Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Q+A with Vic James

Today I'm excited to welcome Vic James to the blog. I reviewed Gilded Cage earlier this month and was eager to hear about how it came to be. Read on to find out more...

How would you describe Gilded Cage in 140 characters or less?

In an alternate modern Britain, everyone must perform 10 years’ service to the ruling magical aristocracy. A brother & sister must survive – & make a different world.

Where did the idea of ‘slavedays’ come from?

In the world of GILDED CAGE, the ‘slavedays’ are a decade of labour demanded by the elite 1% from the 99% of ‘us’. In our world, what sets the 1% apart is their wealth and power. I was making a BBC TV series called The Superrich and Us when I thought, one day, that their advantages over the rest of us were so great as to be almost like magic. Lightbulb moment, right there!

So the aristocrats of GILDED CAGE are like our own elite 1%, but with even more power. And the commoners of GILDED CAGE are like the 99% of us, but enduring conditions even harsher. The slavedays are a blend of many things that feel wrong and unjust to me in our society today – especially how they affect young people: How work can be relentless, just to keep your head above water. Pitiful prospects of ever owning your own home. Political disenfranchisement. Unfulfilling jobs that don’t use or value the education you have.

Do you have a favourite character?

Impossible question! I love Luke’s honesty and courage, Abi’s intelligence and determination, Silyen’s brilliance and lack of scruples, and Renie’s resilience and cheek. Two characters I came unexpectedly to love writing – though both are far from lovable! – are arrogant playboy Heir Gavar, and deranged Dog.

In your alternate history, the monarchy was removed with Charles I, why did you choose this point in history to deviate from ours?

Partly familiarity – I did a PhD on the reign of Charles I. Partly drama and impact – it was the only time since the Norman Conquest that regime change on that scale has happened in Britain. And partly because it fitted the shape of the ‘slavedays’ system. Introduced in modern times, the slavedays would make no sense. But they would have been perfectly logical 400 years ago. The ‘slavedays’ are not enduring slavery, but a form of indentured service (when you’re unfree, but for a fixed period of time), which was commonplace in the seventeenth century.

How has your background in current affairs shaped your writing?

It’s given me insights into everything from the harsh realities of life at the bottom of our society today (when I made UK reports for Channel 4 News), to how sexual coercion is commonplace in politics (I made a report dubbed ‘Sexminster’), to how elites live and operate, as with the Superrich series. I couldn’t have written this book and expected it to be convincing without that experience.

The political climate in Gilded Cage hints at the current dissatisfaction with Westminster from many parts of the country. Do you feel fantasy gives you more freedom to explore class and inequality?

It’s not a question of having more ‘freedom’. It’s simply a personal preference for fantasy, as both a writer and reader. I wouldn’t hesitate to write a searing critique of contemporary politics and economics in an entirely real-life setting, if I wanted to. But my whole life I’ve loved stories that tell us about our world, while taking us to a different world. So that’s what I wrote in GILDED CAGE.

What was your experience using Wattpad?

I used Wattpad for a very specific reason: to get the book written when I was extremely busy at work! I loved the idea of being accountable to readers. So I wrote a chapter a week and posted it to the site every Friday. It didn’t affect what I wrote or how I told the story, but it gave me a deadline that I felt I had to stick to – even if it meant getting up at 5am to write before work!

Can you give us any clues about what the future holds for the Hadleys?

Seriously? Clues?

Well, I can tell you the cover strap-line for book 3 is “Not all will be saved”. *looks around* *whistles*

What are you currently reading?

A stack of 2017 YA debuts! Right now: Cecilie Vinesse’s SEVEN DAYS OF YOU (an expat teenager’s last week in Tokyo, out March), Laurie Forest’s THE BLACK WITCH (if Hogwarts was a university, not a school, out May) and Heather Maclean’s TOWARD A SECRET SKY (Outlander meets Dan Brown, out April)

What's your favourite cake?

My Mum’s coffee cake with chocolate buttons on top. She still makes me one for my birthday each year!

Is there anything interesting/relevant/funny that you've found online recently that you'd like to share?

I heart twitter. It brings these things to you all the time. Pictures of 2,000-year-old mummified penguins. Awesome GIFs. Bonkers things that make me snort out coffee. So find me there @DrVictoriaJames if you’re curious what small things amuse my small brain…

Vic James is a current affairs TV director who loves stories in all their forms, and Gilded Cage is her debut novel. She as twice judged the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, has made films for BBC1, BBC2, and Channel 4 News, and is a huge success story. Under its previous title, Slavedays, her book was read online over a third of a million times in first draft. And it went on to win Wattpad’s ‘Talk of the Town’ award in 2015 – on a site showcasing 200 million stories. Vic James lives and works in London.

Gilded Cage by Vic James is the first instalment of the Dark Gifts Trilogy. It is published in paperback 26 January 2017 by Pan Macmillan £7.99

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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Sun is Also a Star

Natasha believes in science, not fate. She’s not even sure love exists. Today is the day she is due to be deported but she’s not given up yet. Daniel wants to be a poet, he believes in romance and believes fate has led him to Natasha. As she tries to rescue the rest of her life, her path crosses with Daniel’s, and even science can explain that every action can cause a change in an object’s trajectory.

She knows: love is just chemicals and coincidence.

Daniel is lovely. The second son of Korean immigrants, he has only felt the full pressure to succeed since his brother Charlie started to falter. His father wants the American Dream for them, but Daniel doesn’t really want to be a doctor. There’s a lot in this book about disappointing your family, or your family disappointing you.

He is so nice to Natasha, who might seem like she is undeserving. Understandably she has a lot on her mind, but Daniel does everything right. She slowly comes round to his way of thinking. Maybe it all happens too fast, but the book relies on everything happening in one day.

What I liked the most were the chapters from the perspective of the minor characters. Everyone is always caught up in their own lives with their own problems, we barely stop to think about the people we interact with on this level. And if we do, our assumptions are so often wrong. It also reflects how even the smallest of actions can change the course of a life.

As part of parental expectations, it also touches on their own racism. Both families wish their children to settle down with their own kind. In a world that is prejudiced towards them, they want the familiarity of their own culture, without realising their children are more American than Jamaican or Korean.

He can't see past his own history to let us have ours.

I guess I made the same mistake as the immigration official at the start of the book, thinking that Jamaica doesn't sound like the worst place to be deported to. I wasn't aware of the high rates of serious crime or the poverty levels. And America isn't exactly perfect right now but I get that we quite often only see part of the picture when it comes to another country. The book focuses a lot more on a rather charming romance and having to leave a life behind than a genuine fear though.

There are also chapters that talk about the history and culture of those involved, and also that not everyone is always aware of it. Especially younger generations, who may not want the weight of their legacy on their shoulders. And why should they? I did find the passage about the Korean monopoly on black hair care pretty amazing, what an odd world we live in.

This book is a huge improvement over Everything, Everything which, as you might know, irritated me greatly. There's a little bit of me that does think, really, you're leaving this to the day you're leaving to sort out, but mostly I liked the single day approach. And if you're wondering if you find out what happens with Irene, it's OK, there's a lovely little epilogue about everyone's future. I welled up a bit.

If you're particularly interested in the process of trying to stop deportation from the US, you might want to try Something In Between by Melissa de la Cruz which is a bit more on point.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 15 January 2017


Ruby has spent her life hiding her power. She is a Fireblood, gifted with the ability to manipulate heat and flame, well she would if she had a chance to practice. But in her eagerness to learn, she draws the Frost King’s soldiers to her village. In a land ruled by ice, Ruby’s very existence is outlawed. After she is captured, a mysterious warrior gives her a choice, rot away in prison or help them seek vengeance against the king.

You know when you’re reading a book and so much about it seems incredibly familiar? That’s kind of what I got from Frostblood, which is a wannabe Throne of Glass but doesn’t quite get there. I mean, it was enjoyable enough but I don’t like feeling as if a book is trying to be something else.

The story is in two halves, the first focusing more on the romance, and the second where things get exciting and more of the worldbuilding is done. It starts off strongly, with Ruby witnessing the unjust death of her mother, and her village punished just because of her heritage.

I suddenly wished I had never learned to care, that I was free from feeling, as I had been in the prison where all I had was hate.

I liked the monks. In a world of prejudice, they take in those unfairly persecuted, even Firebloods. Ruby learns some of the folklore and history, including the reasons so many hate her kind. I liked the origins story about the gods of the South and North, East and West, how they create creatures of fire and ice as well as the children of light and dark.

I didn’t emotionally connect to Ruby and Arcus’ relationship. They start out not liking each other but it is clearly setting it up for something to happen. Then next thing you know, bam they are in love and there is no showing of that gradual change from animosity to passion.

If we all had names to suit us, you'd be called Thorn in My Backside. Or Plague of the Gods.

The Frost King is a cruel leader, as those before him have also been. There is something about the throne which manipulates them and Ruby’s goal is to destroy it. In the meantime, the King sits through gladiator style battles, fights to the death in his arena. I was a bit sad about all the glorious creatures that were callously murdered in this part.

I’m not surprised most of the Firebloods have been wiped out. Throwing a bucket of cold water on them dampens their powers. On multiple occasions Ruby is neutralised by some cold water, yet the Frostbloods barely flinch at her fire.

Frostblood is published by Hodder and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Saturday, 14 January 2017


When they started hearing the voices, chaos ensued. People turned against their friends and families, then turned on themselves. Not everyone hears them, but Pilgrim does and he’s found an uneasy truce with the voice in his head. Him and Voice get by on their own OK until the day he stops to buy lemonade from a girl on the side of the road. A rare occurrence in this new, hostile world.

I picked up Defender as I was interested in the idea of the voices but it didn't quite deliver for me. The arrival of the voices is only covered in a few passages here and there, but somehow, they brought down society. They encouraged people to commit suicide and take their families with them. What I wanted to know was, why? Could the voices not bear sharing a head with humans? Why would the voices want to kill themselves along with their hosts? It is part one of four, so maybe it will be expanded upon in the next book.

Pilgrim is a loner forced to share his head with Voice. Voice has a distinct personality and often argues and manipulates Pilgrim, but for some reason they haven't tried to destroy each other. It could be a mass hallucination but something does happen during the course of the book to show the voices are something other.

Pilgrim wanted to tell Voice to shut up, but he'd learned early on that engaging with him at times like this only made him worse. He'd get tired of talking soon. He always did.

Lacey's not a loner but she has been alone. She is full of optimism, having been sheltered from the worst of what happened by her grandmother. She wants to find her sister who she hasn’t heard from for eight years. She’s in denial about what has happened to the world. Pilgrim begrudgingly agrees to help her get to her sister’s house and along the way he starts to soften, becoming a protective father figure.

It felt quite long and had a bit too much dependence on action over character development. Lots of descriptions, especially of abandoned places, so if that's your thing you may like it more than me. I did keep reading, so it has some merit as a post-apocalyptic thriller, but I was willing it to come up with something special. I guess I would probably classify it with The Road as not the right tone of apocalypse for me.

She wanted to say again that she was sorry, but she was so sick of those words. Sick to death of them. They tasted hollow and dusty in her mouth.

I'm uncomfortable with a fact one character gets kidnapped by sadists twice, like this is her only purpose in the novel, to be abused, with no exploration of what this does to her. Then there's the attempted rape of a teenager, and whilst an effort is made to show it affected her, it wasn't really necessary to the plot. I don't like sexual abuse being used as a world-building tool, it doesn't say the world is any worse than it is now.

Defender is published by Headline and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Top Ten 2016 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To (But TOTALLY plan to)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I was much better at reading books I'd bought or requested last year, so I had to hunt around for 2016 releases still on my TBR. Some of these I was super excited for, so I don't know why I haven't read them yet. Also I used UK release dates as I think some of these may have been around longer. Have you read any? Where do you recommend I start with them? Or is there anything I should just stick in a charity bag?!

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel

Girl Detached by Manuela Salvi
The Last Star by Rick Yancey

Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

A Whisper of Horses by Zillah Bethell
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Last Act of Love

In the summer of 1990, Cathy Rentzenbrink’s bright and funny brother was hit by a car and left with serious head injuries. Initially hopeful for his recovery, as the months, and years, pass it becomes clear he is not getting better. His diagnosis; Persistent Vegetative State. This raw and moving memoir shows how this family arrived at their last act of love for him, letting him go.

What a moving, honest and brave book. I met Cathy briefly at a book launch and she was friendly, charming and enthusiastic about bookselling. I would never have guessed at what was going on underneath the surface. This book contains the perfect example of why you should never say “it might never happen” to someone looking sad.

My brother did not die. But I did not know then that I was praying for the wrong thing. I did not know then that there is a world between the certainties of life and death, that it is not simply a case of one or the other, and that there are many and various fates worse than death.

Fiction often likes to romanticise comas, but Cathy breaks down that illusion to the hard truth. The heartbreak of loss combined with the hardship of day-to-day life of caring for someone in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS). To watch as a once vibrant, clever young man exist rather than live. To wonder whether they should have let him die and then the guilt of wanting him dead.

I don’t believe anyone with a heart could read this book without crying. Cathy’s love of her brother shines through and her writing celebrates him as much as it mourns him. She was incredibly close and her grief was prolonged along with his life.

I knew from books that the worst thing was to pretend to be other than you are, so I never wasted time on lying or being ashamed about my background.

The book also covers the decision and legal process of deciding to withdraw food and water, of letting Matty go. Their mother’s affidavit is included and shows a mother who loved her son and wished for a full life for him, who did everything she could after the accident. It shows a legal system that shows compassion. I was expecting it to be more of a battle but everyone involved accepted what was best for him. That his existence was not the life he would have wanted.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 8 January 2017


Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or a performance. It's the closest you'll ever find to magic in this world.

Scarlett has spent her childhood writing to Legend, the man behind Caraval. She listened to the stories her grandmother told her, marvelling in the glamour and intrigue of it. She has begged him to bring it to her island as she knew her father wouldn’t permit her and her sister to leave. Before she weds, she writes once final letter, one which receives a reply. Three invitations to Caraval, a game like no other, where nothing is what it seems. The prize? A wish granted.

Caraval was much darker than I was expecting and I loved it. It has a bit of a Labyrinth vibe (the one with the Muppets and Bowie). I didn’t warm to the characters immediately but once they entered Caraval I was hooked. Scarlett believes her only chance at freedom lies in marriage, one her abusive and controlling father has arranged. Poor Scarlett is clearly very naïve but she manages to redeem herself when the going gets tough.

The girls’ father is a nasty piece of work and I wanted nothing more than Caraval to be their saviour even if it seemed too tricksy to be good. On Legend’s island, magic is real and the currency is higher than money. They must pay with secrets and desires, or worse. The stakes are high, passions run wild and sometimes the guests don’t make it out alive.

Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people don't wake up.

There is so much deception in the pages, you end up not knowing what to believe. Whilst I had some theories, I’m still not sure if I guessed what was going on or not. It’s that kind of book that ties your brain up in knots trying to keep it straight. I also appreciated that it could be read as a standalone despite being part of a series. Obviously, I loved it so I want to read more, but it’s nice to have conclusions.

Caraval is published by Hodder and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 31st January 2016. The hardbacks will have four different designs under the dust covers, so remember to take a look underneath when you buy it. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Square Root of Summer

Last summer, Gotti’s beloved grandfather died. Five years ago, her best friend Thomas left her and she hasn’t heard from him since. For the past year, she’s been distracting herself with her studies, physics in particular. When Thomas suddenly reappears in her life, and her house, Gotti starts experiencing hiccups in time.

We're on the cusp of summer, but I have the sense of an ending, not a beginning.

The Square Root of Summer is a story about grief, memories, regrets and friendship with a side of time travel. It was an easy read and overall enjoyable even though not everything really clicked for me.

Gotti has never known her mother, so her grief for her grandfather is greater than one might expect. He was a stand-in parent; as one character tells her, he was everyone’s father. He was portrayed as a bit airy fairy and I’m not convinced he ever felt like a real character to me. Gotti’s time traveling, or memories, focus on the positive with the exception of his final days. She has been holding on to unjustified guilt for so long.

What if friendship has a best-before date, and ours has gone off?

Jason, Gotti’s ex-boyfriend, is a bit of a nob. Whilst it’s obvious straight away to the reader, it takes Gotti all summer, and a lot of time travel to come to this conclusion and well she still seems to think of him more positively than she should. Thomas is the ex-boy-next-door who has come to stay with them and he and Gotti are sometimes talking at cross-purposes. Whenever the subject of an email comes up, time goes all wibbly wobbly.

I quite liked the idea of the time capsule and email crossing paths and multiple timelines and whatnot. The wormhole bit started to get a bit silly and often this is the risk of trying to explain impossible plot devices. Sometimes leaving it up to magic or wibbly wobbly time stuff is OK. Gotti is a bit confused for much of the book, so maybe it’s not too much of a surprise that the reader will be too!

The book does have little drawings to explain the science stuff which was a nice added touch.

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Gilded Cage

The Hadleys are due to start their slavedays, ten years of servitude to the Equals who run the country. The local slave town of Millmoor is little more than a prison but there is one alternative. Young Abi sacrifices her place at medical school and offers her family to the Jardines, where they can serve out their days in relative comfort. Yet not everything goes to plan; Abi is separated from her brother Luke and she is soon to learn of the true cruelty of their captors.

I’m becoming quite a fan of alternate history fantasy which is set in the present or future. Whilst the Britain of Vic James’ vision got rid of the monarchy with Charles I, a new ruling elite emerged. This time they had magic on their side and they wanted to use the non-magical citizens to their advantage.

You all began your slavedays and entered a state of legal non-personhood. You are now chattels of the state. To explain for the little one here, that means that you are no longer 'people' and have no rights at all.

The political tension mirrors some of what we’ve gone through in Britain lately. The disillusionment with the government, a division between classes and geography. Here the Hadleys are a Northern, working family and the “Equals” come across as posh and Southern. The irony is, there is nothing equal about the situation. The non-magical people are seen as nothing other than bodies to do jobs; how often does out government make us feel like that too?

The slave town of Millmoor is reminiscent of the industrial north of our past. Children as young as ten can work their slavedays and the slaves lose all their rights for those ten years. They are there to make money for the Equals, to keep the country running, and nothing else. When Luke is separated from his family, he is sent to Millmoor and put to work. The labour is incredibly tough and the place demoralising.

At first, Luke wants nothing more than to see his family again, knowing Abi will find a way to get him out. But when he learns of a group of people doing the best they can to help people inside the slave town, he finds new purpose. But can a rebel survive in a place like that?

Here, there was a chance to do something. Change something. Maybe even change everything. No, that was ridiculous. He was only a teenage boy. He was doing well if he changed his worn underpants for clean ones, from one day to the next.

There’s a lot going on and it’s quite twisty and turny in places. I do think a little of its structure comes from the fact it was originally serialised on Wattpad, so it feels like every chapter is jam-packed. With the alternating perspectives, it did feel on occasion that the story was leaving a thread just at a really juicy bit. Overall I thought it was something a bit different and I got sucked in. Can't wait for the next one now!

Gilded Cage is published by Pan Macmillan and is available now in ebook editions with a paperback due on 26th January 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. Pop back later in the month for my Q&A with Vic!

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Quickie Reviews

Chimera is the concluding part of Mira Grant’s Parasitology trilogy. You can read my full reviews of Parasite and Symbiont on the blog which will give you a better idea of what these books are about. A large part of this book is about family, those we are born with and those we make for ourselves. I teared up at the gestures of the most unlikely character towards the end. In times of hardship everyone must make hard decisions and it’s one of those books that looks at the things from the perspective of an intruder. In the eyes of humans, Sal and her ilk are the enemy.

I did find it unnecessarily repetitive in places. A little recap at the start is fine, but do we really need it repeatedly explained to us that tapeworms don’t like teeth and therefore are uncomfortable with people grinning? I enjoyed it but I think the editing could have been tighter, and therefore the book would have had more momentum.

I’ve finally read a Marvel comic! Spider-Gwen: Most Wanted? includes a Spider-Verse issue in which Spider-Gwen appeared and issues 1 to 5 of the spin-off. Gwen is Captain Stacy’s daughter, a member of a band called the Mary Janes and she blames herself for Peter Parker’s death. I only have basic knowledge of the Marvelverse which maybe helped my enjoyment. Gwen starts hallucinating Spider-Pig which made me laugh (Simpsons reference) and overall I enjoyed her story.

The artwork is gorgeous too. There are some alternate covers included and I’m glad they didn’t go with the over-sexualised Spider-Gwen. I'm not running out to read more but I wouldn't rule it out.

The Pale Dreamer novella is a prequel to The Bone Season, following Paige in her early days with the syndicate. She is eager to please Jaxon and doesn’t want to step out of line, oh how so different from the young woman we know now. The story follows her first assignment to track down a hostile poltergeist. It’s not got a huge amount of back-story that wasn’t revealed in the novels, but it’s a reasonable filler whilst we wait for The Song Rising.

Deep Dark Fears originated on Tumblr and this collection includes both existing and new material. People send their fears to Fran Krause and he draws them in comic form. They are a mix of funny and scary, and sometimes sad. I super recommend checking out the web comics.