Monday, 28 February 2011

February Retrospective

A Look Back on February

It's been an odd month - and a long one (ironically, considering it is the shortest month of the year!) I've felt a little bit persecuted by various parties on the Internet. When you're constantly used as an example in posts that a blogger marks 'silliness' it makes you wonder whether you'll ever get anything right. It has been a month of various Internet bust ups and incivility and blasts of hot air from different parties. Not a pleasant environment, and leaves me feeling rather sick in the stomach. So I have taken solace in the wonderful friends I have made - those who don't worry about cliques or ARCs or what should/shouldn't be done on blogs. Can I give a great big shout out to Liz, Mieneke, Sam, Ole, and Sarah? Your messages of support came at a really good time and released me from the downward spiral of trying to please everyone. Offline the best part of my life BY FAR has been my dance lessons - if I could afford to go every single day, I totally would. I love the company of my dance instructor, I love learning the proper way to do all the steps, I love having something so tangible to work towards. I've been up to London a few times this month as well, which has been good fun and an opportunity to catch up with various people. I am sincerely looking forward to March, though - new month, fresh start.


Here is a list of the books I completed in February (with links to the reviews):

14) The 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison
15) A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs by Victoria Clayton
16) Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper
17) Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
18) Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
19) Snapped by Pamela Klaffke
20) Belle's Song by K M Grant
21) King Arthur: Dragon's Child by M K Hume
22) Long Reach by Peter Cocks

So, a quick breakdown...

- 3 books by men; 6 books by women (so far in 2011 I've read way more books by women, might switch that around for March)
 - A real mixed bag in terms of genre: 2 books I'd consider for children, but at very different ends of the spectrum; 3 YA that cover fantasy, thriller and historical; a horror; 2 chick lit; 1 historical. I didn't settle at all to one particular genre this month!
 - I was clearing a backlog: 2 of these are library books, but the rest are review copies. None from my shelves this month.

Best Book of February

Pages Covered

The nine books in February came to a rather slight total of 3,632 pages after a few thin books read in February. Add this to January's total and my running total for the year is 9,271 pages. The longest book this month was A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs, while the shortest by a very clear margin was Belle's Song.

Places Visited

Well, it's time for me to head back to a secondary world, clearly, since all of my novels this month took place in some incarnation of earth - either a historical version, or a futuristic version, or a right now version! On earth, I went to Canterbury, and Canada, and Yorkshire amongst others. I would most like to live in Conrad's house in A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs - a truly spectacular and down at heel mansion in Northumberland.

Plans for March

Well, the biggest plan for March is World Book Night, coming up this weekend! I will be giving away 48 copies of Dissolution in various different ways that I have had great pleasure in coming up with *grins* I also have a couple of London visits to fit in - a dinner with Deborah Harkness, and a pre-publication event for Department 19 and Will Hill. In non-book news I have another Come Dine With Me evening with hockey pals, and my eldest nephew's birthday to look forward to, amongst other things. Reading wise I want to finish Dancing Jax, which I started today. I will be reading Embedded definitely as well, for Vector Reviews.

But March is mostly given over, in terms of reading, to these tasks:

- completing the editing on Whitechapel, for Morrigan Books
- beta reading a completed novel for a good friend
- slush reading (!)
- tackling the Arthur C Clarke shortlist once it is announced on Friday 4th March

March is looking busy, y'all!

Over to You

How many books have you read this month? What were your favourites? Any particular plans for March?

Be Careful With That Title!

So I spent part of my weekend cataloguing my books - fun, non? Well, fun if you're slightly OCD like me, and enjoy lists and sorting books by categories... I'm probably using the word "fun" in its loosest possible sense there!

One thing I noticed was how many books either had very similar titles or exactly the same title. When starting a book blog or a website we're now advised to head onto the Net and search for other sites with the same name that we've picked, to avoid treading on toes and ruffling feathers. Do book people not do this as well when choosing titles? Or are we at the point with that many books in circulation that we're always going to be reproducing ideas in some fashion? How are titles picked anyhow?

Here are a quick selection of ten titles you should probably be avoiding in the future!

City of Ghosts

- Stacia Kane
- Bali Rai

Love on the Run

- Leigh Greenwood
- Marie-Nicole Ryan
- Shari MacDonald
- Barbara Cartland
- Rachel Ann Nunes
- Jeanne Rose
- Angela Winters
- J M Benjamin


- Joseph Finder
- Karen Robards
- Kate Brian
- Danielle Steel
- Kat Richardson
- Kristi Holl
- Maureen Child
- Jordan Gray

The Edge of Ruin

- Irene Fleming
- Melinda Snodgrass


- James Herbert
- Malinda Lo
- Mary Gentle

The Ritual

- Adam Nevill
- J N Williamson
- R R Walters

The Magician

- Colin Wilson
- W Somerset Maugham
- Michael Scott

Ends of the Earth

- Tim Downs
- Valerio Massimo Manfredi
- Thomas Locke
- William Golding


- Karin Slaughter
- Lauren Kate
- Celeste Bradley
- Erin McCarthy
- Michele Hauf

Black and White

- Dan Mahoney
- Jeanne Betancourt
- Shiva Naipaul
- Jackie Kessler & Caitlyn Kittredge

As you can see from the ten titles above, it tends to be the generic terms that pick up multiples. I'm sure there will never be another novel called The Quantum Thief, for instance!

Actually, this is where I wanted to point out that fantasy and science fiction are blazing a trail in terms of unique book titles. Thanks to various made-up worlds or words or concepts, few fantasy titles will have duplicates! I present to you:

- The Lies of Locke Lamora
- The Quantum Thief
- Tome of the Undergates
- Prince of Thorns
- Embassytown
- The Jennifer Morgue
- The Dragon Reborn

We have a rich history of unique titles that will stand the test of time just fine - but it is always worth authors/editors/publicists just running a quick Google search just in case *winks*

Can you think of any other duplicate titles? What are some of your very favourite and unique titles for novels?

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Long Reach by Peter Cocks

When he is seventeen Eddie Savage learns two things: the first is that his brother Steve has been working undercover. The second is that his brother is dead. Eddie is suspicious about the circumstances of Steve's death and decides to follow in his footsteps, taking on a job to infiltrate the Kelly family and try to find out more about Tommy Kelly, the boss. He does this through Tommy's beautiful daughter, Sophie - but is he falling for her? And is he getting in too deep?

This was a BRILLIANT book! The undercover and shady world of Tommy Kelly, and the equally rather sinister department trying to get their man, are brought to pulse-pounding life by the intimate style of first person perspective writing. We are in Eddie's head the whole time, watching through his eyes and feeling the pain and panic of the events that he gets caught up in.

The style of writing is as though someone had sat you down and was telling you this story verbally, which makes it compelling and insistent to read. I devoured this book in two sittings - and it would have been one if I hadn't had to do my day job goddamit! I started it on my lunch hour at work, and found myself immediately caught up in Eddie's life, to the point that I was almost late returning to work because I wanted to read just a little more.

There are some harrowing scenes in Long Reach, some that shocked me to the core. Peter Cocks does not hold back in his portrayal of the very nasty world of underground crime. I actually found myself cringing as I read the book, wanting to look away but not being able to.

For me, the best part of Long Reach is Eddie wondering about his own moral compass. As he is drawn into the Kelly family and their daily life, he finds himself enjoying their company and is forced to address those ideas that no one is completely evil. Crime bosses will go home and enjoy time with their families, cooking Sunday lunches and taking dogs for a walk. As Eddie's moral compass becomes confused, I found myself contemplating the ideas that he is dwelling on, which provides a real warmth to this novel which was in danger of being all glamour and no heart.

I also loved the ending - there are no clean final scenes where Eddie is sat down and everything explained. We leave Eddie hanging - and this tremendous climax makes me want the second book NOW! Write faster Mr Cocks!

DEFINITELY read this book. It is brilliant, heart-stopping fun, with a fantastic protagonist in the form of Eddie Savage. Awesome compelling writing that deserves to be widely read. Go buy it now!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Fantasy Films vs. Fantasy Books: Why So Serious?

Why are fantasy films taken more seriously than fantasy books?

I’ve pondered on this over the course of a week, and conclude finally that I both agree and disagree with the sentiment.

My disagreement stems from the fact that this serious appreciation and recognition for fantasy films has been a relatively recent phenomenon. Let’s look back to the 1980s – this was the decade that spawned the rise of the fantasy film as a form of entertainment, beginning with Flash Gordon. Films such as this, Krull and Hawk the Slayer were never taken seriously as far as I can tell. They were critically derided and adored in a cult fashion by fantasy fans, rather than being considered serious films or social commentaries. They were most definitely pulp entertainment.

That isn’t to say there weren’t some truly excellent films produced in the 1980s under the fantasy genre – I’m thinking Highlander, Ladyhawke and The Princess Bride. But, for every one of these films, we were given a Masters of the Universe or a Conan the Barbarian. Laughable films, with only a loose grasp of the source material, produced on a budget and usually accompanied by a score that involved inspirational power chords provided by a synthesizer.

This all changed with the rise of the mighty franchises of films: The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Suddenly fantasy films were being regarded with enough seriousness that, since then, we’ve seen such movies as The Prestige and Pan’s Labyrinth receiving hefty studio backing and picking up critical acclaim on their release.

We’ve seen big name directors and actors taking on roles in fantasy films, and some of these films have been acknowledged by such mainsteam institutions as the Academy Awards, most notably when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King received eleven Oscars, including Best Picture (although this sweep was widely acknowledged to be a proxy award for the entire trilogy). Fantasy films are now BIG NEWS.

And yet…. Could you ever see Robin Hobb’s latest being announced as a Booker Prize winner? Or Joe Abercrombie winning the Orange Prize for Literature? The thought of this makes me giggle somewhat, in fact, just because it seems so surreal! Our beloved fantasy books are never taken seriously enough to win any of the so-called “worthy” awards in literature; we have to have our own awards to recognise those authors who are writing quality fiction (the Arthur C Clarke award, the Hugos, the Nebulas and a number of other awards). In fact, just by looking at the range of awards we have to celebrate genre fiction, it can be seen just how seriously we take it, but outside our sphere few will ever know about those books making waves. For instance, I spoke to China Miéville about winning an unprecedented third Arthur C Clarke award for The City & The City, and he decried the fact that it just didn’t count within “mainstream” fiction.

Add to this the fact that there are several well-known and well-regarded literary authors writing books with a speculative slant, but actively pushing back against the idea that their novel is fantasy or science fiction. I’m thinking here, in particular, about Margaret Atwood – the author who, when asked whether The Handmaid’s Tale was a science fiction novel, replied “No, it certainly isn’t science fiction. Science fiction is filled with martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that.” She has also referred to science fiction containing “talking squids in outer space”. To be fair, she’s since clarified her position and says that her work is speculative fiction, feeling that the science fiction banner was too narrow for the novels she had produced, but her original comments were most certainly deemed to be snobbery and had a perception of looking down on poor old genre fiction.

So why are fantasy books not taken seriously? Why are people still sneered at for admitting that they read fantasy? Do any of you readers decide against telling friends that you read fantasy for fear of being derided? Why were the Harry Potter books (some of THE best-selling fantasy books in the entire world) repackaged with adult covers, so that adults wishing to read the books were not put off by the garish children’s covers and wouldn’t be embarrassed while reading the books on public transport?

I think that there might touch on one of the reasons. For good or ill, fantasy is still seen as being the province of elves and dwarves and creatures out of fairytale: in other words, creatures that children would be interested in. I don’t believe many people outside of the genre boundaries realise just how far fantasy has jumped forward since Terry Brooks and David Eddings were two of the main players. We are at a point now where “fantasy” seems to narrow a term to really define all of the wonderful types of books we have access to under the genre banner: epic fantasy, gritty fantasy, New Weird, urban fantasy, rural fantasy, classic fantasy, historical fantasy, comic fantasy… Is it simply a matter of trying to re-educate literary readers as to the treasures that can be found on the fantasy and science fiction shelves? And, certainly, it is time for them to realise that fantasy is not for children.

I also believe that those who do not read fantasy and who stick to worthy literary works are not aware that many of the fantasy/science fiction books deal with just as weighty considerations. We see characters agonising over their choices in life; children orphaned; the futility of war contemplated – I mean, those three issues alone would sit easily in a Booker Prize winner! Maybe mainstream readers would find much to enjoy, if they left aside the fact that imagined races are represented in the book, rather than just human beings?

This next point might receive a little flak, but I wonder how much of mainstream disdain towards genre comes as a result of the success of Terry Pratchett? To a lot of people unfamiliar with the fantasy/sci fi section in a bookstore, Pratchett would be one of the few familiar names – and his books are not taken seriously by anyone! (It is a whole other argument that his satirical observations on life are sharp and knowing, and should therefore be considered a rich source of social commentary). Is this part of why the fantasy genre is somewhat looked down upon?

To wrap this up, I want to end on a note of optimism. Thanks to the fact that fantasy films are now being marketed as serious and worthy forms of entertainment, many people are looking to the source material and picking up books they might never otherwise try. Friends of mine have watched the Twilight films, read the books and then asked me for recommendations of other books they could try in the same vein (haha, geddit? *slinks away in embarrassment thanks to poor pun…*) The same for those who tried the Lord of the Rings in the wake of those films – and I took the greatest of glee in showing them all the books I actually consider superior! So, although we have a way to go in making speculative fiction just as highly-regarded as other genres, we are at least welcoming new readers to our ranks with every fantasy film released – and that is a win as far as I am concerned.

And, y’know, it could always be worse: we could be readers of Westerns. Those guys have it bad *grin*.

First published on the Voyager blog

A Couple of Firsts for Floor to Ceiling Books

First up, I received my first embargoed review copy, with a letter and everything. Check it!

And when I received the following book for review:

I found THIS in the acknowledgements (right at the bottom of the page)!

Cue me carrying the book around almost permanently and showing it to everyone who would listen - thanks Suzanne!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Amazon Affiliate Links

Alright, just a quick one.

Up until now I have avoided Amazon affiliate links like crazy - but I'm now working backwards and putting links to in each of my book/film reviews. They are very discreet and don't click on them if you abhore Amazon and everything about it!

The reason for this is twofold - one is that I want to give people the opportunity to click through and read other review perspectives to mine. Obviously I'd be hoping that my word is LAW, but it really isn't *grin* and people, gasp, have different opinions to mine. In the case of my negative reviews, I would urge you to click through and read other people's thoughts on the same book.

It is also to give more exposure to the authors featured by me. If you click through, you are given links by Amazon to all the other books that they have written, and hopefully will encourage you to more purchases if you like a particular author.

I'm not gonna lie. If you buy a book through my links to and I receive a small percentage, then I will be thrilled to bits. I am only going to buy other books with any money made, and will then put up reviews of said books, so it's all a sort of circle of books.

Anyway, that's it on this subject - it was just a heads up!

King Arthur: Dragon's Child by M K Hume

Dragon's Child is the first novel in a trilogy by M K Hume, dealing with the historical version of the tale of King Arthur. Here he is Artorex, and is a cuckoo in the nest of Ector and his Roman wife. Artorex lives a life of mundane servitude, referred to as Lump, until the day three mysterious strangers visit Ector and encourage him to train Artorex in arms, letters and horse skills. His wife Livinia is asked to show Artorex how best to speak to people of high standing. Although he doesn't know it, Artorex is being trained for kingship. Soon enough the day arrives when Artorex is brought before Uther Pendragon and is forced to recognise the destiny he has been steered towards by Myrddion Merlinus.

This is a marvellous piece of historical fiction. It presents a very real idea of life in the tumultuous land of Saxons, Celts and Jutlanders once the Romans had departed. War was rife and the various kinglets kept power over tiny provinces. The minutiae of life in those Dark Age times is brought into vivid existence - from weaponry, to food, to clothing.

When I first picked up this novel, I was convinced M K Hume was a male writer. I discovered it is, in fact, a female novelist - and this surprised me greatly. The reason I say this is because the writing is so strong and capable, and gruff in the manner I associate with male writers. I say this in a complimentary fashion - the encounters and relationships between men are presented with incredible realism.

M K Hume's characters are a highlight of the novel. From Artorex, who is everything a hero should be, to Targo, grizzled old warrior who shows the boy how to live as a proper should, to Merlinus himself - all are written with warmth, humour and dialogue that fits the character. The women are also done well - they are not forced into roles that don't match the time within which the novel is written. They are at the mercy of their families and husbands, considered by some no more than chattel. Despite this, they still shine from the page with compassion and a strength of will that is occasionally missing from their menfolk.

What I liked particularly about the writing is that it feels very organic. Every scene leads naturally from that which goes before, the tale unwinding at a slow but persistent pace. The writing is occasionally floral, but never to the detriment of the story, and I, personally, enjoyed these flourishes.

Up until now, my go-to novels for an historical presentation about King Arthur have been those written by Helen Hollick. I think now, though, that I have a new favourite! My immediate thought on closing the last page? "Thank goodness there are two more books!" For anyone who enjoys meticulously researched and, above all, fun historical novels, this is highly recommended. An excellent read.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Building a Fort..... with my BOOKS!

Never let it be said that I'm completely sane. What else would a single gal get up to on a Thursday night but start building a fort from her books.

I've learnt three things from this exercise:

1) I really absolutely could build a fort from my books - those you see in the pictures to follow are the ones that were just stacked on various surfaces within easy reach. I didn't touch any one of the three bookcases I own that are triple stacked...

2) I have a vast thirst for all types of literature - most genres are represented in these piles: chick lit, contemporary, crime, thriller, science fiction, urban fantasy, straight up fantasy, tie in fiction, YA, children's.... Something for all, I reckon!

3) You need an engineering degree to stack books so that they don't fall down like some sort of hideous jenga game once past a certain height! There was one point I became in danger of looking EXACTLY like this picture that Sam Sykes kindly once drew of me:

So, without further ado, let me present some pictures of my fort building activities (yep, you can start shaking your head at my bizarre life right... about... NOW)...

The foundations of said fort (aka where it all started to go wrong - note the different sizes and shapes. If I'd only gone with just hardbacks *sigh* #chanceslost):

Hmm, using the small floor plan of my living room might have been another rooky error...

The walls creep ever larger:

The point where I started fearing for my life....

Not the most stable of forts, I think you'll agree. Have fun checking out my book titles, why doncha!

Here's another shot:

You know how I plan to entertain myself next? By leaving my mini fort up so that my housemate can stumble upon it on his return from a night out. It's okay, he already knows I'm mad *grin*

I dare y'all to make better forts than I! Report back, soldier!


You might know this song. You might love it, just as much as me. This is probably my favourite song in all the world. But it is also my most poignant song. Listen. And then check out those lyrics. I first heard the song in my teens, and didn't really "get" what the song was dealing with. From the perspective of 30, with some of my dreams lying in waste behind me, this song has far more resonance. Ask me again in ten years what I think of this song, and I will probably cry. Enjoy! These seven minutes are worth your time.

Time - Pink Floyd

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I'd something more to say.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Department 19 by Will Hill

Jamie Carpenter is a perfectly normal boy, with a perfectly normal life – until the night his dad dies. Suddenly he doesn’t know what his place is anymore, as his mother moves him from town to town. It seems he cannot take much more when a creature from his nightmares once more turns his life upside down, and forces him into the world of Department 19.

Department 6 is the Army. Department 13 is MI5. Department 19 is the reason you’re alive...

Will Hill’s debut novel Department 19 is a storming read, showing us the world of Jamie Carpenter as he realises that the monsters from the fairytales are alive and living amongst us. It presents a vivid image of a secret governmental department – all James Bond or Spooks - rescuing the civilians from a world they don’t even know exists, with first-class weaponry and insane courage.

Jamie is a very likeable hero – realistically portrayed as he recovers from the death of his father, only to realise that life will never be the same again. His fear, bravery and even the teenage strops are perfectly portrayed, and I think that any teenage boy (or, indeed, girl) will be able to identify with Jamie. The secondary characters are equally well drawn – from Frankenstein (who is brought to life so capably that you never even have a moment where you don’t believe it could be true) to Larissa to the villains of the piece.

And what villains! Did someone say sparkly vampires? With a T-Bone, Hill has wiped them from existence – his vampires are the real deal! No sexy mooning after teenage girls. We have here three dimensional characters, with motivations such as envy, revenge and bitter memories. No two vampires are alike, just as no two people can ever be the same. With villains like Alexandru, you genuinely believe that none of these characters are safe as the blood begins to spill.

I’m not going to lie – blood really is spilled. Daubed. Smeared across most of the pages in Department 19. Vampires and their victims die, alike, in various bloody and imaginative ways. This is a deliciously ghoulish read at times, with moments of horror that might give a child nightmares – but in a Doctor Who manner. They will recall wanting to turn their face away from the page as they read, just as I fondly reminisce now about hiding behind the sofa while watching Doctor Who.

Hill also shows a dab hand at portraying moments from history. Not only do we have the high tech gadgetry of a James Bond film, we also have a London from the 1890s and a 1920s New York – all feel so authentic that I believe Hill could turn in a decent historical novel as well. The historical and military details are all woven into the story subtly, but convey the sheer amount of research that has gone into Department 19.

The prose is smooth and gripping – told so simply and directly that the pages keep on turning. Hill injects a number of moments with real emotional heart, as well as writing action sequences that have the blood pounding.

I am gushing, but with good reason. This book is going to be a phenomenon – you heard it here first. To all those publishers looking for the “next Harry Potter”? Harper Collins have found it in the form of Will Hill’s debut novel Department 19. This is going to be huge. Get in there from the very beginning.

The Launch of China Miéville's New Covers (plus giveaway!)

A couple of weeks ago a truly wonderful invitation popped into my inbox - the opportunity to go to Tor HQ and see the launch of China Miéville's repackaged backlist and his latest novel Embassytown (in all good bookstores May 2011!) So this evening I headed to London and enjoyed a hospitable time, with a reading, lots of photo ops, delicious cake and a bag full of books to bring home.

I think by now you've all seen the new covers - here they are on some exclusive postcards:

Check out this fabulous display of Embassytown ARCs:

Scrummy cake!

China enjoying said cake!

Here, again, are the books repackaged - I don't know about you, but I plan to rebuy all the novels to get them matching on my shelf!:

And I even nervously asked China for a picture with him - which is more than can be said of every other occasion I've met him *grins*:

All in all, it was just a great evening. I'd like to thank Julie, Chloe and the rest of the Tor team for my invite! It was also fab meeting up with various industry/blogging types. While they were all in the same room and to put them absolutely on the spot, I asked a number of them which of the new covers they preferred.

I even dared to ask Julie Crisp (Perdido Street Station) and China himself (Iron Council) - although he did want me to make clear that his answer would likely change on an hourly basis!

What is quite clear - and probably very gratifying to the Tor team behind the design - is that these new covers were incredibly well received by all present.

Would love to hear which of the covers are your favourite!

And you, my dear readers, are in for a rare treat. I have a signed copy of Embassytown for giveaway, along with a set of the postcards with the beautiful artwork of all nine books. To be in with a chance, send an email to magemanda AT gmail DOT com with EMBASSYTOWN as the subject line. Include your mailing address to which the prize should be sent. I will open this up worldwide because I'm feeling generous after such a lovely evening *grin* This competition will run until next Tuesday, at which point I will announce the winner.

Good luck!

Oh, and I'm 30 pages into Embassytown so far and can say it is utterly unique and breathtaking with the craftsmanship of the writing up to this point. I reckon you'll be wanting to read this book!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Belle's Song by K M Grant

Belle is the daughter of a bellmaker. When her father suffers a terrible injury that Belle believes is her fault, she decides to join a group of pilgrims - led by Chaucer - who are heading for Canterbury. She is praying for a miracle: that her father will be able to walk again. The journey is not a simple one - Belle is blackmailed by the summoner to spy on Chaucer, who is believed to be taking a message for the King of France, and she is gradually drawn into a web of lies and political intrigue. Add to this her growing attraction for Luke and Walter, two very different young man on the pilgrimage, and Belle faces some difficult decisions.

Belle's Song is a relatively slight little book, and Grant tries to pack so much into the story that I think this novel suffers. I enjoyed all the separate elements: the exploration of the characters on the pilgrimage; the political issues involving the King of England; and the beautiful love story between Belle and Luke - but I thought that any of of these three could have easily been a book in itself, so Belle's Song felt constantly rushed.

The main characters were all very enjoyable to read about. Belle is impulsive yet fragile, confident but not at the same time. Her lustrous red hair and vivid imagination are just small facets of the three dimensional character we're shown. She has the motivations of a girl - dreams of courtly love - and also the duty of a daughter - hoping for her father's recovery. Add into this an element of self-harm which was handled sensitively, and Belle is a very intriguing central character.

Luke and Walter are both suitable matches for our girl Belle - and I loved the dark secret that Walter is carrying. It made for the perfect love triangle.

The burgeoning relationship between these three young characters is definitely the best part of the novel. I also enjoyed identifying the characters from Chaucer's Tale, and I fervently hope that some readers of this book will feel encouraged to go back to the source material. I really appreciate the fact that Grant has used such a vital piece of English storytelling as a jumping off point for this novel.

The only part of the novel that I found very difficult to swallow was the ease by which Belle came face to face with the King, and was able to tell hiim what he should do - considering my medieval reading, this was a little too far-fetched. It served the plot, but caused me to scoff. However, I doubt that this will affect the reading pleasure of many!

Belle's Song is a very sweet little book, with a beautiful cover, and a wonderful love story. I think it would be well worth your time picking up.

Snapped by Pamela Klaffke

Snapped is the story of Sara B, who has made her living from taking snaps of people and categorising them as DOs and DON'Ts for fashionista mag Snap, which she co-founded. As she approaches forty, Sara starts to realise that she is losing her ability to tell the DOs from the DON'Ts and what follows is an entire self-destruct of her life - and the discovery that life can be more than fashion.

This was an odd little book - at times very funny, at times extremely dark, at times dull. If I were one of the people that only gives a book a certain amount of time before putting it down, then I'm not sure I would have made it to the end. As it is, I did read the whole book and found a truly delightful ending that made the rest of Snapped worthwhile.

You spend the entirety of Snapped in Sara B's head, which is a place full of thoughts about mutant babies and mushroom-headed dicks, and this part of the novel I couldn't stand. Sara B's nasty reflections on people became tiresome very quickly, and I didn't like her drinking or casual sex. I felt her dislike of old people was a point made too heavily.

In fact, Sara B was the low point of the novel. The high point for me was the character of Esther, an elderly lady who guides Sara towards the life that she should be living. Esther is a wonderful character, heart warming and wise. Without her presence this would be a very empty novel - as it was, Esther ensures that there is a real heart to Snapped, a journey to enlightenment.

There are also some very funny parts of Snapped - slapstick humour, snarky comments and a bite to the dialogue that I enjoyed. Klaffke presents the life of a fashionista with skill, showcasing the bitchy relationships and the nastiness of presenting ordinary people as DON'Ts.

I would genuinely give this novel a chance. Push past the self-absorption of Sara B and allow yourself to delight in the cast of secondary characters that really bring Snapped to life. And the ending makes it all worth it. A cautious recommendation.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Malazan Book of the Fallen giveaway - Winner!

So, after hundreds of entries - thank you so much to everyone who emailed through - I can finally pick a winner.

The answer to the question "Which is the first book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen?" is, of course, Gardens of the Moon. I'm happy to say that no one got that wrong!

Seriously, I wish I could give all of you this prize, so that I can share my love of Erikson's work, but there can only be one winner and that person is:

Robert Uden

Congratulations Robert, and enjoy your books!

To everyone else, so sorry that you were not lucky on this occasion - but remember that The Crippled God is now out in shops (in the UK, at least!) and so this is the perfect time to start your Malazan journey.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Reclaiming the Monster

For the longest time now vampires have been de-fanged. This is not all due to Twilight and the swathe of books that have been released showing moony vampires brooding over teenage girls. After all, Buffy came a long time before Twilight - and the Vampire Diaries (the original release of such) happened when I was a teenager. Anita Blake was hunting - and having sex - with the monsters years ago. I want to present you with ten novels (not including Dracula, we've all heard of that one - or I would hope we had!) where the vampire is a PROPER bad guy.

1) Salem's Lot - Stephen King

Stephen King recently advised the aspiring young writer of horror tales to keep away from vampires, and the other classical monsters, as they have been done to death, and maybe that's good advice for the novice, but it's worth noting that this, only his second published novel, is one of his very best. The book concerns one Ben Mears, successful writer, who is returning to Jerusalem's Lot, the town where he spent his youth. And of course, it's not exactly as he remembers it. Here King deliberately underplays the human aspect of the vampire, giving us instead the the hideous aspect as first shown in the classic flick Nosferatu.

2) Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Liindqvist

In this novel the emphasis is on the monster being the least monstrous of the characters on show - but that doesn't prevent these vampires from being pretty damn nasty and definitely scary. Blood is spilled and throats torn out by a vampire that has the visage of a young girl - some shocking stuff.

3) Room 13 - Robert Swindells

Room 13 is a childrens novel written by the acclained awardwinning childrens' authour Robert Swindells. Published in 1989, and awarded the Children's Book Award, the novel centres around a group of friends, on a school trip, who stay in a creepy guest house on Whitby's West Cliff. The novel takes advantage of Whitby's sinister and gothic ties and weaves a story of suspense that has earnt its place as a firm favourite of children wanting the thrill of a little horror and suspense. Once again Whitby finds itself inexcribably connected to a vampiric encounter. I read this novel as an eleven-year-old and delighted in the ghoulish horror - the slow unwinding of the tale grips and does not let go.

4) Department 19 - Will Hill

Cheating a *tiny* bit here, since Department 19 isn't officially released yet but one thing I loved about Will's debut is the fact that the vampires are truly horrible. They have fiendish plans, kidnap people and kill in hiedous ways! As I said in my review: And what villains! Did someone say sparkly vampires? With a T-Bone, Hill has wiped them from existence – his vampires are the real deal! No sexy mooning after teenage girls. We have here three dimensional characters, with motivations such as envy, revenge and bitter memories. No two vampires are alike, just as no two people can ever be the same. With villains like Alexandru, you genuinely believe that none of these characters are safe as the blood begins to spill. Chilling.

5) The Children's Hour - Douglas Clegg

This one is rather difficult to track down, but it is well worth it if you are looking for some scary as hell vampires. Author Joe Gardner travels with his family to his childhood hometown of Colony. He has avoided the town and his horrific memories of it for years and now finds himself facing the friends and family members who stir up unpleasant memories. As soon as he hits the town line, he begins to hear the nightmare voices of the past once again calling him. Meanwhile, Colony is being terrorized by something....something evil that steals its children. Joe reunites with figures from his childhood to try to stop the terror only to find his own wife and children in harm's way. Clegg easily takes his place next to King with this strong piece of horror writing. You'll be hard pushed not to put down the book through fright...

6) Der Vampir - Heinrich August Ossenfelder (written: 1748)

This poem is widely accepted to be the first instance of vampires appearing in literature - can you imagine the horror that must have thrilled through people upon reading these words?

My dear young maiden clingeth
Unbending, fast and firm
To all the long-held teaching
Of a mother ever true;
As in vampires unmortal
Folk on the Theyse's portal
Heyduck-like do believe.
But my Christine thou dost dally,
And wilt my loving parry
Till I myself avenging
To a vampire's health a-drinking
Him toast in pale tockay.

And as softly thou art sleeping
To thee shall I come creeping
And thy life's blood drain away.
And so shalt thou be trembling
For thus shall I be kissing
And death's threshold thou' it be crossing
With fear, in my cold arms.
And last shall I thee question
Compared to such instruction
What are a mother's charms?

7) The Giaour - Lord Byron

Another poem, and this one an epic. Once again it is a very early instance of vampires appearing in literature. I don't want to harp on about it, but, honestly, we're so blase these days about the idea of horrific creatures sucking the blood and life from people - can you imagine encountering something like this for the first time? And Bryon does not hold back at all in his vivid imagery:

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;

There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.

8) I Am Legend - Richard Matheson

Another influential example of vampire science fiction was I Am Legend by author Richard Matheson in (1954). The novel is set in a future Los Angeles overrun with undead cannibalistic/bloodsucking beings. The protagonist is the sole survivor of a pandemic of a bacterium that causes vampirism. He must fight to survive attacks from the hordes of nocturnal creatures, discover the secrets of their biology, and develop effective countermeasures. "I Am Legend" was one of the first works of fiction to offer a scientific explanation for vampirism; it changed the vampire genre forever. I'm not fond of the novel, but you can't deny both its influence and the terrifying nature of I Am Legend.

9) They Thirst - Robert McCammom

They Thirst details the relentless possession of Los Angeles by vampires, who quickly transform the city into a necropolis. The City of Angels, however, is only the first step of a planned worldwide conquest by the unholy creatures. It is deliberately kept out of print by the author, but, if you can get a hold of this one, it is well worth the hassle. Another horrific example of vampires who aren't going to declare their undying love.

10) The Stress of Her Regard - Tim Powers

Okay, check out this part of the plot: Crawford marries Julia. Julia's stepsister Josephine is present as the maid of honor, but neglects to complete the marriage rite and the newly wed couple leave for their honeymoon. The married couple enjoy their first night together and Crawford is wakened later, being made love to by someone. Although Crawford believes it is his wife, he wakes later to discover her horribly disemboweled body next to him in the bed. How creepy does that sound?

Hopefully, the ten works of literature above should give you something to be going on with if you want to put the fangs back in your vampires and enjoy some proper horror writing.

Do you have any you wish to suggest to me?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Ten Commandments of Blogging

Thou shalt be honest with yourself and others, and not bear false witness.

Thou shalt be polite and not offensive.

Thou shalt not involve yourself in Internet kerfuffles.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ARCs.

Thou shalt not steal content (always link back!)

Thou shalt realise that putting your opinion "out there" means others can comment.

Thou shalt not kill with your words.

Honour all those who helped give you a good start in your blogging life.

Thou shalt realise that all benefits are a privilege and not a right.

Love and respect other bloggers, and treat them as thou would wish to be treated.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Passion #6: Football

This is the fifth in my series of posts detailing some of my other loves in life - the first being, of course, books! Didn't think I needed to tell you much about that particular passion *grins*

So... #6 is indeed football. To my beloved US readers, that would be soccer. I came to football when I was nine, while I still lived in Germany (Dad being in the Forces). Because I didn't have a local team at that point, since I didn't want to support a German team, I plumped on one of the few English football teams that I had heard of - and picked Manchester Utd. Yep, lots of you will be rolling your eyes right now. I have supported them now for 21 years, through good times and bad. I adored Cantona's power and passion. I have followed Giggs and Scholes since they arrived on the scene, pretty much. I marvelled at THAT goal by David Beckham.

The reason I have written this post these evening is because one of my absolute FAVOURITE Cup competitions is entering the fifth round this weekend. That would be the FA Cup - still one of the most brilliant events around. I know a lot of people scoff at it and think the magic has been lost. Tomorrow, however, Crawley are going to Old Trafford. Manchester Utd are currently first in the Premier League, they have won the FA Cup a record 11 times - and their opponents are a non-League side. Most of their players probably don't even play football full time. A lot of you might be thinking that this seems like an unfair match-up, but for those Crawley players they are going to experience the event of a lifetime: walking out onto the hallowed turf of Old Trafford, playing against extremely famous players, being watched by literally millions. I watched with delight when Havant & Waterlooville (my local team) visited Liverpool and put two goals past them - they did lose, but they could certainly hold their heads with pride.

We have also just experienced a classic Champions League clash, in the first of the knock out rounds this year, between Arsenal and Barcelona. Now, I don't like Arsenal - obviously, as a Utd fan - but even I can admit that the football they play is breathtaking. Barcelona are even better. And, luckily, the match did not disappoint - I could not look away from the TV if I tried! I adore the Champions League as well - the fantastic talent on display, the bombastic theme tune, the differing styles of football. It's just brilliant.

My third reason for putting up this post is this:

That goal is simply AMAZING!

Honestly, the day that I get Sky Sports, I will become a recluse - for me, there is nothing better on a lazy Sunday afternoon than watching two matches back to back! Probably sounds incredibly sad to a number of you, but this is one of my big passions.

Do you like football? Which team do you support? Are you going to lambast me for my choice of team? *grins* Share!

What is the Next Big Thing?

I was having a chat with the delightful Sam Eades last night - publicist at Headline - and we were discussing what might be the next big thing (sort of YA but also applies across the board, I guess).

We've had vampires:

We've had werewolves - both this sort:

and this sort:

We've seen angels:

There have been zombies galore:

And we've seen dystopia:

And that ubiquitous hooded man has graced many a fantasy cover - whether assassin or swordsman or rogue (sword and sorcery appears to have made a bit of a comeback):

So, guys, over to you: a) what do you *think* the next big thing will be and b) what do you want to see?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

HUGE Malazan Book of the Fallen giveaway!

Okay... Anyone who is a reader of the Malazan Book of the Fallen is getting just a little bit excited right now.

This man:

is releasing this book:

which is the 10th novel in the Malazan Book of the Fallen!

To celebrate this fact, I have a wonderful giveaway for someone who is ready to embark on this most brilliant of series.

I've teamed up with Transworld to bring one lucky winner ALL TEN BOOKS of the Malazan Book of the Fallen! Yes, that is the WHOLE series!

Not only that, but The Crippled God will be a signed copy by the man himself.

To be in with a chance of winning this awesome prize, simply send an email to magemanda AT gmail DOT com, with the subject line MALAZAN GIVEAWAY and give the answer to this insultingly easy question:

What was the title of the first Malazan Book of the Fallen?

Please provide your mailing address so that I can pass it onto the publishers, who will be sending out the prize on my behalf.

Any duplicate entries will be deleted. The contest is open worldwide. It will run until the date The Crippled God is released, which is 21st February.

Good luck!