factual, and anti-science as this one, writing science fiction is even more important. I mean, the anti-vaccination movement has brought on measles outbreaks in California children. We need science. We need inspiring stories about science and the people who practise it.

Which authors or characters inspired you when you were growing up?
I was a big fan of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Mahy, and Sebastien Japrisot. I discovered the first few in elementary school, and Japrisot in junior high. In high school I discovered anime and manga. I watched Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell and Akira and all the big titles I could find. (I also went through a big Dune phase, senior year. It really put prom in perspective.) In college, I discovered Haruki Murakami and Ursula LeGuin and William Gibson. I also watched Cowboy Bebop and Stand Alone Complex and Fullmetal Alchemist. At the time, I was in a classics-oriented program at a Jesuit school, so it was a fun mix.

As a debut author, what has been the most exciting/challenge thing about getting published?
The most exciting thing is the fact that it actually happens. I really didn't expect anything to happen. I'm friends with a lot of novelists, and they all have trunk novels that have never seen the light of day. So, I had prepared myself for that. I knew this might wind up being a prototype and nothing more. The fact that people were interested in it, and even wanted to purchase the manuscript, was the real surprise.


Thank you so much Madeline for taking time to answer my questions! If you would like more information on Madeline or her first book vN, you can find it here: 

25 June 2012

REVIEW: vN

Author: Madeline Ashby
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Angry Robot
UK Release date: August 2012
Genre: Science fiction
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review

Amy is a vN, a von Neumann humanoid robot able to self replicate. With a human father and humanoid mother, Amy has grown up in a mixed organic/synthetic family, kept safe at home and school from other children in case their fighting might cause her failsafe to kick in and her memory to shutdown. But when Amy's mother is attacked by her grandmother, her instinct is to protect her mother - and she eats her grandmother. Now with a faulty failsafe and her grandmother piggy backing inside her, Amy is being hunted down and must find a way to escape.

I will warn you now, vN isn't a light read. Unless of course you eat technical science for breakfast. I really had to concentrate on the story, and this was for two reasons. Firstly the science fiction elements were fairly complex and technical, to my brain anyway, and I had to focus to understand the language used to describe Amy's physical makeup and artificial intelligence. Secondly vN was constantly presenting thought provoking situations, whether it was about what makes someone human, where do morals and ethics end and robotics begin, or how much can humanoid robots be aware, conscious or considered human.

I felt frustrated that humanoids like Amy weren't given any of the rights that humans were, because they had been programmed to act certain ways. There was a massive manhunt for Amy after she attacked and ate her grandmother, despite the fact that it was to protect another humanoid. vNs could be used for pedophilia, rape, or torture and they would endure it with a smile because their programming told them to enjoy human's company and never to hurt them in return. Can you argue that it's ok to do these things just because they aren't fully human and are built of silicon? For me it felt very creepy to see young vN children being kept by grown men for indecent sexual acts. It was situations like these that kept challenging my moral and ethical values.

Amy was such a gentle and likeable character. Despite being an artificially intelligent humanoid, she felt so real and human. Her compassion and caring for Javier's baby was unexpected but intriguing. I loved the fact that she was able to take on key features of others she ate and changed as a character throughout the book. Granny was scary, violent, motivated, singleminded and squatting inside Amy's consciousness like an artificial toad. Her thoughts interrupted Amy's own thoughts and at times she would completely take over Amy and wreak havoc. The huge difference between Amy and Granny was fascinating, and  I loved seeing Granny take charge and go on a violent spree.

Javier really surprised me. The fact that he was built to breed and reiterate and then would just leave his children to grow up on their own, made me initially think he would be unreliable and selfish. But he kept surprising me throughout the story, coming back to help Amy and changing his own behaviour because of her.

vN digs deep into the human and AI psyche, and is a thoroughly thought provoking read.

Rating: 4*

Don't forgot to drop by tomorrow to read my interview with Madeline Ashby!!

23 June 2012

REVIEW: THE MONSTER'S CORNER

Author: Christopher Golden
Series: No - Anthology
UK Publisher: Piatkus
UK Release date: September 2011
Genre: Anthology (fantasy, urban fantasy)

Have you ever wondered what the monster in any story thought? Whether he was really evil or whether situation and prejudice made him that way? Well here is your chance to find out, because Monster’s Corner finally gives us their side of their story.

Each of the 19 short stories is written from the monster’s perspective, making them the hero of their own story. From sirens and witches, to rakshasi and succubus, you may just start to understand them and maybe even feel sorry for them. Monster’s Corner brings these demons and devils out of the darkness and sheds light on what the monsters are really like.

Monster’s Corner features contributions from such authors as David Liss, Kevin J. Anderson, Lauren Groff, Chelsea Cain, Kelley Armstrong, Jonathan Maberry, and many others. Here follows mini reviews of just a few of the short stories, to give a snapshot of what the anthology contains.


The Awkward Age by David Liss
When Pete’s awkward and withdrawn son finally makes a friend, Pete and his wife think their problems are over. Except Mason is different. Despite being only fourteen she looks and acts far beyond her age, manipulating and using Pete with masterful skill, pushing him ever closer towards the murky realms of paedophilia. 

At first I thought the story was about Pete and how he was falling for Mason’s blatant flirtations. I was certain he would be so tempted by her charms that he would forget both morals and monogamy. So much so that I didn’t see where the story was going. With a great twist ending, this is a thought-provoking story that will make you wonder where boundaries lie.


Torn Stitches, Shattered Glass by Kevin J. Anderson
Frankenstein’s monster, Franck, has struggled for years to find somewhere to settle, always feeling like he doesn’t fit in or belong. This time he has settled in Ingolstadt, Germany at the start of the Nazi reign, watching as his neighbours’ shops are vandalized and good honest people are beaten at the hands of prejudice and hatred. 

For a monster that killed his creator, I liked Franck. He kept to himself, worked hard and tried to fit into the small Jewish community. But no matter what he did, he still looked different with his scars and misshapen body. Throughout the story there was a undercurrent of tension, intensifying when the Nazi Germans attacked the village. For such a simple story the analogy of Franck’s treatment at the hands of prejudice was reflected perfectly in the Nazi’s persecution of the Jewish people. It seems we humans are far from perfect; human nature instinctively leads us to fear and persecute anyone different from us.


Rakshasi by Kelley Armstrong
Although Amrita is a demon warrior she lives with an isha family as a servant to her master. She must do his bidding to make up for her own past wrong doings and repay her debt to earn her freedom. But when her master denies her that freedom, Amrita takes matters into her own hands.

Despite being a cold, unemotional and ruthless character I couldn’t help but warm to Amrita and feel for her life of servitude. She was written as a very mysterious but strong willed character and I really wanted to know more about her history and past. The rakshasi characteristics such as superhuman strength and speed and eternal life also made me think Amrita might be a vampire at first. I didn’t realise that rakshasi are different creatures from vampires within mythology and folklore, and I liked the twist of servitude and working to earn freedom that made the story different from traditional vampire stories.


Although anthologies aren’t the first thing I would browse for in the bookstore, I remember why I like them as soon as I start reading them. Monster’s Corner has given me an opportunity to read authors that wouldn’t normally cross my radar and get a snippet of their writing style and sense of humour, and could be the start of a brand new author-reader relationship.

What I really enjoyed was that each of the short stories in Monster’s Corner is so different, focusing on a different kind of monster – some blurring the line between good and bad and making you think twice about who the monster is. Does the monster even know he is a monster? If that’s their own nature can one blame them for being who they are? And what makes someone a monster anyway? Is it someone who doesn’t conform to our societal views of what is moral; someone who uses, manipulates and inflicts pain on others; or just someone who is different from us? Perhaps the monster isn’t always the monster – perhaps it is us who makes the monster who he is. We will never know unless we hear his story.

Rating: 4*

18 June 2012

COMING SOON FROM RANDOM HOUSE CHILDREN'S PUBLISHERS

When I received my first invitation to Random House's Summer Blogger's Brunch I have to admit I jumped up and down and squealed. How could I pass up the opportunity for book updates, cakes, a blogger meet-up and a very quirky author reading?! RHCPs have some amazing books coming out soon, and here are some of my favourite picks:


Now is Good (Before I Die) by Jenny Downham
To be published 30th August 2012

Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of ‘normal’ life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

Above is the trailer for the film Now is Good, featuring Dakota Fanning, which will be out this September.

*****


The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne
To be published 2nd August 2012

There's nothing unusual about the Brockets. Boring, respectable and fiercely proud of it, Alistair and Eleanor Brocket turn up their noses at anyone strange or different. But from the moment Barnaby Brocket comes into the world, it's clear he's anything but normal. To the horror and shame of his parents, Barnaby appears to defy the laws of gravity - and floats.

Little Barnaby is a lonely child - after all, it's hard to make friends when you're ten feet in the air. Desperate to please his parents, he does his best to stop floating, but he just can't do it. Then, one fateful day, Barnaby's mother decides enough is enough. She never asked for a weird, abnormal, floating child. She's sick and tired of the newspapers prying and the neighbours gossiping. Barnaby has to go . . .

Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon. And so begins a magical journey around the world; from South America to New York, Canada to Ireland, and even a trip into space, Barnaby meets a cast of truly extraordinary new friends and realises that nothing can make you happier than just being yourself.


*****


The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost
To be published 27th September 2012

Will West is careful to live life under the radar. At his parents’ insistence, he’s made sure to get mediocre grades and to stay in the middle of the pack on his cross-country team. Then Will slips up, accidentally scoring off the charts on a nationwide exam.

Now Will is being courted by an exclusive prep school . . . and is being followed by men driving black sedans. When Will suddenly loses his parents, he must flee to the school. There he begins to explore all that he’s capable of—physical and mental feats that should be impossible—and learns that his abilities are connected to a struggle between titanic forces that has lasted for millennia.


*****


Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone
To be published 25th October 2012

The Time Traveler's Wife for teens; Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett’s unique ability to travel through time and space brings him into Anna’s life, and with him, a new world of adventure and possibility.

As their relationship deepens, they face the reality that time might knock Bennett back where he belongs, even as a devastating crisis throws everything they believe into question. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate—and what consequences they can bear in order to stay together.



*****

Acquired by RCHP only a month ago this book isn't yet on Goodreads, but it is set to be a fast paced thriller.

Crusher by Niall Leonard
To be published 13th September 2012

To catch a killer, Finn Maguire may have to become one...

Everything changed the day Finn found his father in a pool of blood, bludgeoned to death. His dull dreary life is turned upside down as he becomes the prime suspect - how can he clear his name and find out who hated his dad enough to kill him?

Facing danger at every turn, uncovering dark family secrets and braving the seedy London underworld, Finn is about to discover that only the people you trust can really hurt you...


*****


Dodger by Terry Pratchett
To be published 13th September 2012

A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage, in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he's ... Dodger.


*****

Photo by Phrased and Confused
As part of the Blogger Brunch we also got the opportunity to meet the very quirky and unique Laura Dockrill. She is the author behind her forthcoming book about 10 year Darcy Burdock which is scheduled for publication in early 2013. Her reading was passionate and brought the character to life as if she actually was Darcy (not far from the truth as she admitted afterwards!) Her talents as a writer, poet, illustrator and performer come to life in her books (she already has YA/adults books published) as well as her outward demeanour, and I can only imagine how much the children must love her at the schools she visits, all of which sets a promising landscape for her first children's book. Look out for Darcy Burdock in 2013.


Other titles coming soon from RCHP include:

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick - To be published 2nd August 2012
Enders (Starters #2) by Lissa Price - To be published 6th December 2012
Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel - To be published 2nd August 2012
Hot Blooded by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie - To be published 6th December 2012
Muddle and Win by John Dickinson - To be published 30th August 2012
Red Rain by R.L. Stine - To be published 11th October 2012
The Feathered Man by Jeremy de Quidt - To be published 1st November 2012
The Flappers: Ingenue by Jillian Larkin To be published 5th July 2012
Rapture by Lauren Kate - To be published 21st June 2012

15 June 2012

REVIEW: BLACKBIRDS

Author: Chuck Wendig
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Angry Robot
UK Release date: April 2012
Genre: Paranormal
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review

With a mere touch of your skin Miriam Black can tell when and how you will die. She’s seen old age take its toil, car crashes and heart attacks. Watching people’s final moments, Miriam’s gift makes her a guiding angel for death. But the burden takes a turn when she hitches a ride with truck rider Louis. Shaking his hand, she sees his imminent death and hears him call her name. Can Miriam escape the hand of fate or is she caught up in her own destiny?

As soon as you start reading Blackbirds it’s hard to deny that it’s violent and crass, overflowing with swearing, fighting, drinking and immorality. Those of a sensitive nature be warned. But if you are daring and willing enough to read, you will find a story that is unique, mesmerising and utterly compelling. Admittedly I had to skip a few gory paragraphs so as not to upset my delicate sensitivities, but even the raw violence couldn’t stop me reading.

Having never read anything like it, Wendig’s writing style is distinctive. Each word packs a punch – there isn’t any fluff or unnecessary content. Likewise, the change between present and past give us insight into the different characters without breaking up the pace and flow.

As the female protagonist, Miriam is definitely unique and quite a character. Flitting from town to town, hitching rides and never settling down, she isn’t necessarily a character I can easily relate to. But that didn’t bother me, because I loved how different she was from me. Listening to a narrative full of swearing and anger I was enthralled by her unabashed honesty and frankness. Miriam certainly grew on me as unlikely but deserving hero.

The big question that Miriam struggles with throughout the story is whether fate can be changed. Able to see other people’s death before it happens, Miriam is faced with the decision of intervening and trying to save them or letting fate take its natural course. It can’t be an easy decision to make, every time you touch someone deciding whether you should attempt to save them from death or let the inevitable happen. And who would want to watch people die just by shaking their hand? But can fate be changed anyway? If fate decides how we die, can Miriam ever change it? The guilt of both trying and failing and doing nothing has taken its toll on Miriam; she drinks, sleeps around and gets into fights. You can feel her pain jump out of the pages, showing the vulnerability inside her tough shell.

Reading Blackbirds feels a little like your riding a rollercoaster; after tipping over that first crest you’re pulled forward with a momentum that is paralysing and a force that is unstoppable. Miriam knows she’s barrelling towards something, but she can’t grasp how she’ll get there or what will happen when she does. I was gripped with both anticipation but also uncertainty because I liked truck driver Louis. He’s a genuine and decent guy, quite a rare thing in Blackbirds, and I didn’t want someone so nice getting caught up in the horrific and ruthless dealings of Ingersoll. It’s the kind of plot where you have to close your eyes, hold on tight and hope for the best.

What I liked about the characters in Blackbirds is that they are multi-dimensional. None of them are purely good or evil. Like real life, they’re a blend of both, with good and bad parts. Even the bad guys Harriet and Ingersoll have a past and a history, a reason for who they are and why they do what they do. Seeing the other side of the coin, and the story behind people’s behaviour, is always interesting as it plays on your emotions and almost makes you feel sorry for them. Almost but most definitely not. It did make me wonder though, whether evil is born or made, nature or nurture, or in Ingersoll’s case possibly a mixture of both.

Blackbirds is a high energy, whisky-fuelled ride, that will pull you along for the journey and have you questioning whether we can change destiny. A must-read book by an author that is worth watching.

Rating: 5*

13 June 2012

BLOG TOUR: BURN MARK

Today as part of the Burn Mark book tour and to celebrate the release of her new book, I have the lovely Laura Powell to talk about Glory the main female protagonist in Burn Mark.

Glory is from a family of witches and lives beyond the law. She is desperate to develop her powers and become a witch herself. Lucas is the son of the Chief Prosecutor for the Inquisition—the witches’ mortal enemy—and his privileged life is very different to the forbidden world that he lives alongside.

And then on the same day, it hits them both. Glory and Lucas develop the Fae—the mark of the witch. In one fell stroke, their lives are inextricably bound together, whether they like it or not . . .


Who is Glory?
It’s modern Britain, and the Inquisition is still burning witches alive. Although licensed witches are partially integrated into society, many have formed criminal gangs known as covens.

Glory is the granddaughter of one of the infamous “Starling Twins”, beautiful blonde witch-sisters whose gang terrorised London in the 1960s. In her run-down East End estate, Glory dreams of becoming a witch too. It’s her only chance of getting power and respect. But her side of the family’s been pushed out into the cold by a rival coven, and now the battle’s on to claim her rights.

I’d probably be a bit nervous of Glory if I met her in real life. She’s stroppy and tough, with a sharp tongue. She’s also vulnerable – a young girl trying to survive in a brutally macho world. Her family has suffered horrible persecutions at the hands of the Inquisition, and she lives in fear of them coming for her too. Bullied by her powerful mafia relations, hunted by the witch-finders, and forced into an uneasy alliance with the son of an Inquisitor, Glory is about to find out that becoming a witch is a lot more than she bargained for. 

If you're intrigued by this insight into Glory, you can find out more about Laura and her new book on:


Don't forget to hop over to Monday and Tuesday's Burn Mark blog tour hosts, Sarah and Raimy:

12 June 2012

ISTANBUL AT A GLANCE

In case you hadn't seen my occasional Twitter post last month, I thought I would regale everyone with pictures from the fabulous Istanbul, otherwise renamed by me as the 'Disneyland of Turkey' ;)

View from Topkapi Palace
Hagia Sophia

Istanbul is absolutely infused with history, right through from the Byzantium period (AD) to muslim life as it is today. It has seen Greek settlers, conversion to Christianity, Ottoman rule, Sultans, and chariot racing in the main square. The Hagia Sophia, above, was once the world's largest cathedral, although today it exists as a mosque. The Blue Mosque below is named after the blue tiles that adorn the inside, and the chatting at prayer time was magical. 

Blue Mosque at night

Although we only had a few days there, we managed to get around and see quite a bit. Topkapi Palace had some stunning views out over the Bosphorous, which would have made a pretty stunning home for a Sultan and his harem. Although the dedicated circumcision room was a little much for my taste!

Lots and lots of Turkish Delight!

The food there was also stunning with so many spices, street food like roasted chestnuts, plenty of Turkish delight and coffee that will keep you awake for days! All in all, it was a pretty cool way to spend a big birthday :)

Photos by my lovely other half, Dani Riot.

11 June 2012

REVIEW: BURN MARK

Author: Laura Powell
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury
UK Release date: June 2012
Genre: Magic, YA
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review

In modern day London, witches still exist. Although if it was down to the Inquisition and witch-hunters this wouldn't be true, and tensions run high between magic and non-magic kind. When Luke, son of the Chief Prosecutor for the Inquisition, discovers his own magical secret he finds his only solution is to pair up with Glory, a young witch-in-waiting and member of a highly notorious criminal family. Together they must learn to put aside their differences and prejudices to stop magical tensions tearing society apart.

The parallels that can be drawn from Burn Mark both to historical events and even current society are very poignant.  The story shows you just how easily people judge others, how easily they can make immoral decisions in the name of morals and tradition, and how scary it can be when you’re persecuted for being nothing other than who you are. So many characters in the book took drastic actions which they felt were justified and right, but were completely blinded by their prejudices. The fact that the context is changed to witches really made me reflect back on my own beliefs in the real world, but in a safe and intriguing way.

I liked how different Lucas and Glory were, both in background and beliefs. Lucas is from an upper class witch-hunting family and Glory is from a notorious criminal family with witch powers. And yet despite their own desires to hate each other, they were able to find a common ground and see that there was something more important that their own feelings. Which was certainly much more than all the adults in the book could do. Without making it too much of 'lesson', their alliance shows what can be done if you put differences aside and act with openness and fairness in mind.

At first I thought Lucas was a bit stuck up and arrogant, but I was seriously impressed with how he dealt finding out he was a witch. To come from a long line of witch-hunters, the disparity between what he expected his future to be and who he actually was huge. Yet he showed strength, fortitude, and courage and he grew on me throughout the story. Because of Glory's tenacity, passion and wiliness they both draw equal as my favourite characters in the story.

Filled with tense moments and 'magically' aggravated events, Burn Mark was action packed and fast paced. At certain points I could practically feel the tension rolling out of the pages, as if any situation could turn nasty at any point. A thought provoking story of societal prejudices, Burn Mark certainly delivered a high-impact story of the magic kind.

Rating: 4*

Bloomsbury have launched their Burning Times Facebook page where you will find all the latest news, reviews, and more, and you can view their amazing trailer here.

And don't forget to pop back on Wednesday for more of an insight into Glory direct from Laura Powell!

10 June 2012

REVIEW: THE SELECTION

Author: Kiera Cass
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Harper Collins
UK Release date: June 7th 2012
Genre: YA
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review

America lives in a future where your place in society is judged on the number you are born into. As a struggling 5, America’s only way to become a 1 is to win the heart of Prince Maxon in the Selection, a televised competition against 34 other girls. But all America wants is to marry Aspen, despite his lowly status as a 6. When she is selected and taken away from her family and Aspen to live in the palace, America will have to fight fierce competition and come to terms with her she feels about both Aspen and Maxon.

The concept for The Selection is a little like TV's Big Brother crossed with the royal family. The future that Cass has built is simple but fascinating with castes dividing society into numerical rankings, those at the top (number 1’s) being rich, and those at the bottom (number 8’s) being poor and on the fringe of society. There is snobbery and prejudice based on the castes, and in the story it goes so far as to obstruct America and Aspen’s love because they are of different castes: America's mother is determined she will marry into a higher caste, so one can only imagine what she might think about the secret relationship between Aspen and America. This forbidden love was so romantic and heart breaking at the same time – Aspen’s concern that he would be holding America from a better life back tugged at my heartstrings and really pulled me into the story.

Although I couldn’t ever see our royal family hosting a competiion like this, especially one shown on TV, what I liked about the concept of competing for Prince Maxon’s heart was the subterfuge, the subtle (or not so subtle) way some girls tried to get one up on other girls, and the psychological warfare. I couldn’t help but wonder who was in it for the crown, the prince or the riches, who was genuine and who wasn’t.

America was very different from the other girls in the Selection - she didn't want to win Maxon's heart for one thing, she wasn't afraid to be honest with the Prince, and standout as herself. Despite the fact that her differences felt a little forced, I think she was a gutsy character able to shout, cry and express her emotions and even knee the prince in the groin!

I thought Prince Maxon was great - he was understanding, caring, funny and down to earth. I really hope we get to see more of him, particularly in more of a leader/princely role rather than just as the love interest.

Only to be picky, there were a few things that irked ever so slightly about the story. One being the girls giggling constantly including maids in the Palace, whom I’m sure would have learnt to be professional in front of members of royalty. The other is that the end seemed slightly rushed, with some incidents speeding past in a whirlwind and the story ending almost abruptly. It probably didn’t help that I was foolishly expecting it be a standalone, and was expecting certain things to happen. So be warned, you will be left with a major cliffhanger and a long wait to find out what happens next.

The Selection is a fun YA with dystopian undertones, where romance and heartbreak spill from the pages.

Rating: 4*

9 June 2012

ON MY WISHLIST (7)

On My Wishlist is a fun event now hosted at Cosy Books. It's where you can list all the books you desperately want but haven't actually bought yet. They can be old, new or forthcoming.

My choices for this are both 2012 debut authors and due out in August 2012. What do you think? Would they go on your wishlist?


Innocent Darkness (The Aether Chronicles #1) by Suzanne Lazear 
To be published 8th August 2012 by Flux

Wish. Love. Desire. Live.
Sixteen-year-old Noli Braddock's hoyden ways land her in an abusive reform school far from home. On mid-summer's eve she wishes to be anyplace but that dreadful school. A mysterious man from the Realm of Faerie rescues her and brings her to the Otherworld, only to reveal that she must be sacrificed, otherwise, the entire Otherworld civilization will perish.

*****


To be published 21st August 2012 by Razorbill

When Lorelei's old school mysteriously burns down, a new one appears practically overnight: Splendid Academy. Rock-climbing walls on the playground and golden bowls of candy on every desk? Gourmet meals in the cafeteria, served by waiters? Optional homework and two recess periods a day? It's every kids's dream.

But Lorelei and her new friend Andrew are pretty sure it's too good to be true. Together they uncover a sinister mystery, one with their teacher, the beautiful Ms. Morrigan, at the very center.

Then Andrew disappears. Lorelei has to save him, even if that means facing a past she'd like to forget – and taking on a teacher who's a real witch.

What Lorelei and Andrew discover chills their bones – and might even pick them clean!

6 June 2012

REVIEW: UNRAVELLING

Author: Elizabeth Norris
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Harper Collins
UK Release date: 7th June 2012
Genre: YA sci-fi
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review

17 year old Janelle Tenner is hit by a truck. And she dies. But when she is mysteriously brought back to life, she can't help but wonder why. And how. As she starts following her father's FBI case, she starts seeing how her 'death' might fit into a huge threat to end the world.

I found Unravelling so gripping, each chapter counting down to some unknown and mysterious apocalypse. There were lots of little clues to figure, and it was like putting together and solve a puzzle. Think X-Files and you won't go far wrong.

What really brought the story to life for me was how many little details were used to describe the characters' pasts. Little stories about things that happened to the Tenner family made them all seem so real and alive, with pasts and histories that explained why they were the way they were and made me feel like I knew intimate details of their lives. I knew their quirks, their faults, their strengths and the way these memories were written in made the story feel so whole and intimate.

Janelle was such a strong character. She's had to cope with her mum's depression, look after her younger brother Jared and stay ahead in school. The way she has protected her brother without even thinking twice is admirable. She did play at detective, but I could see the draw of putting together the clues. Further into the story this became even more personal and important to Janelle. Her determination even when her life was turned upside was unstoppable and I respected her so much.

I was a big fan of Ben, surrounded by mystery and defying expectations at every turn. He was smart, caring, broody, and there was something naturally appealing about him.

I always say this, but I love gutsy authors that kill off key people (I'm not telling who, promise). It made Unravelling such a tumultuous, intense and emotional story. It really had me by the heart strings and made me shed more than several tears.

There is so much more that I want to tell you about this book, but I don't want to ruin your experience reading it. So all I can say is please read this. If you like science fiction, investigations and intrigue, please please read it!

Rating: 5*

5 June 2012

REVIEW: HARBINGER OF THE STORM

If you haven't yet read the first in this series, Servant of the Underworld, you can find my review here. There may be spoilers for this first book in the following review.

Harbinger of the Storm (Obsidian and Blood #2)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Series: Yes, #2
UK Publisher: Angry Robot
UK Release date: January 2011
Genre: Historical fantasy

When the Revered Speaker Axayacatl-tzin dies, the fifth world is left vulnerable. Without a ruler, the Mexica Empire is no longer under the protection of Huitzilpochtli, the God of War, but is at the mercy of flesh-eating stardemons, not to mention the politics of electing a new emperor.

In order to discover who is behind the deaths of a council member and the Guardian to the Empire, Acatl, High Priest of the Dead, must throw himself into the political melee that ensues. Discovering that a stardemon was summoned from within the court means that Acatl must interview council members and become embroiled in discerning each man’s own political agenda, and figuring out who is telling the truth and who is playing a dangerous game.

When Axayacatl’s wife and sister to the ruler of neighbouring Texcoco, is found to have consorted with the murdered councilman, the mystery escalates and soon Acatl realises that the crimes are bigger than he could have imagined. Acatl will once again have to enter the god’s world of sacrifice, deception and trickery, with only the company of his fellow priests to help him survive. He must decide whether he can put aside his mistrust of politics and priests’ ambitions to save the empire.

Harbinger of the Storm is a complex murder mystery, spanning the everyday and the world of the gods. Set in Aztec culture, life is filled with danger as men struggle to gain power and favour from the menacing and unforgiving gods.

Despite his dislike of politics, Acatl is once again thrown into the midst of meddling high priests and scheming council members, of which he must decipher where the truth lies. Not trusting in politics or the men who dabble in it, Acatl is forced to fight for the future survival of the empire and put aside the ambitions and flaws of his counterparts. Although he doesn’t undergo such a dramatic personal trial as he did facing the past death of his father in Servant of the Underworld, Acatl is forced to make an important but personal decision that could affect the entire empire.

One of my favourite characters is Teomitl, brother of Axayacatl and previous sidekick to Acatl. Having fallen in love with Mihmatini, Teomitl must face his brother and heir to the throne, Tizic-tzin, who is adamant that their relationship cannot continue. Being of low rank, Mihmatini, Acatl’s sister, is deemed unworthy of being with Teomitl who will one day be heir apparent. With his patronage to Chalchiuhtlicue, Goddess of Lakes and Streams, Teomitl has become stronger and more powerful, and we see him bringing with her magical power throughout the story. He must not only learn to control his temper and rage, but must also put aside his own feelings and pride when he clashes with the ruler of Texcoco, Nezahual. Both are young and powerful, and I enjoy the interplay between the two as their personalities battle against each other.

I’m also really pleased to see Mihmatini become more involved in the story when she takes on an important role as Guardian of the Empire, which cements her relationship with Teomitl much to Tizoc-tzin’s disgust. In a very male dominated cast and after the loss of the previous Guardian Ceyaxochitl, it is good to see another female take some of the limelight, however she certainly deserves more. She is an interesting character with her own strengths as a woman and as a budding priestess. I can’t wait to see more of both her and Teomitl and how their relationship might blossom in the future.

Following on from its predecessor, Harbinger of the Storm encompasses an even greater cast of characters each with their own back stories and secrets, and it can often be confusing trying to remember who is priest of what and what each is hiding. Likewise the plot is made up of numerous twists, turns and subplots, which keep the pace fast and give a real sense of urgency to the story. It certainly left me guessing although slightly befuddled; this is not the kind of book where you could possibly predict what might happen at the end let alone in a chapters time, and it makes you feel as Acatl must – caught up in a whirlwind of mystery and intrigue.

Refreshingly new and different, Aliette de Bodard’s series has built up an impressively real and spectacular backdrop filled with Aztec culture, mythology and deities. The fast pace and intrigue pull you into a captivating world, where the fury and vengeance of the gods can change everything and no one can be trusted. One can only imagine what might happen next in Master of the House of Darts, but you can guarantee it will be a stunningly fast and furious ride of Aztec proportions.

Rating: 3.5*

3 June 2012

REVIEW: CHIME

Author: Franny Billingsley
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury
UK Release date: April 2011
Genre: YA
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review

Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.

Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know.
(Goodreads)

I have to admit, it took me a while to get into this book. As I started reading I thought it might be set somewhere between 1400-1700s due to the stigma about being accused a witch, but the more I read the more I realised it was set at a much later time - around late 1800s to early 1900s. This disorientation made me feel a little unsettled to start, and in addition to this I found the writing style a struggle to get used to only because it is different to most reads. If I rated the book based on the first few chapters, I would probably put it very low. But reading it did get easier and I'm glad I persevered to read the whole book because I really started to like it.

Chime certainly isn't your generic YA book and Briony is by no means your run of the mill heroine. She is self-loathing and self-effacing. She openly admits to herself that she is a witch and believes she is wicked. She berates herself and feels she deserves to be punished for her wrong doings. Unlike other girls of her age and in her village, she's honest, witty and she has many a secret. She is also desperately protective of her sister, Rose who is eccentric and very special in her own way. Her quirks, such as creating little drawings full of meaning, are sweet and although she might not appear it she is very clever and perceptive. At first I mistook Rose for a spoilt and selfish girl who screamed to get her own way, but then I realised what her real character is like and I though she was very endearing.

Likewise, Eldric was a real sweetheart. He could read Briony and Rose and came to understand them and protect them. His outgoing and easy nature made him very likeable, but he also inspired a lot of change at Swampsea.

I as I got further into the book, I started enjoyed it more and more and found the plot intriguing. The blend of magic and hidden truths combined to make a compelling story. The way it was written was also very unique. Although it was written from Briony's first perspective, she often changed to third person to refer to herself. Briony's own thoughts and internal monologues were also often poetic, and oddly beautiful.

I can only describe Chime as quirky, eccentric, yet beautifully crafted.

Rating: 4*

2 June 2012

1952: A DIAMOND JUBILEE OF BOOKS

As we are celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and commemorating her accession to the throne 60 years ago, I thought I would look at books published in 1952. These books hold high regard for me and will always have a fond space in my heart, not for the film/TV adaptations but because they take me straight back to me childhood. Other amazing books that were being published at this time were the Famous Five and Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton and Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew series. I absolutely loved reading these books as a child with the lashings of whipped cream, frothy ginger beers and a huge dollop of mystery, and I will certainly pull out my family's old battered copies to read with my children.

Even though I read this book as a young child, I couldn't actually believe that it was published 60 years ago. I loved this book, because really who could resist the charm of a baby pig?



Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

An affectionate pig named Wilbur befriends a spider named Charlotte, who lives in the rafters above his pen. In this story of friendship, hardship, and the passing on into time, White reminds readers to open their eyes to the wonder and miracle found in the simplest of things.

*****

I was a little older when I read this one, but I think its underrated and overshadowed by some of the other books in the Narnia chronicles.



NARNIA . . . the world of wicked dragons and magic spells, where the very best is brought out of even the worst people, where anything can happen (and most often does) . . . and where the adventure begins. The Dawn Treader is the first ship Narnia has seen in centuries. King Caspian has built it for his voyage to find the seven lords, good men whom his evil uncle Miraz banished when he usurped the throne. The journey takes Edmund, Lucy, and their cousin Eustace to the Eastern Islands, beyond the Silver Sea, toward Aslan's country at the End of the World. Enter this enchanted world countless times in The Chronicles of Narnia.

*****

This book won the Carnegie Medal in 1952, and even today is still enchanting audiences on paper and film.


The Borrowers by Mary Norton

The Borrowers—the Clock family: Homily, Pod, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Arrietty, to be precise—are tiny people who live underneath the kitchen floor of an old English country manor. All their minuscule home furnishings, from postage stamp paintings to champagne cork chairs, are “borrowed” from the “human beans” who tromp around loudly above them. All is well until Pod is spotted upstairs by a human boy! Can the Clocks stay nested safely in their beloved hidden home, or will they be forced to flee?