Sunday, 30 September 2012

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

There should really be The Raven Boys in this pile but it turned up with a crumpled corner and is going back to Waterstones (who I switched to after Amazon kept sending me battered books). They have a rubbish returns system where you have to PHONE THEM to return damaged items and their phone lines are only open Monday-Friday 9-6. Inconvenient for an online retailer to say the least. At least Amazon are prepared for unhappy people and will refund/replace without questions and without having to speak to anyone. Rant over.

So had a bit of a spending spree this week. Told myself I'd by Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales if it was in Tesco on release day, not expecting it to be there at all. So, of course it was! I've been meaning to read Perks of Being a Wallflower for ages so grabbed the cheap film tie-in, which meant I had to buy two books in the 2 for £7 offer. Such a hardship.

Hannah reviewed FrostFire last week and even though it works as a standalone, I decided to start at the beginning with Daughter of the Flames which has a cheap Kindle edition. The Maze Runner has been on my wishlist a while so couldn't pass up the set of three in The Works (who comes out of that shop empted handed?).




For Review:
Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova (Canongate)
Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather by Pierre Szalowski (Canongate)

Bought:
Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
The Death Cure by James Dashner
Daughter of the Flames by Zoe Marriott



Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Paramédico

When disaster strikes, we all assume the emergency services will be there to help. But standards and services offered vary from country to country. Australian paramedic Benjamin Gilmour has spent 15 years travelling the world and working alongside ambulance teams, learning how they cope with dangerous conditions and minimal budgets. From his humble beginnings in the Australian outback to negotiating the staff sauna in Iceland, via one or two drunken incidents, Paramédico is a selection of tales from his travels.

Although there are a few amusing anecdotes, it’s not really a personal memoir but more of a look at ambulance services around the world that Benjamin has spent time with. There are a couple of moments where he treads a fine line between objective and judgemental but I don’t think this is intentional. It’s just that maybe I was expecting more of a compassionate tone. Overall, it’s a fascinating book and incredibly enlightening reading.

We take it for granted that we can phone an emergency number and a paramedic will arrive and look after you, administering pre-hospital care and delivering you safely to doctors. The NHS might have its problems but overall it is an amazing service. Reading Paramédico really highlights how good we’ve got here in Britain. Benjamin didn’t get a chance to work with London’s finest, and instead spends time with a private company whose service was unprofessional.

"We only employ the dedicated ones," he says, which I take to mean "those willing to do just about anything". Indeed, few jobs outside the military are quite as competitive in Pakistan as Rescue 1122. An exceptionally rigorous recruitment process - including "phobia evaluation" where applicants are placed in deep underground holes and dangled by the feet from hundred-foot towers - has been designed to ensure only the toughest and most committed are selected.

The large section of the book is devoted to his time in Pakistan where he spent time with both a government funded service and that founded by Abdul Sattar Edhi, considered a hero to the poor. Whilst interesting, I did feel this section was a little overlong and unstructured. Oddly enough, the better stories were in the second half; Iceland, Venice, Hawaii and Mexico. His Icelandic colleagues might not have a lot of action but Benjamin is more concerned by the daily 5 o’clock sauna that he would really rather avoid. In Venice, the ambulances come by water but have to negotiate hide tides, gondoliers and impossible to navigate city streets. And the struggling service in Mexico might just put you off heading there on holiday…

Paramédico is published by The Friday Project and will be available in ebook and paperback formats from 11th October 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. There is also a documentary film following four of the paramedics featured in the book.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones



Thursday, 27 September 2012

Coveted

Natalya Stravinsky may be a werewolf but her life is ruled by her obsessive compulsive disorder. Shunned from the pack, she lives as a rogue, surrounding herself with holiday ornaments, carefully packed away in boxes. When her ex, Thorn, returns to town and to the local pack, panic starts to set in and Natalya returns to her magical therapy sessions where she meets others who she can relate to. But trouble is on the horizon, the Long Island pack is in town and they plan to pick off the local wolves, one by one, starting with the weakest. Yes you guessed it, Natalya.

It’s interesting to see a supernatural character with such a human condition. We are so used to strong, independent women in urban fantasy and I loved that Shawntelle Madison chose a different take. Often people poke fun at OCD but Natalya’s condition is dealt with in a mostly serious manner. There is still humour now and then but not directed at her mental illness. At first, I felt she was annoyingly fussy until I realised that the story was going to deal with her issues.

I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t much around how her wolf side dealt with the OCD. I can only assume that when she’s a wolf, it overrides her anxieties. Wolves can hardly keep everything sterile and she even eats a rabbit at one point!

Thorn was a little underdeveloped as a character but fortunately romance wasn’t the main plot point. He was a little too stereotypical nice-guy-alpha-in-training yet obviously not prepared to defy the pack in favour of Natalya. I’m hoping the second book, Kept continues on her friendship with the wizard, Nick. There were some great bit part characters too and I think the world has potential to expand.

Coveted is published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, in the US and is currently available in paperback and ebook editions. A low priced ebook edition is also published in the UK by Piatkus Entice. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Q+A with Cassandra Rose Clarke

Blog Tour + Giveaway

Today The Assassin's Curse Blog Tour is stopping by and the lovely Cassandra Rose Clarke answers my questions on writing, pirates and camels. If you haven't done so already, you can read an extract here and my review here. Make sure you go right to the end of the full post to find out more about the fabulous prize on offer and for links to the other blog tour stops.


What was your inspiration behind The Assassin’s Curse?

A large part of my process for writing The Assassin’s Curse was to jam in as much cool stuff as possible. I’ve always liked pirates, so I knew I wanted them to be involved. Assassins are just objectively cool, so in they went as well. I was basically trying to write something I would enjoy reading, something that would be fun and magical and maybe a little different from what’s currently out there.

What draws you to fantasy as a genre?

I read widely across genres, but one common element I look for is a sense of strangeness and otherworldliness. You can find that in pretty much any genre if you look hard enough, but the best fantasy is always replete with it. I also like the feeling in fantasy that you can do whatever you want — as long as it fits in with the rules of your world. There’s a lot of room for creativity and originality, especially once you start breaking away from the big trends.

Would you rather sail the seas with pirates or are you more of a landlubber?

I don’t think I’d make a particularly good pirate, but I’m definitely more of an ocean girl than a land girl. Plus I love to travel. Pirates it is!

The cover for The Assassin’s Curse is gorgeous, did you have any input into it?

Very early in the publication process I sent along some suggestions for the cover to Strange Chemistry, mostly concerning general elements I did or did not want. I’m quite fond of graphical covers (as opposed to covers with photographs or photorealistic paintings of people), so I’m very pleased that my preference made it through to the final version.

I love the camel escape scene. Did you do any specific camel research?

I actually did do a little! One of the first things I looked up was how they smell, since I think smell is how you really capture what an experience is like. I also watched videos of camels running. In the original draft, I wrote the camel’s escape as if he were a horse, and it occurred to me that I’d never actually seen a camel run. Fortunately, Youtube was able to provide me with plenty of running camel videos, like this one:


Completely different from a horse, as you can see.

You also have a novel for older readers out next year, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. What are the differences between writing YA and adult fiction?

Well, the obvious difference is that adult fiction has a higher word count! I actually think the fact that adult fiction is longer is really at the root of a lot of the differences between YA and adult fiction. With an adult novel, I have more room for digressions and multiple story threads. In a YA novel, my writing needs to be tighter and more direct, since I don’t have as much room to work with in terms of both plot and character development (the latter of which I never want to sacrifice). I also find that my writerly voice changes a bit between YA and adult, although I can’t put my finger on how, exactly.

When you’re not writing, what do you fill your spare time with?

I’m a lot like Abed from Community, honestly: I watch lots of TV and movies, although I read quite a bit too. I also love to draw and paint, so I’m usually sketching something while I’m watching all those TV shows and movies, and I love to cook, too. One thing I’ve wanted to start doing is dance lessons. I already do Zumba a couple of times a week, but I’d really like to take formal ballroom dancing lessons. I couldn’t work it into my schedule this semester, but hopefully I’ll be able to in the spring.

Is there anything random you’ve found online recently that you’d like to share?

I’ve spent the last few days reading over the Reddit fan theory page. I got linked to the page through Twitter and then spent several hours reading through all these zany movie conspiracies. Love it.

A big thanks to Cassie for taking the time to answer my questions. The Assassin's Curse will be available to buy from 2nd/4th October 2012, depending on where you live.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | @mitochondrial

But wait! There is more.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Poltergeeks

15 year old Julie Richardson is a witch. Her mother doesn’t let her do much magic but when her elderly neighbour is turfed out of her home by a poltergeist, she can’t just stand back and do nothing. With her best friend Marcus in tow, she starts to investigate and soon things are spiralling out of control. Dark magic abounds but who is behind it?

Poltergeeks takes the standard high school clichés and adds a dash of magic. There’s the normal girl who stands on the outskirts and her geeky best friend who she is oblivious to when it comes to his feelings. And of course, there is the jock bully who picks on the geeks and freaks. The rest of the story is pure urban fantasy tailored to a younger reader. I do think that some of it is a bit obvious and for this reason it would appeal to the younger end of the YA market, but it’s still a fun read for any age, with down to earth, sassy characters and a hint of humour.

It was at this point I realized the poltergeist, having been unsuccessful at killing me with shards of broken glass and three fifty-pound sinks, was intent on pummelling me to death with the toilets.

Not exactly the classiest way to go.

What I really enjoyed was the role of Julie’s mother. So often in YA, the parents are absent or cardboard cut outs who serve little purpose. Here Mrs Richardson is a real mother, who may annoy Julie with her strictness but is there for her as a sensible role model. When something bad happens to her, you want her to be OK because she is such a good mum.

I sort of need a two-tier rating for this book. For me personally, it's a little young, but I do really rate it for teens and even younger. Poltergeeks is published by Strange Chemistry and will be available in paperback and ebook formats from 4th October 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I never know what to categorise books from newbooks magazine as. They are sort of for review as you're meant to "tell all your friends" and the stickers say they are free but you have to pay £3 each for postage...which is more than postage costs. I just stick them under bought as that way, if I forget to read them, it doesn't matter!




For Review:
Devil's Bargain by Rachel Caine (MIRA Ink)
Monsieur by Emma Becker (Constable)
Coveted by Shawntelle Madison (Ballantine Books)
Kept by Shawntelle Madison (Ballantine Books)

Bought:
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay




Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Fall of the Stone City

The people of Gjirokastër spend their days speculating on the rivalry between two doctors; Big Dr Gurameto with his German connections and Little Dr Gurameto with his Italian. When, in 1943, the Nazis roll up to the city gates, a group of citizens fire upon them. Whilst the city folk fear the implications of this rebellion, Big Dr Gurameto recognises an old college friend in the Colonel and invites him and his men to dinner. Soon rumours are flying.

The Albanian city of Gjirokastër is a character in its own right in The Fall of the Stone City. The people are more representative of the city than individual personalities and this gives it the feeling of being a piece of folklore. The doctors come across as being the equivalent of celebrities but Big Dr Gurameto’s actions become entwined with the fate of the city. The style is full of charm and gives in the impression that the Nazi occupation was much more civilised and amenable than the Communist rule that came after.

I always appreciate learning a little bit of history in a novel and I previously had no knowledge of Albania during the war. However as the story progresses, the lines blur between fact and fiction and something at the end makes me feel that is a reworked piece of Albanian mythology. And it’s the ending that really brings it together for me to make it a great little novella. I think you need to approach it as a piece of folklore rather than straight forward historical fiction.

I haven’t read any other works by Ismail Kadare so I can’t compare but I will be looking out for his work in future. Originally written in Albanian, this edition has been translated into English by John Hodgson. Published by Canongate, The Fall of the Stone City is currently available in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Dark Heroine

It would be my birthday in thirteen days. I would turn eighteen a hostage.

One night in London, Violet witnesses a blood bath in Trafalgar Square. Unable to flee the scene fast enough, the murderers take her with them to their home in Varnley. Discovering she is the daughter of the Minister of Defence, her captors realise they cannot harm her without severe implications. But they are more than human, their desires driven by their blood lust. Yes, Violet has been taken hostage by vampires and she’s about to be plunged into the middle of a political war between them and humanity.

Abigail Biggs started writing The Dark Heroine when she was just 15 and it was originally published as an online serial before being snapped up by HarperCollins to publish the novel in its entirity. I initially picked it up as I was rather intrigued to see what could be done by such a younger writer and I was pleasantly surprised. Despite its faults, I really rather enjoyed it and will be keeping an eye on her in the future.

As I was reading I assumed that it had been lifted straight from the serialised version without editing but the acknowledgements do, um, acknowledge that it was chopped down quite a bit by the editor. I think you can still see signs of its origins; the plot is a bit meandering and the prose gets stronger as the story goes on. The first few chapters really needed a re-write; they are rather weak and may put sample readers off buying it. Violet’s narrative voice is a little inconsistent but the dialogue’s full of personality. Indeed, her inner voice turns out to be a sign that the girl can write but in a way I can’t explain without a spoiler.

I screamed as blood and sinew was ripped from [his] carcass, monster after monster now throwing themselves at the ravaged corpse. His stomach was sliced open by a single nail, vampires lowering their heads to drink the blood from the organs torn out and treated as offal. I clamped my mouth shut, gagging uncontrollably.

Vegetarian Violet is under no illusion about what vampires are. She is horrified about what they do and she wants no part in their world. But she soon learns that it’s not as simple as humans good, vampires bad and that there are several shades of bad in between. Even as the story and relationships progress, she is repeatedly repulsed by some of her thoughts and the things she witnesses. Yet she learns to be pragmatic about such things.

Of course, there is a love interest, although I’m not convinced by the cover’s declaration that it’s the sexiest romance I’ll read this year. There are a few bits of sexy and I was quite surprised at the honesty of the sex scene. Apart from “hitched breathing” (can we please ban that phrase?) it wasn’t over romanticised or made into something magical. At one point we meet Violet’s ex-boyfriend and instantly you realise why she would fall for a sophisticated if dangerous vampire compared to him. Though Violet doesn’t instantly swoon at anyone’s feet, she is quite sassy and gives the vampires a lot of trouble before she would even consider being friends.

It’s not the best written book in the world but it was compelling reading. It’s the sort of book that, once you get into the story and stop analysing the prose, it’s hard to put down but it wasn’t one I craved to return to when I had to go and do other things. I am certainly looking forward to seeing what she does next. The ebook is available now (at the bargain price of £1.99) or you can wait until 25th October for the paperback.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Monomania

Guest post by Evie Manieri, author of Blood's Pride.

Early on in Hitchcock’s film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, the unnamed heroine tells Mr. deWinter about her father, an artist who mostly painted the same tree, over and over again. Joan Fontaine plays this scene with such endearing earnestness that I fell in love with her at once and applauded suave Mr. DeWinter for doing the same – but I think I loved her father more.

I have a special regard for people who can wholly devote themselves to a single pursuit. The more specific and odd the subject of their attention, the more tingly I get over it. An Etsy store that sells nothing but jabots? Brilliant! A knitter who makes thumbnail sized intarsia sweaters with thousands of miniscule stiches? I am humbled. If you live alone in a lighthouse, have a collection of mill stones in your yard or spend ten hours a day playing the sackbut, I’m available for drinks any time.

I think the reason that this kind of attention to a single subject fascinates me so is that I know myself to be incapable of its laser-like focus. For a long time I saw this as a character flaw, convinced that I would never be able to accomplish anything unless I narrowed my sights. I’ve tried, and I just can’t do it. Too many things get under my skin. Too many conversations start with, ‘You did what? I need to learn how to do that/know everything about that/go to that place right now.’

Lack of focus may have hindered me. I might have been celebrating the release of my tenth book now instead of my first. Still, if that were the case, none of those books would have been Blood's Pride. The tangled back–story, the overlapping relationships, the web of deceptions and intrigue: all of it grew out of asking and answering questions about who these people are and how they arrived at this specific moment in their lives. It’s my guess that other authors and readers of epic fantasy have the same compulsion to ask questions, to yank on the threads of the present and see what they tug up from the past, to want to know more and to keep asking, Why? So, I may still have days when I regret not painting my tree, but maybe if I follow the roots, they’ll lead me to some underground cavern where buried treasure awaits – or better yet, monsters.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Website



Evie Manieri graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in Mediaeval History and Theatre, disciplines that continue to influence her work in about equal measure. She is enthralled by intricacy, and when not weaving together the threads of her plots, she can be found knitting airy lace shawls and singing soprano with New York's Renaissance Street Singers. Evie lives with her family in New York.

Follow the tour:

Monday: Favourite Characters @ Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Tuesday: Blueberries @ Civilian Reader
Wednesday: Monomania @ Curiosity Killed The Bookworm
Thursday: The Other Shoe @ Steve Emmett
Friday: Midlife @ Book Monkey

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Fated

Alex Verus runs a magic shop in Camden. He also happens to be a real wizard, one that escaped a dark mage yet holds no favour with the council of light mages. One of the few people he can call a friend is a cursed girl, Luna, who can’t touch others without bringing bad luck upon them. When other mages come calling, needing a favour, he knows trouble is brewing. Can he avoid getting dragged into the middle of the battle between light and dark?

I was a bit disappointed in Fated to be honest. The first person narrative comes across as very flippant, even if there is reason for Alex’s apathy, it doesn’t really translate into an engaging read. At one point her does acknowledge what he’s like and it may well improve as the series progresses but I didn’t care what happened to him at all. Luna was a much more interesting character, but didn’t really get the page space to develop fully. The poor girl can never get close to anyone due to her curse, but she is given one night to be normal. I also really liked Arachne, the spider seamstress despite her being a bit player.

In addition it’s very much tell, not show. The opening chapters gave the impression that it wasn’t the first in the series as there are paragraphs explaining things that happened to the characters in the past, very similar to those that are often used to remind readers what happened before, just in case you forgot. Instead of being revealed through character experiences, you are just told and it doesn’t really sink in or give you any feel for their emotions. Yes, Alex says he was a slave and tortured but I can only work out that was horrible by what my brain tells me rather than what he went through.

The cover blurb implies that the London setting is a major part, yet it could be set anywhere except for the guidebook-esque descriptions on arrival at each location. I didn’t get the sense of a magical London hiding beneath the surface at all.

Alex’s magical speciality is quite interesting. He is a seer but instead of seeing a straight future, he sees the paths of possible futures which help him make decisions. Just again, it was a bit too blunt in the descriptions to really make it up for me. It is a quick and easy read and similar in some ways to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, which took me a while to warm to too. So I would say if you’re a fan of Harry, it’s worthwhile giving Fated a go but maybe not if you’re after strong character driven fantasy.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Monday, 17 September 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey

Me Month is turning into Not Reading Much Month, which would be fine if I was entertaining myself with other fun activities, but mostly I've been drowning in snot. I did manage to squeeze in a film preview, a book launch and a trip to the zoo but only a couple of books read since my last update and still behind on review writing!

Dinner Time Tiger Tiger

Read last fortnight:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Fated by Benedict Jacka

Also reviewed:
The Bitter Seed of Magic by Suzanne McLeod
The Shifting Price of Prey by Suzanne McLeod
The Horse Dancer by Jojo Moyes

Guest reviews:
The Humorist by Russell Kane

Currently reading:
The Dark Heroine by Abigail Biggs
Paramedico by Benjamin Gilmour

Upcoming reads:
Lady of the Shades by Darren Shan

Also on the blog:
Popcorn Moment: Untouchable | Strange Chemistry Giveaway
Incoming! | Magic in the Court | Incoming!



Search terms:*

"film intouchable the book me before you"
I see someone else made the connection. No, they are not the same story.

"how much pay for human cadavers in science"
Morbid...

"should i read gormenghast"
If you have lots of spare time, yes.

"myths about curiosity"
I think the whole Greek pantheon were curious about humanity and vice versa.

"what is twist in monsieur linh and his child"
Don't be lazy, read the book!

*Idea stolen borrowed from Amanda's Clock Rewinders feature.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I think my cold put me off any book buying expeditions this week, even if I was in London for two days! Dash & Lily is actually from the week before but it came by "NetGalley widget" (I finally know what that is now) and I forgot I had it. I won the new Darren Shan from Crime Fiction Lover.



For Review:
Paramedico by Benjamin Gilmour (The Friday Project)
Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (Mira Ink)
The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth (Icon Books)

Bought:
The Dark Heroine by Abigail Gibbs

Won:
The Lady of the Shades by Darren Shan




Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.