Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood

A dark, gothic tale of romance... and murder. In the right dose, everything is a poison. Jessamine has spent her whole life in a cottage close to her father's apothecary garden, surrounded by medicinal plants and herbs that could kill her -- although her father has never allowed her into the most dangerous part of the grounds... the poison garden. And so she's never had reason to be afraid -- until now. Because now a newcomer has come to live with the family, a quiet but strangely attractive orphan boy named Weed. Though Weed doesn't say much in words, he has an instant talent for the apothecary's trade, seeming to possess a close bond with the plants of the garden. Soon, he and Jessamine also share a close bond. But little does Jessamine know that passion can be just as poisonous as the deadliest plants in the garden -- for behind Weed's instinctive way in the garden is a terrible secret.

I hate having to do this, because I feel as though my reviews should be taken as honest and considered (and I'm sure that most, if not all, of my readers understand that I would not artificially review a novel), but I need to add a disclaimer to this review. I have just spent the last two days enjoying the hospitality of the Duchess of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle, thanks to the release of the second Poison Diaries novel. So, if you wish to, you can consider that you should take this review with a degree of cynicism. However, I do believe that I've been as honest as possible about a book I genuinely liked.

The Poison Diaries is, at its heart, a celebration of doomed lovers in the vein of Romeo and Juliet. It is an exploration of the ambiguity in plants that can either kill or cure, depending on thier use. It has echoes of dark tales of the sidhe - trickster fae, who demand payment for their aid.

As well as that, it is an enjoyable, albeit dark, read. In fact, I would say it is easily the darkest YA novel I've read up until now - maybe not the first part of the novel, but certainly the denouement. Wood takes this novel to places that you would never expect and it is all the more surprising and interesting for it.

In Jessamine and Weed, we have a pair of lovers who show the same attraction for each other that we've seen in other celebrated YA protagonists, such as Bella and Edward - and consequently The Poison Diaries shares the same faults as those books. The romance is very sweet and yearning, but not entirely believable. Jessamine falls in love with this boy virtually as she first meets him - a foundling orphan boy who is said to be a monster. She accepts his secret with grace and no incredulity, which I think she should have shown to allow more believability. Like I say, very sweet, but not a romance you can really suspend disbelief over.

The Poison Diaries also encompasses another fault that is more of a personal issue than something that other readers would suffer - I don't like the name of the female protagonist! Jessamine just seems so unnecessarily fancy! I would have enjoyed the novel far more with a girl that had a more common name, but I do accept that I might be alone in this.

The part of the novel I found most gripping was the deadly ending - the three tasks that Weed is set has overtones of old folktales and fairytales, where agreements are made with the sidhe that have to be specified exactly otherwise those tricksy personages will twist the words in the manner that they so wish. I also loved the concept and discussion of what constitutes strength and weakness; and whether healers really should heal *everyone*.

Overall, The Poison Diaries is a great way to spend a few hours. It is a slight book with surprising depth at the end, although I would want to see more development of Jessamine's character in future novels. It is a quick read with little challenge to the prose, which is smooth and readable. There are faults, but these did not detract entirely from the rest of the novel and did not lessen the impact of the last third. Definitely has promise for future books in this series, and I would be very willing to read more.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

David by Mary Hoffman

Michelangelo's statue of David is renowned all over the world. Thousands flock to Florence to admire the artistry behind this Renaissance masterpiece, and to admire the beauty of the human form captured in the marble. But the identity of the model for this statue that has been so revered for over five hundred years has been lost ...In this epic story Mary Hoffman uses her persuasive narrative skills to imagine the story of Gabriele, an eighteen-year-old who, by becoming Michelangelo's model, finds himself drawn into a world of spies, politicking, sabotage and murder. Set against the backdrop of Florence, this is a rich, colourful and thrilling tale.

I really like historical fiction. I mean, love it. Especially when fictional characters are used to bring actual historical events to life. So I was enormously happy to realise that Mary Hoffman employs her fictional narrator Gabriele to showcase this volatile period in Florence's history. For me, this enables real empathy with the situation, and I can identify with the motives of the actual personages who peopled the time.

Here we have a Florence that is being overcome by the rifts between the Republicans and the De Medici supporters, who want the city to remain in the hands of one particular family. Hoffman writes elegantly about the historical reasons why Florence is suffering so, and manages - with great talent - to people both sides of the conflict with likeable characters, so that the reader is conflicted as to which is the "right" side. Which, inevitably, is how the people of Florence must have felt at the time.

I would say that this is most definitely YA fiction - in that there are a few scenes unsuitable for younger readers, involving sex and/or violence. But it easily transcends being a book for a particular sex of reader - boys and girls would both find much to enjoy within its pages.

One aspect that I felt was missing was humour. This feels like quite a serious book and, although it presents a serious period in history, Gabriele and Michaelangelo are both young man, and yet come across as far too po-faced. I would have expected more light-heartedness from men like this and it was absent.

This lack of humour is replaced with a genuine love and appreciation for art, which suffuses every page. Hoffman has quite clearly researched her topic but, beyond that, she shows real warmth and affections for the pieces she describes - not least the eponymous David.

Honestly, for anyone who enjoys art, it is rather a thrill to read about the behemoths of the art world Michaelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci - their slight enmity, but respect, for each other; their rather casual attitudes to commissions received; the element of competition between them. It was awesome seeing them brought to life by Hoffman's lively prose.

This is a fairly slight novel by the standards of YA these days, but it is worth the cover price for a real glimpse into a very turbulent part of Italian history. It is thrilling and thoughtful by turn, and is peopled by charismatic characters. Very enjoyable.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Poison Diaries Trip - Alnwick Castle

As a blogger, I often receive wonderful emails - telling me about delicious forthcoming titles, inviting me to blogger parties, asking me if I want to be part of a blog tour. It isn't often that I receive an email so good that I'm slightly disbelieving it is actually real. Two weeks ago, I received exactly that!

Dear Amanda,

We will be celebrating the launch of ‘Nightshade’, the second book in The Poison Diaries trilogy by Maryrose Wood and the Duchess of Northumberland, with a Poison Diaries event at the magnificent Alnwick Castle in Northumberland on 27th-28th July 2011.

The book is due for release in the UK on 1st September 2011 and the event will aim to provide guests with a unique insight into the world of The Poison Diaries. The trip will include a tour of Hulne Abbey (the childhood home of Jessamine the lead character), a candlelit tour of the famous poison gardens at Alnwick (the inspiration for the book), a special themed dinner at the renowned Alnwick Tree house restaurant as well as a reading from ‘Nightshade’ in the beautiful castle library. All guests will be staying overnight in the castle to further enhance the experience. We will be joined by the Duchess of Northumberland who will also be available for interviews and a couple of q&a sessions.

The event will be attended by a range of journalists from national & regional press, specialist teen media, Harper Collins publishers, a handful of competition winners and specialist influential teen/YA bloggers.

If this sounds like your kind of thing and you are able to attend on 27th/28th July then I’d love to have a chat.

Well! I honestly didn't know whether to jump up and down first, or let out a rather undignified squeal of delight!

And, finally, the trip is almost here. Tomorrow at 9.05 am I depart Havant station and arrive at Alnmouth at 15.09, meeting other bloggers along the way at Kings X station in London (how I wish we really were travelling from platform 9 3/4!) Some of my best blogging buddies are along for the trip as well, and it feels like a massive sleepover!

This is where we're staying for the night:

And here is the itinerary:

Not only will you get to see where Jessamine and Weed’s love flourished, but you will also get to stay at the castle made famous in recent years as the home of ‘Hogwarts’.

You will arrive at Alnmouth Station on Wednesday July 27th where a coach will take you on the short journey through the beautiful Northumbrian countryside to Alnwick castle to begin your Poison Diaries experience…


3.30pm - Welcome and refreshments

4.00pm - Jessamine’s World tour

5.00pm - Tea in State Dining Room

6.00pm - Free time / Bloggers social media session

7.00pm - A reading from ‘Nightshade’ in the Library

7.30pm - Drinks and dinner

9.30 - 10pm - Poison Garden candlelit tour


9am - Breakfast

10am - ‘Inside the Poison Garden’ tour followed by Q&A session

11.30am - Guests depart

And here is the book that we're going to be celebrating!

So today I am beyond excited. I've already started packing my little overnight case, and thought about what I might wear for the dinner in the treehouse restaurant. I simply can't wait for tomorrow to arrive - it feels like Christmas! And I have downloaded the first Poison Diaries novel to my Kindle, ready to read on my train journey *grins*

Monday, 25 July 2011

DAVID, The Blog Tour - Mary Hoffman

I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour to celebrate the release of David by Mary Hoffman.

First of all, here are some details about David:

Bestselling and award-winning author Mary Hoffman has always been passionate about Italy. In this brand new novel she combines her love for the country, its culture, art and history to tell the story behind one of the world’s best-known sculptures. Little is known about the true identity of the model for Michelangelo’s statue of David, so Mary has used her persuasive narrative skills to breathe life into his story.

Aged just eighteen, Gabriele sets off from his home in Settignano to make his fortune in Florence. He plans to go straight to the home of renowned sculptor Michelangelo, who is also his ‘milk brother’, but instead finds himself in the house of a wealthy widow. Before he knows it Gabriele’s plans of living a simple life as a stonecutter have disintegrated and instead he has become an artist’s model, embroiled in Florentine politics and spying for the frateschi. Gabriele is playing a dangerous game and will be lucky to escape Florence with his life.

This epic story is full of romance, spies, politics and murder. With cameo appearances from the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, as well as the major role of Michelangelo, this is the perfect book for art fans and historical fiction fans alike.

Mary Hoffman is an acclaimed children’s author and critic. She is the author of the internationally bestselling picture book Amazing Grace. Her Stravaganza sequence for Bloomsbury has a huge fan base and Stravaganza: City of Secrets was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. She has also received award recognition for her stand-alone historical titles: Troubadour was nominated for the 2010 Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Costa Book Award and The Falconer’s Knot was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Award and winner of the French Prix Polar Jeunesse 2009. Mary lives with her husband in Oxfordshire.

Sounds brilliant, non?

I'm now delighted to present a guest post from Mary herself:

My five favourite places in Florence

1) The Bargello (especially the Michelangelo Room)

This is where the little Apollo-David is, which is my favourite Michelangelo sculpture, and the full-size drunken Bacchus and a bust of Brutus that looks like Tommy Lee Jones and the Pitti Tondo, described in David –a treasure-house!

You will also find Donatello’s and Verocchio’s takes on David, in the Bargello though the Verocchio is often not able to be seen. And there are lovely Giambolognas , including Mercury, the symbol of the Italian Post Office (and I must say they are VERY good at getting my postcards to the UK quickly). And the original plinth for Cellini’s Perseus statue in the Piazza della Signoria.

2) The Officina- Profumo-Farmaceutica (Profumeria) in Santa Maria Novella

I made use of this in Stravaganza: City of Flowers. Another magical place, with the most heavenly smell in the world! Gabriele buys Grazia some jasmine perfume “from the friars at Santa Maria Novella” and I got some of the same at Christmas from my husband.

3) Orsanmichele

This is a strange cube of a building that started as a grain store and THEN became a church. It is on the main drag from Piazza della Signoria to Piazza del Duomo but is often overlooked. Don’t overlook it – go inside. You won’t be disappointed. I stayed in an apartment near here with youngest daughter in 2007 and it became our “local” – a landmark and a favourite place.

4) The San Lorenzo market

What can I say? If you like to shop, this is the place for you. On my first month in Florence I stayed at the top of number five, Piazza San Lorenzo, and the market arriving every morning at 5.30am was my alarm clock.

It has leather goods in the most stunning range of colours and , though I am a vegetarian, I haven’t quite been able to wean myself off gorgeous purses and wallets. I have also become a glove dealer for my friend the writer Kath Langrish, as well as purveyor of purses to the family.

Just before you reach it on Borgo San Lorenzo you come to a men’s shoe-shop wear my husband buys two pairs of shoes, every other year. Only this year I was commissioned as he wasn’t with me. And in summer opposite the shoe-shop you can buy slices of fresh coconut drenched in iced water.

5) The Dome of the Santa Maria dei Fiori cathedral

On that first month in Florence when I was a student, I became obsessed with the dome of the cathedral, which you can see from all over the city. I climbed up inside it more than once and sat at the top outside on the ‘lantern’ with my feet dangling over the edge. My vertigo won’t let me do it any more.

But if you are young and/or not afraid of heights you must do it.

I'd like to thank Mary Hoffman very much for stopping by!

Here are some extra details!

David is out now!

Go forth and buy!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Romanitas by Sophia McDougall

A slave waits to be crucified; a desperate young girl with strange abilities stalks through the streets of London; a gang of fugitives hides out in the Pyrenees, while on giant screens in every city, the world watches the funeral of the Imperial family's most glamorous couple.

Magnetic railways span the globe and slaves are constructing a giant bridge over the Persian Gulf. A single state holds absolute sway, but as tensions with a rival Empire escalate, the first rumblings of a world conflict are beginning to be felt. Meanwhile, only an overworked official doubts that the deaths of the Emperor's war-hero brother and his beautiful, charismatic wife were accidental. The sixteen-year-old heir to the throne is about to learn a secret that threatens the greatest power on earth - and his own life.

Sophia McDougall's novel Romanitas is an awesome sweep of alternate history, with a Rome that still exists in the 21st Century; fantasy, thanks to Sulien and Una, two slaves with more than a touch of the supernatural about powers they display; and science fiction, with an environment that pushes the boundaries of science as it exists now. It is an exploration into how to write a novel that transcends genre and purely concentrates on story.

For me, both the biggest strength and the biggest challenge of Romanitas was the epic, lush nature of the prose. For my sins, I do like an easy novel. I like something I can whip through in a few days and move onto the next. Disposable, I guess you'd say. Romanitas is pretty much the opposite of this. It is not a book to be read at speed, it is a book to be read slowly and savoured. You end up sinking into the richness of the prose and the sharp descriptions.

Romanitas is also imbued with a fierce intelligence and a love of language that echoes the best of China Mieville.

McDougall - fittingly, since she is one of the few contracted female science fiction authors in the UK at the moment - does a good turn in a strong female character. Una is to be cherished. She is not a fair maiden to be rescued - in fact, we first meet her in the action of trying to save her brother. She is also not completely kick ass and unbeatable - on one occasion, she rues the fact that she is not bigger and stronger, because she is captured far too easily. She is realistic - all spiky attitude, defensiveness, vulnerability, wonderment. She is completely three dimensional and believable and everything you'd want from a good female protagonist.

Thanks to the fact that slavery is still rife in this modern-day Roman Empire, McDougall spends some time exploring how that can affect relationships in a culture that values connections and celebrity. It is enormously interesting seeing the picture from both the lowest and highest points of society - Una and Sulien show the darkest side of slavery and the desperate lives they end up living; while Marcus demonstrates that living a gilded life is not exactly a picnic in the park either.

This is a clever, entertaining and thought-provoking novel. McDougall has presented us with a vividly imagined alternate world that frames the relationships between the main characters. Prepare to fall in love with Una! It is both powerful and extraordinary, and merits far more literary discussion. Excellent.

The Forever Shelf

So I have been having a book sort out. I have so many now that reluctantly I have to think about releasing some of my precious books into the wild - before they swamp me.

What this also means, for me, is that you develop the Forever Shelf - those novels that will never ever leave your house, those books that you'd look to save above all others, those books that have very special meaning.

My Forever Shelf is not complete, by any means, as I do my sort out - but here is a picture of the nucleus of this shelf:

There is a range of genres represented, although fantasy does dominate. You can see my precious Sharon Penman novels - an historical novel without peer. Mr Sykes' first novel features, because it is a) a signed copy and b) presented such an inextricable link with my first couple of months of blogging. Same with the first Lex Trent novel by Alex Bell. Steven Erikson is well represented - after the indepth read of each book thanks to working on them for Tor, I could never relinquish them.

My question to you is: What would feature on your Forever Shelf? Do you have a picture of yours that you can show off?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Sharing the Love - Mega Summer Giveaway

Okay, a few things have caused this post to come into being.

1) I had major happy awesome news tonight - it *may* not come to fruition, hence I can't talk about it publically - but rest assured that it is AMAZING!

2) I've gotta do something to cheer me up from the bad weather blues. Seriously, July! WTF?

3) I realised, during a fun little book sort (yes, I sort my books for fun, so sue me) that I have a massive number of books that have either been read, or I have duplicates, or, or, or....

Observe the big pile of sorted books:

So I am sharing the love with a BIG SUMMER GIVEAWAY.

Here are the rules:

1 - Fill out the form below
2 - Because I'm feeling happy and fuzzy, this is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway
3 - You can pick more than one set of books to put your name in the hat, but I will make it so that you can't win more than one set - if you see what I mean :-/
4 - This GIVEAWAY will close prompt at midnight Friday 29th July

I think that is everything, but shoot me any questions in the comments below.

It just remains to show you what you could win *grins*

Set 1

His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik
A Cavern of Black Ice - J V Jones
Spellwright - Blake Charlton
White Tiger - Kylie Chan

Set 2

The Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven - Robin Hobb

Set 3

The Winter Ghosts - Kate Mosse
The Passage - Justin Cronin
The Prestige - Christopher Priest
Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote

Set 4

Rot and Ruin - Jonathan Maberry
Pretty Little Liars - Sara Shepard
Halo - Alexandra Adornetto

Set 5

Exit Strategy - Kelley Armstrong
The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries Volume 1 - Charlaine Harris
Made to be Broken - Kelley Armstrong

Set 6

The Technician - Neal Asher
Count Zero - William Gibson
Veteran - Gavin Smith
Nova War - William Gibson

If all has gone as planned, there should be a form below this last bit of words that you need to fill out in order to enter *grins*

Good luck!

Gollancz Announces SF Gateway!

In our new world of digital revolution, instant gratification and eBooks outselling print books Gollancz moves ahead of its peers with the announcement of the SF Gateway.

This is a natural progression, in my opinion, from the SF Masterworks list which has proved so popular and, at times, so controversial.

It allows new readers to easily access the backlists of many classic science fiction authors, and I couldn't be more pleased about this.

For this Gollancz deserves to achieve every success!

(I just sincerely hope they don't receive a backlash concerning the sex of the authors on offer - since this is an ongoing project, I'm sure that no one can possibly nitpick right from the off....)

Here is the official press release:

Gollancz, the SF and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announces the launch of the world’s largest digital SFF library, the SF Gateway, which will make thousands of out-of-print titles by classic genre authors available as eBooks. Building on the remarkable success of Gollancz’s Masterworks series, the SF Gateway will launch this Autumn with more than a thousand titles by close to a hundred authors.

It will build to 3,000 titles by the end of 2012, and 5,000 or more by 2014. Gollancz’s Digital Publisher Darren Nash, who joined the company in September 2010 to spearhead the project said, “The Masterworks series has been extraordinarily successful in republishing one or two key titles by a wide range of authors, but most of those authors had long careers in which they wrote dozens of novels which had fallen out of print. It seemed to us that eBooks would offer the ideal way to make them available again. This realization was the starting point for the SF Gateway.” Wherever possible, the SF Gateway will offer the complete backlist of the authors included.

The SF Gateway will be closely integrated with the recently announced new online edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which provides an independent and definitive reference source of information on the authors and books included. Direct links between the Encyclopedia and the Gateway will provide easy access to eBook editions, for sale through all major online retailers.

The Gateway site will also act as a major community hub and social network for SF readers across the world, allowing them to interact with each other and recommend titles and authors. The site is planned to include forums, blogs, regular promotions, and is envisaged to become the natural home on the net for anyone with an interest in classic SFF.

Authors featured in the launch include such names as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Alice B. Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr), Robert Silverberg, Kate Wilhelm and Connie Willis.

The SF Gateway was conceived by Orion Deputy CEO and Publisher Malcolm Edwards, who commented: “It’s clear that publishers need to show that they can respond to the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution imaginatively, particularly when it comes to backlist. The SF Gateway is just such a response, creating what we hope will become a destination website which will promote the books and authors it features in an active way. We hope it will not only be a success in its own right, but that it will provide a model for future developments in backlist publishing.”

Built to the latest standards of HTML5 and CSS3, the SF Gateway site will use responsive web design to ensure a rewarding user experience across a range of mobile and desktop platforms and operating systems. Both the SF Gateway and the previously announced Encyclopedia of Science Fiction are being developed by STEEL, a Londonbased full service digital agency with over 15 years experience, whose clients include AOL, BBC Worldwide, Debenhams,, Greggs and TalkTalk.

The project has been praised by authors for connecting new generations of readers with classic stories they may not, until now, have been able to enjoy.

British Science Fiction Award-winner Alastair Reynolds said: “When I first started reading SF seriously, as a teenager growing up in Wales, one of the first walls I hit was the realisation that many classic and influential works of the field were either out of print or so hard to obtain that they may as well have been. SF is a forward-looking genre but its past has always been as fascinating as its future, and for that reason the SF Gateway is an exciting and groundbreaking venture, which should prove an enormous asset to the field.”

Double Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner Pat Cadigan added: “This is exactly what I've been hoping for now that the digital book is becoming more widespread. I have always said that the eBook will not be the death of the physical book – the eBook will save so many wonderful books from being lost. We have to remember that what we read is the book – what we read it on, whether ink and paper or pixels on a screen, is just the interface. I'm honestly thrilled about this new project and delighted to be on the list.”

The SF Gateway will be officially launched by Gollancz in September as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of its SF list.

For more information, please go to, where updates on the project will also appear.

SF Gateway is on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Please direct enquiries in the first instance to Jonathan Weir on 020 7520 4314 or

I am SERIOUSLY excited about getting my hands on these eBooks - what a great time to be a Kindle owner!

Embracing Social Media

I want to share a press release with you that I received to my inbox - but the main reason for sharing it is to demonstrate the ways and means that publishers are starting to embrace social media. For me, this is an incredibly interesting move on the part of ATOM, who have already shown themselves to be savvy when it comes to reaching out to teen readers. I've seen publishing imprints try to exploit Facebook and obviously most publishers have one, if not more, Twitter streams - but this is the first time I've seen something so tied into social media, including using tools such as virtual gifts.

Enough burbling - here is the press release:

Atomic Energy Explodes onto Stardoll
Atom Launches Interactive Book Club where Members are invited to Review Books

London (July 19, 2011) – Atom, the children’s imprint of Little, Brown, is teaming up with Stardoll, the largest online social gaming site for tween and teen girls to quench the thirst that teens have for fantastic fiction by launching an interactive book club. Stardoll members are invited to join the club, interact with popular books and join Atom in reviewing books before they are published.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Stardoll to promote the Atom brand and bring some of our most popular series to their members”, said Gina Luck, Atom Brand Manager “We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to reach this audience and encourage them to read. With its 5 million very active UK members, Stardoll is the perfect vehicle.”

Stardoll will feature the book club for six months starting this week during which Stardoll members will be introduced to 4 of Atom’s bestselling series. Featured titles include Dragon’s Oath (the brand new House of Night novella); Nightshade and Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer; Lost in Time (the latest novel in Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series and Destined (the new novel in the bestselling House of Night series). From a campaign hub on Stardoll, members are invited to join the Book Club and receive a virtual Book Shelf to place in their suites. When they share it on Facebook, sign up for the Atom newsletter and read featured extracts of the novels they also receive virtual gifts inspired by each title. Stardoll members can also lead discussions around the book club and create sceneries to express ideas around the stories. Learn more about the Atom Book Club on Stardoll.

Atom are also reaching out to Stardoll members and inviting them to review books before they hit the shelves by joining their young reviewer programme, The Atomics. Learn more by following @AtomBooks on Twitter or join Atom’s Facebook Page

“The Atom Book Club lands at a perfect time on Stardoll kicking off with summer reading when our members are looking for creative inspiration”, said Chris Seth, EVP and General Manager at Stardoll “With the books made readily available in their online environment and the added social element to this campaign they’re certain to be a hit with our audience.”

About Stardoll
Stardoll is part of Stardoll Media, the world’s leading group of websites devoted to young women and girls. Launched in 2009, Stardoll Media includes: Stardoll – the social gaming destination with a focus on fame, fashion and friends. Piczo – the original platform devoted to social self-expression and visual blogging; and PaperDollHeaven – a simpler, game-play environment for a younger demographic. Stardoll Media is the number one publisher globally in Comscore’s teen category, and works with many Fortune 500 brands as they look to engage with an elusive youth audience. Headquartered in Stockholm with offices in the US, UK and Germany, Stardoll Media is backed by two of the world’s top venture capital firms: Sequoia Capital and Index Ventures.

What do you think of this latest move to embrace social media? Innovative? Or something that you thought was already happening?

Which ways would you like to see publishers embracing social media?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees

The year is 1791 and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is Vienna's brightest star. Master of the city's music halls and devoted member of the Austrian Freemason's guild, he stands at the heart of an electric mix of art and music, philosophy and science, politics and intrigue.

Six weeks ago, the great composer told his wife he had been poisoned. Yesterday, he died.

Nannerl, Wolfgang's estranged sister, returns to Vienna to investigate his death - and discovers a sinister conspiracy that reaches to the very highest echelons of Austrian society.

Never has the structure of a novel felt more important than in Mozart's Last Aria. Matt Rees takes the essence of Mozart's music to weave a plot that showcases musical genius alongside a desperately paranoid and rather naive young man, who just wanted to introduce equality to all levels of society. Rees starts with a difficult opening - as Nannerl hears about her estranged brother's death and starts to learn that he believed he was being murdered through slow poisoning. The central portion of the book is a more thoughtful and reflective period, where Nannerl discovers more about her brother's place in Viennese society. The final, explosive portion of the novel is the triumphant climax of the music - as Matt Rees calls it: "a crime novel in A minor."

It's been a while since I've read a novel that is as cleverly put together as Mozart's Last Aria. I appreciated the rising tension, the slow build as Nannerl starts to put all the clues together.

This would be nothing, though, without the exploration of Mozart's relationships with those close to him - his wife, his children, the Brothers of his Masonic Lodge, and Nannerl herself. This helps the reader to discover the man behind the music.

I loved the parts of Mozart's Last Aria that dealt with the Masons and how Mozart explored the future of the Masonic Brotherhood through the forms of his operatic pieces, particularly The Magic Flute. The Masons could so easily become an over-used device - all dark cloaks and twirling moustaches, but Rees presents them sympathetically, especially the notion of equality.

The only part of the novel that I wasn't sure about were Nannerl's encounters with the Baron Swieten. It did help to explain why the Baron might have been so willing to lend his aid to Nannerl, but I found it to be a little too sensationalist.

This is an entertaining and swift read through the possibility of Mozart being murdered. The mystery of who might be behind the murder - if, in fact, it is such - will keep the reader guessing to the end, and the character of Nannerl is one to be cherished. But the real treasure of Mozart's Last Aria is the appreciation of the man's music, and allows him to take his place as a true virtuoso.

COVER STORY: lush covers for thrilling new Solaris trilogy unveiled

I don't usually do cover art posts, so you should realise how exceptional I find these covers!

I just received an email from the Solaris team announcing the new covers for Rowena Cory Daniells' new epic fantasy trilogy, due in 2012.

As per the press release:

The books in the trilogy - Besieged, Sanctuary and Exile - each come with a lush, detailed fantastical cover by Clint Langley, who was responsible for the covers on Daniells’ best-selling The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin and whose artwork is regularly seen in weekly comic anthology, 2000 AD.

The Outcast Chronicles is the exciting new series that follows the fate of a tribe of dispossessed mystics. Vastly outnumbered by people without magical abilities, they are persecuted because ordinary people fear their gifts. This persecution culminates in a bloody pogrom sanctioned by the king who lays siege to the Celestial City, last bastion of the mystics.

This is a family-saga set in a fantasy world. Four people linked by blood, love and vows struggle with misplaced loyalties, over-riding ambition and hidden secrets which could destroy them. Some make desperate alliances only to suffer betrayal, and some discover great personal strength.

Check these out...




I think these are simply stunning - and give a good reason why my Kindle will never be as good as my books (well, not until they can reproduce, in colour, this sort of artwork!)

What do you think? Will you be picking up this trilogy?

DragonWorld - a new title from Impact Books

Today I am so pleased to bring you a review of DragonWorld. This is a book that I was sceptical about reviewing, when it was offered but just one peek inside the pages and I was utterly blown away.

Here is the official blurb:

120 Dragons with Advice and Inspiration from 49 International Artists

From fire breathing to friendly, dragons pretty much rock the fantasy world. Dedicated to the coolest of mythological beasts, DragonWorld is a showcase of some of today's best, most imaginative dragon art. Some stick to the popular notion of what a dragon is, while others offer more unexpected interpretations. Behind this fiercely creative work is a diverse group of young international artists who have developed loyal fan followings on the popular online showcase, Look inside to see why.

  • 120 creations from 49 cutting-edge dragon artists all on
  • Represents a wide variety of mediums—both traditional and digital—and an even wider variety of stylistic interpretations from classic to futuristic
  • Q&A style profiles offer fascinating insights on the artists' techniques and inspirations

DragonWorld is available from the North Light Shop and I'm pleased to say that readers of this blog can receive 40% off the retail price by using the coupon code “DragonSummer11”.

Why should you buy it?

I will give you just three reasons out of 120.

The first showcases a traditional dragon, as produced by Daniel Lundkvist:

The second is a delightfully cute cartoon style by Ursula Vernon:

The last image that I want to show you here is massively powerful and distinctive, and my personal favourite out of the whole 120 images available. It is by Kerem Beyit:

The book is lavish and coffee table style, and each image is accompanied by a Q&A sleeve that discusses with the artist their influences, styles and why they love dragons so much. Here is an example of such:

I cannot emphasise how truly gorgeous this book is, and, if you have any interest in dragons or appreciate looking at some stunning artwork, then it will be well worth your money. I have absolutely no stake in your buying this - no affiliate links, no monetary rewards. I just think it presents a beautiful gift - and preferably one for yourself! I don't think you'd be able to part with this once you'd seen it.

I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of those who view the images above! Which do you like best?

Sunday, 17 July 2011

All Quiet on the Blogging Front

It's been one of those weekends where I have not even opened a book. This is ultra rare for me (and doesn't help me with all of the review commitments I have that are currently stacking up...), but I've had a super awesome weekend regardless.

On Saturday I went to Arundel with a group of ten other ladies - some work colleagues and friends. We do this each summer now - the first year we saw Jersey Boys in London, the second year we headed to London again to do the aqua tour of the city. This year we decided to stay a little closer to home. As well as drinking and eating WAAAAY too much, I also went here:

This is Arundel Castle, and I can ABSOLUTELY recommend it. There are tons of events going on over the summer, including jousting, and the castle itself is brilliant. There is a newer section - a mere 100 years old or so, which is lavishly furnished, including one table set for formal dining which is simply amazing to look at. And then there is the older section, dating from the 1600s. In this older section, you can head up to the battlements and peer through the arrow slits. You can climb up and down frighteningly steep spiral staircases and marvel at the fact soldiers used to run up and down them at speed. Just fantastic.... Here are some of the views from the battlement:

Incredibly, the family still lives in newer parts of the castle, and this is the entrance to their section:

After all that culture yesterday, today I went to Thorpe Park with my brother and Mark de Jager from My Favourite Books! Which might have been a small mistake with the raging hangover I had this morning *grins* I had brilliant fun, with great company, and it was super practice for my holiday to Florida in September (coming up fast now!)

At least.... I think I had fun - the picture below *might* present a slightly different view:

Finally, I get to sit down tonight and crack open a book - and I have plenty to choose from out of just some of the new arrivals through the door this week!

Did you get up to anything fun this weekend? Did you head out to watch Harry Potter? (something I didn't manage to fit in....Soon....) Are there any of the books above that you're particularly interested in?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton

My name is Anita Blake. Vampires call me the Executioner. What I call them isn't repeatable.

Ever since the Supreme Court granted the undead equal rights, most people think vampires are just ordinary folk with fangs. I know better. I've seen their victims. I carry the scars...

But now a serial killer is murdering vampires - and the most powerful bloodsucker in town wants me to find the killer...

A vampire slayer. Were-creatures. Vampires that allure. We've been here before, right? TV shows. Books. A whole area of the bookshop now dedicated to paranormal romance.

But... Look inside the front cover of Guilty Pleasures and you see copyright Laurell K Hamilton 1993. That is four years before Buffy the Vampire Slayer strode onto our screens (IN THE TV SHOW. I am well aware that the film came out in 1992, a year before, so the concept wasn't exactly brand new - that of vampire slaying by a girl - but I think that Hamilton absolutely put her own spin on matters). That is years before Sookie Stackhouse became a star of page and screen. Ages before Kelley Armstrong and Kim Harrison started producing two of the best paranormal series out there.

Laurell K Hamilton came first. Her inspiration was still Anne Rice and Dracula, and people who wrote "proper" vampires, as opposed to those that sparkle. Nikolaos, the villain of the piece, is a child vampire - evil and chilling. These are proper vampires, that ruffle the hairs on your neck and whose daytime sleeping places have a scent that reminds you vaguely of graves and snakes.

Add into this a truly compelling idea of vampires "coming out" to the general populace of the States, and how that has affected law. Anita Blake might be a vampire slayer, but she needs a document of execution before she can kill them otherwise it counts as murder.

"It had only been two years since Addison v. Clark. The court case gave us a revised version of what life was, and what death wasn't. Vampirism was legal in the good ol' U S of A. [...] All sorts of questions were being fought out in court. Did heirs have to give back their inheritance? Were you widowed if your spouse became undead? Was it murder to slay a vampire?"

Linked to this, Hamilton explores how religion might be affected by the legalization of vampires. She gives us the idea that the Church of Eternal Life is run by vampires, who go door to door to recruit followers (much like Jehovah's Witnesses) but can actually promise eternal life. None of the speculation about what comes after life with this church!

Also, Anita Blake is, first and foremost, an animator - someone who can raise the dead. This voodoo-esque element of the story brings a lot to the table, and will become increasingly important in future books.

There is no overstating the imagination and speculation on show here. Laurell K Hamilton came FIRST - giving us a vampire slayer on retainer with the police, investigating supernatural crimes.

However, the story would be nothing without Anita Blake herself. This is a character with charisma in spades - a short woman who goes to the gym in the knowledge that she has to do *something* to turn over the odds in a fight. A good little Catholic girl with a real mouth on her, that gets her into trouble more times than she can count. She is blisteringly sarcastic and, at times, frighteningly vulnerable. I love her.

She is surrounded by other characters that simply spring from the page. Jean-Claude barely has any page time in Guilty Pleasures, and yet I was so intrigued by this master vampire - achingly beautiful and slightly mischievous in his behaviour towards Anita, and then the switch to something utterly deadly. And Edward - vampire killer, bounty hunter, the aspect of Death. Edward is a mysterious and enormously scary character that the reader will want to hear so much more about.

Guilty Pleasures is an absolute rollercoaster ride - beyond fast-paced. There is not a moment of downtime between killing ghouls, investigating the deaths of vampires and coming face to face with the vampire master of the city. For such a slight book, Laurell K Hamilton absolutely packs in the action.

I would say this is one of the faults. The reader only has time to reflect and take a breath once they reach the end of the novel. Before that, you are compulsively turning pages to find out what happens next. It means that we barely take notice of the clues that we've given about who might be committing the crime of killing vampires. It means that a key character death doesn't have the impact that it absolutely should do.

Another fault is one that Robert Jordan shares - Laurell K Hamilton does love describing clothes: the shorts and sneakers that Anita wears, with the blue piping down the sides; the fishnet shirt worn by Phillip, a vampire groupie; the lace on the shirt of Jean-Claude. Some erroneous details took up way too much page time.

Really, though, Guilty Pleasures is the start of an impressive series that carved the way where so many others have now followed. Laurell K Hamilton gives us the first sassy kick ass heroine in the form of Anita Blake - and I suspect she has never been bettered. Make sure you buy the second at the same time as the first, because you simply won't be able to resist diving into the rest of this series and gulping it down compulsively. Tremendous entertainment - and a little bit of literary history.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Black Library: Path of the Renegade

Lookit! The artwork for Path of the Renegade has been released!

How *awesome* is that?!

The blurb: For millennia, Asdrubael Vect has ruled the dark city of Commorragh, crushing any who dare to cross him. His reach is long and his position unassailable... or so he thinks. Yllithian, an ambitious archon with the desire to unseat the tyrant, joins forces with a twisted haemonculus in an attempt to revive a long-dead warrior and challenge the might of the overlord, both racing to achieve their goal before Vect discovers their treachery. But a cataclysm is coming, and Yllithian’s actions may in fact be the cause...

It's out March 2012, and I already want that on my shelves!

101 Fantasy: What Would You Suggest?

So, someone asks you for a recommendation. They have tried something like, say, Harry Potter and they ask for a novel from the fantasy genre. You want something typical from the fantasy field. You want something that provides easy reading and showcases a lot of the familiar tropes in fantasy.

What do you suggest?

I asked this question on Twitter and received the following responses (amongst others):

  • The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien
  • Elric by Michael Moorcock
  • The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
  • Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings
  • Magician by Raymond E Feist 
  • Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Leguin
For me, these are sterling choices. They all solidly represent the field of fantasy, are familiar and beloved.

But they're also so OLD. The most recent novel that is deemed to be able to keep company with the above is The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.Other than that, we're harking back to an age of fantasy where quest fiction was the norm, where our bad guys helpfully wore black cloaks to identify themselves and everyone eats stew.

Why is it that these are deemed to be the best ways to bring people into the fantasy genre? I can entirely understand not suggesting someone like Joe Abercrombie - or even George R R Martin. They are very dark, with adult themes and language. But how about J V Jones? Or Trudi Canavan? Or Guy Gavriel Kay? Spellwright by Blake Charlton was hailed as harking back to a gentler age and celebrated as such - how come this novel is not being suggested? Did it get a little lost on the shelves? Is it not as beloved because nostalgia has nothing to do with it? I just wonder at the idea that we are suggesting fantasy novels that are sometimes referred to as Tolkien knock offs to showcase the fantasy genre...

I wonder whether it is the explosion of the YA genre that means we no longer seem to be breeding fantasy on the shelves that can be handed to those just embarking on their fantastical reading career. With hard hitting fantasy and science fiction on the YA shelves - including the Chaos Walking trilogy - are younger readers finding access to the fantasy and science fiction shelves through those means?

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on:

  • why the 101 fantasy novels are often so old;
  • what the perfect 101 fantasy novel is;
  • and, is there still a place for the 101 fantasy novel - or has YA taken its place?
Looking forward to your comments!

The Double-Edged Sword by Sarah Silverwood

Sixteen years ago, Finmere Tingewick Smith was abandoned on the steps of the Old Bailey. Under the guardianship of the austere Judge Harlequin Brown and the elderly gentlemen of Orrery House, Fin has grown up under a strange set of rules. He spends alternate years at two very different schools, and he has two, very different, best friends...and he's getting very tired of the constant lies to everyone, even his best friends, to hide the insanity of his double life.

But on his sixteenth birthday, everything changes. The Judge is killed. Fin is catapulted into an extraordinary adventure.

You know when you pick a book randomly from your shelves and start reading with little to no expectations, and then it just blows you away? You end up reading to the early hours of the morning and then telling everyone how much you absolutely loved it? Yes. That. That is what happened with The Double-Edged Sword by Sarah Silverwood. I already knew that I liked Silverwood's style of writing (thanks to her adult novels under the name Sarah Pinborough), but I wasn't sure that it would translate to a YA novel.

But it does! In spades! Silverwood writes a stunning adventure story that pays homage to both Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman via Harry Potter. We have the tale of a young boy discovering that he is way more than he originally seems, set in a London which explores the mystical qualities of a city that is also more that it seems.

Fin is a great character - at times vulnerable and sad, and at times embracing his destiny with gusto. He is adventurous and mischievous and street-smart. He is the kind of boy that Harry Potter wishes he can be. His two friends Joe and Christopher are just as fun to read about - and Silverwood also includes a female character who is sassy and easily the equal of the boys.

In The Double-Edged Sword, the world that Silverwood creates is just as important as a character as the characters themselves. The contrast between the Somewhere and the Nowhere is handled beautifully, with rules being built that I'm sure will become crucial in later volumes.

And that, I guess, is my one complaint about the novel. It is the first novel of a series and, as such, takes the time to bring the world and magic and history to life. The pacing never slowed down too much due to exposition, but there were some detailed conversations to explain what was happening that needed to be read carefully. I'm sure in future volumes Silverwood will be able to hit the ground running.

This is the start of an exciting new series that establishes YA urban fantasy in the mould of Kate Griffin and Neil Gaiman. Fin is a warm character that boys can really relate to. All in all, I recommend it wholeheartedly!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of the new Indigo YA imprint from Orion.

Here's the official bit: "The Orion Publishing Group is delighted to share the exciting news of the launch of INDIGO, the new imprint that will publish a wide variety of genres for teens and young adults by established authors and rising stars.

Launching in September INDIGO will publish four titles a month.

Fiona Kennedy will be the publisher of INDIGO alongside her role as publisher of Orion Children's Books, with commissioning editors Gillian Redfearn and Amber Caraveo.

INDIGO will publish fiction for older teen readers focusing on the strengths of the publishing that currently sit on the popular and successful Gollancz and Orion Children's Books imprints.

A stellar list of authors will launch the new venture: Mia James, Cinda Williams Chima, Harlan Coben, Kate Harrison, Holly Black, Marcus Sedgwick, Sara Grant, Sally Gardner, Chris Wooding, Anna Kendall, Cliff McNish, Sarah Silverwood, Alan Gibbons, James Dawson, Chloe Neill and Annabel Pitcher."

We started the evening with the wonderful hosts Nina and Louise taking us through the launch titles for September 2011, and then exciting us with covers and hints about the books coming up until March 2012. There are some *wonderful* books coming!

I am particularly looking forward to Soul Beach by Kate Harrison, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick and Hollow Pike by James Dawson.

Once our appetites had been thoroughly whetted, we were introduced to four of the authors who will be leading INDIGO - Marcus Sedgwick, Sara Grant, Kate Harrison and Sally Gardner. Each gave a short talk about various aspects of their work, including inspirations for the particular novel (Marcus Sedgwick), their route to publishing (Sara Grant), and early experiences that led to them wanting to write within YA (Kate Harrison) - and then we were treated to readings from their novels.

I do love readings by authors - they know the correct inflections, they know the extracts which will entice readers the most, and it is wonderful to see the passion they have for their work. I also appreciated the slight nerves on show - for me, that demonstrates how much the authors care about how their work will be received.

I also want to say how much I love the YA genre for its ability to embrace all arenas of fiction - crime, thrillers, romance (paranormal and otherwise), contemporary, historical.... Honestly, I think YA bloggers are having all the fun! They can say that they concentrate on one area of publishing and yet get to read something from every sphere of genre!

After the readings we were able to mingle with the authors and other bloggers. There was a real atmosphere of excitement at seeing the birth of this imprint, and discussing the great books that have been chosen to showcase what it intends in the future.

I had a wonderful chat with Kate Harrison (I've read her adult novels) - she was so, so friendly and willing to talk about how chick lit has been changing recently and how her experiences in journalism led partially to the story within Soul Beach.

Also, cupcakes and champagne! Big win there.

Armed with some lovely advance copies that I wanted to dive into immediately - all of them, all at once, some of them now signed - I travelled home and reflected that INDIGO can go STRATOSPHERIC.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Best Books of 2011 So Far

Okay, since it is Tuesday and I wanted to do another Top Ten post, I decided to combine it with my half-year report of the ten books I've enjoyed best so far in 2011.

1) The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

I think EVERYONE now knows how much I love this trilogy *grins* They were a complete revelation to me and I was stunned by the quality of the characters and the story.

From the review: I honestly don't believe that anything else I read this year will live up to the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. This is something incredibly special, and I'm honestly surprised that more people haven't been shouting at me to read it. Well, consider this me shouting to everyone else: READ THE CHAOS WALKING TRILOGY BY PATRICK NESS! It is suitable for all ages, and for both sexes (which I find incredibly unusual). It is brilliantly written, with vibrant voices and very immediate characters. It is a true rollercoaster ride. Just perfect.

2) Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

The third novel in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and by far the best and most emotional so far.

From the review: From huge epic sweeping moments, to the mundane talk between soldiers waiting for the next battle, this is a supreme novel and the very finest example of what can be accomplished within fantasy fiction.

3) Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Another real surprise to me. I think this is one of those special novels that can be beloved to both adults and children.

From the review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is an exceptional tale; one that is destined to become a classic. It is undefinable and entirely beautiful.

4) Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

One of the few thriller novels I read and I certainly picked a doozy! This debut novel is receiving a helluva lot of buzz and it is easy to see why.

From the review: This is one of those books where you would pay extra for another copy if your original was missing the last chapter! Before I Go To Sleep is the type of novel where you seriously consider only catching a few hours sleep yourself in order to finish reading it.

It is breathless, highly accomplished and damn near perfect. Go and buy this book today.

5) Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

I waited waaaay too long to read this one - but it was WELL worth the wait!

From the review: In all, Zoo City is both fascinating as a study in modern literature, and exciting to read. It is one of those books that feels incredibly special as you read it, with a timeless quality. I hold my hands up: I should have read this months ago. Zoo City is a wonderful novel, and Lauren Beukes has instantly become a go-to novelist of mine. A stunning achievement.

Ahhhh.... So, this is a little bit of a misadvertisement! I don't have ten books that I would consider superlative. These five (technically, eight) novels above are just so beyond everything else I've read this year that I didn't want to include anything else! Here's hoping for some more five star reads in the second half of the year that can take their place on this list.

Which are your top reads of the year so far?

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Fire Inside by Raymond Rose (self published)

Ten years ago, Jack and Bruce barely survived a battle royale between good and evil that left half the city bathed in red and the other half burned to the ground. Over the years, they’ve drifted apart – their lives going separate paths. Jack took a life of peace; Bruce, one of danger. But now Bruce is back looking for Jack’s help. Because what’s about to happen is worse than anything they've seen... and could imagine.

Raymond Rose offered me a chance to review The Fire Inside, and I found myself intrigued enough by the premise to agree to read and review my second self-published novel. What I found was a fast-paced superhero tale that gave homage to such beloved properties as X-Men, Watchmen and Raymond Chandler - stealing wantonly from each, but in a charming manner that shows Rose delights in the source material.

The characters were vivid and lifelike, from Jack King, retired superhero crimefighter, to Fey, talented and cute young girl with recently discovered powers.Their dialogue was well written and Rose introduced their back stories in an effective manner.

What I will say in the negative, however, is that Rose's novel showcases exactly how an editor and proof-reading can benefit a novel. There were a large number of spelling errors, some grammatical problems, skips between past and present tense in the same paragraph and far too many exclamation marks.

I would also say that The Fire Inside was a little too long as well, since there were battle scenes every few pages or so. Although these helped to define the various powers on show by the superheros, they did become quite repetitive and I think I would have preferred a little more character development in favour of too many fights.

Lastly, I found myself metaphorically turning the last page (since it's an ebook, natch!) and not being completely sure about what the Agency was - it could have been a Federal Agency, but it seemed to be superhero-oriented? I wasn't entirely certain, and I think that Rose could have made this clearer.

If this novel had received that extra edit and proof-read, then I do believe Rose is talented enough to make a snappy noir book out of it. As it was, I found myself utterly distracted by the errors. I lost my patience with the fact that it hadn't been checked over better before going into the public domain, and would encourage Rose to use stronger beta readers to help shape his novels in the future. The Fire Inside had promise within the storylines and character, but was unfortunately let down by a weak presentation.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Steph Swainston Is Not Your Bitch Either!

Someone is wrong on the Internet again. This time it is Steph Swainston apparently. In an article in the Independent, Steph announced her decision to leave writing books full time and train as a chemistry teacher. I'm paraphrasing the article, but basically Steph has found it difficult to honour a one-book-a-year contract, and doesn't enjoy the publicising part of the author's job. HERE is the full article.

Now, I would have thought the previous week would have taught people something about newspapers *dry*. Namely, that any chance to sensationalise a story will be snatched at, and that stories/quotes taken out of context can make a person sound truly awful.

Key quotes in the article included: "I need to return to reality", "The internet is poison to authors" and "It's as if authors have to be celebrities these days." These quotes ruffled the feathers of certain authors, it seems.

I was dismayed to see some of the following reactions from people on Twitter:

"She was always very fragile, though, wasn't she, Steph? It does all sound the tiniest bit precious."

"Depends on how thick the author's skin is."

"Strangest article ever - she really doesn't seem to be cut out to be a writer, or understand the modern writer's life."

"She's clearly not cut out for & not interested in writing (dandy). But no point in her being GoH."

"I'm giving it 9months before she's sobbing outside Orion house, shrieking, 'let me back in!'"

I don't know Steph Swainston myself and some/all of the above quotes come from people who do know her, but....well.... here's the thing:

An author decided that she could not commit to producing her best work on a one year schedule and would prefer to spend more time writing each novel. She has decided to retrain as a teacher, which is a great vocation and something our schools are crying out for. She intends to honour her remaining commitment as GoH at Eastercon 2012. And she will still be writing, albeit at her pace.

Is it just me, or do the quotes from fellow authors make it sound FAR FAR FAR worse than it is? Why the vitirol? Why the mocking? Why the condescension?

Steph Swainston has decided to do what is best FOR HER. She has made public what was no doubt a difficult decision, and tried to explain why she might come to this decision. Her decision is not what everyone would pick.

How about delighting in the fact that Gollancz can now go contract another author, since Swainston has been adult and taken herself out of contract so that she can produce her best possible work rather than forcing out something she'd not be happy with? How about recognising that the pressure of being an author has caused meltdown in other people, who received sympathy?

I think it was all a bit unfriendly. For me, I say that Swainston has made a great decision and I wish her well in her future teaching career.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Is There Any Mileage in a Literary Award for Self-Published Novels?

I asked this question on Twitter earlier on and was very interested in the range of responses. What is clear is that:

a) we still have no idea how to treat self-published novels in the realms of literature

b) there is massive stigma associated with self-publishing still

c) at the moment we have no clear criteria for judging the worth of a self-published book (clearly, reviews on Amazon are not going to help massively, unless there are more than ten, since friends and family are perfectly okay pitching in and helping to generate reviews).

Here are some of the responses:

@LizUK: Can you IMAGINE the onslaught of books you'd receive? It would make AR submission month look like a cakewalk.

@DarrenGoldsmith: But an award doesn't necessarily weed out the bad traditionally-published books? So much of this is about personal prefs.

@KTScribbles: That sounds like a good idea.

@AaronPound: That's an interesting question. Most of the self-published works I've read have been pretty bad (that doesn't mean all are).

@SamaelTB: Good luck to anyone given the job of shortlisting for that. Sounds like a nightmare job.

@E_M_Edwards: I don't think so. It will be a retrograde & ultimately futile effort to sub-categorize self published ebooks. #thatshiphassailed

@Colin_Barnes: how would it be judged? Could cause all kinds of worrying issues and skewing of data.

@LouMorgan: One could argue that better self-published books sometimes get picked up and re-released by a publisher... is that enough?

@Pallekenl: And what would be the criteria to be eligible? Like Liz said you'd be deluged by subs if you don't have criteria to exclude titles

Having seen those responses, what are your thoughts? Do you think there is a way to start awarding self-published novels? Do you have any ideas as to how to winnow the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the thousands of self-published being put out these days? How can we legitimise self-publishing? Do we want to - or is traditional publishing all we want to see?

Advice for Self-Published Authors: How to Approach Reviewers/Bloggers

Since I have started accepting self-published novels for review, I have been receiving a number of email requests to review particular books. These range from the very professional, to the charming, to the downright awful. I thought I would provide a few hints and tips to those self-published authors who are intending to start sending out requests for review. After all, if you’ve done all the work involved in actually writing a novel and then putting it into an acceptable format, and getting it on a website for sale, then why skimp on the details when it comes to publicising?

First of all, make it clear in the subject line of your email what it is about. I’ve received review request emails with the subject ‘Hello!’ which doesn’t reflect well on the author. Something along the lines of ‘Review request’ followed by the title of the novel would be best.

Second of all, personalise your email. I’m not looking for everyone to have researched my actual name (Amanda) – using my blog name (Magemanda) is just as acceptable. I am less convinced by salutations that state ‘Dear Blogger’ or ‘Dear Book Reviewer’ – that is on a level with using ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ on a letter. It’s professional enough, but it doesn’t show a lot of personality or invite me to connect with you. Just as a suggestion – avoid anything like: “Dear Flr to Clg Bks” (yes, I received this) – if you can’t be bothered with vowels, I can’t be bothered with your book. Harsh, maybe, but fair, I believe.

Although flattery will get you everywhere in some cases, I actually find it very artificial when someone sends me an email that extols the virtues of my blog and then has a ‘by the way, review my book’ section on the very bottom. Sure, it’s lovely hearing that your blog is something that people enjoy BUT I don’t like flattery that seems circumstantial i.e. you’re only saying it because you think it might get your novel looked at.

This might sound obvious, but please spell check and grammar check your email. If I think that your poor spelling etc in your email is indicative of what I might expect from your self-published work, I’m not going to accept it, I’m afraid, no matter how good the story might be. I accept that there are more errors and hiccups in self-published work than edited books professionally produced, but I like to believe they will be limited.

A few details about the novel you’re offering would be appreciated. I received one email that simply said: ‘Will you review my book?’ The quick answer to that is ‘no’, because I know nothing to make my judgement on. At the least provide a little background – what genre it is, a few plot points etc. I actually like receiving a novel blurb – for me, if you’ve produced one of these, it shows you’re taking the endeavour seriously. Sometimes I’ve been sent the book covers as well, and I also like these, although it isn’t essential.

Please pay attention to the genres accepted by the book reviewer you’re pitching to! In my case, it isn’t AS important since I read most everything, but some reviewers are very definite about what genres they care to review. If you’re sending them a novel that doesn’t fit those genres, then be prepared for either a quick, sharp no or to be ignored (after all, if you’re ignoring their words, they’re more than entitled to ignore yours!)

Along with personalising your salutations, some of the best emails I’ve received have personalised the request. For instance, ‘I noticed that you enjoyed XXX last week, and I think that my self-published work would be something you’d also enjoy.’ It doesn’t hurt to let the reviewer know that you read their blog on a regular basis, and that you’ve recognised what novels interest them. All of this is going to make a better impression than a cold and formal request that looks as though it has been sent en masse to any blogger with a freely-available email address.

The best email I have received recently was the following:

Dear Magemada,

My name is Matt Xell and I am a writer and artist based in Zambia, Africa. TOWER OF PARLEN MIN is my debut novel and the first in a series of six books featuring Ves Asirin. It is an Urban fantasy/adventure epic (Speculative Fiction) that will appeal to young adult readers aged 14 to 18.

I would like you to consider the book for review on your blog .Unfortunately the book is not available in Hard cover or Paperback formats at the moment, but I will be sure to send you a free copy when it becomes available in these formats.

The synopsis of my novel is as follows: Ves Asirin, an orphaned and introverted boy with a complicated memory loss disorder, wins a trip to the TOWER OF PARLEN MIN, the home of the wealthiest inventor of the time, Jacobius Trent. There, with 19 other children, he must compete in the Sword Challenge; a series of intricate puzzles and daring tasks, for a prize of $12 million. As dazzling, glorious and liberating as the Tower seems to be for him, Ves finds that it keeps a dark and secret history that he has been unknowingly connected to for over 150 years, a secret that will define his future and destiny ... if he can escape The shadow; a powerful and seemingly unstoppable, supernatural serial killer.

If you are interested in reviewing my novel, please let me know the ebook format you prefer and I will send it to you as soon as possible (PDF, epub, .mobi, LRF, PDB), along with a PDF version containing the 'Black chapters' which encompasses these bonus chapters.

For more information, please feel free to contact me at this email address at any time.

Thank you for your time and consideration and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Matt Xell - Tower of Parlen Min

If you look at the above example, Matt uses my blog name, which is a nice start. Then he gives a little bit of information about himself and the book he’d like me to review, including what age range the novel is directed at. This allows me to see if it is something that fits with my tastes. He is very clear about what formats the novel is available in – some reviewers don’t have eReaders as yet, so this query would probably be turned down by them on that basis, although Matt is clear that HBs and PBs will be available at a later date.

In all, the email is to the point, professional and gives all the details that I might require. It is personalized to an extent and, in general, shows decent grasp of spelling and grammar. When I receive a request like the above, I am more than likely going to accept a copy, depending on my review schedule, and then you, as a self-published author, are one step ahead of the person who didn’t send a professional query. At least your novel is being read!

I hope this helps, and would welcome other reviewers making suggestions that can be added for self-published authors, so that they can present the best possible review query.