Saturday, 21 December 2013

Making the Magic of Shadowplay

Guest post by Laura Lam, author of Pantomime and Shadowplay.

Writing about a book with magicians and spiritualism meant I was able to go wild with research, and I did. I read fiction, non-fiction, watched films, listened to podcasts, throwing myself into early, Victorian, and modern magic, stealing bits that seemed interesting and twisting them for my own purposes. Here’s some of my resources. I knew writing all those random research posts last year would come in handy!:

1. The Giant Taschen Book of Magic from 1400s-1950s. This was my husband’s present to me when I got my book deal for Pantomime. It was stupidly expensive at the time (it’s now much cheaper, damn it), but it was far and away my most useful resource. It’s a gigantic book—with enough force, I’m sure you could brain someone with it, full of gorgeous colour plates and great essays as well as countless photos. Can’t recommend it enough. I write a longer review of it here.

2. Smoke & Mirrors Podcast. This was one of the first bits of research I did. I listen to a lot of podcasts at work while I’m saving emails to a database. It features various members and non-members of the Circle of Magic, or the British society of magicians. The earlier episodes speak a bit about the history of magic and also focus on the modern application of magic and the different types, with a bit of magical-related news thrown in for good measure. I link to them here.

3. Hiding the Elephant – Jim Steinmeyer. This, and a lot of his other books, are great. They’re told in a conversational style and he’ll explain how a lot of historic tricks worked. I learned how to describe the Pepper’s ghost that appears in Shadowplay from this book, and learned a lot about Robert-Houdin and Houdini, and many other lesser known magicians. Longer review here.

4. Hocus Pocus – Paul Kieve. Aimed for younger readers, but it’s from the magician who worked on the set of The Prisoner of Azkaban. A fun, quick read, and I’ll probably buy it for one of my nephews when they’re a little older. Longer review here.

5. Carter Beats the Devil – Glen David Gold. My agent gave me this book as a present! It’s a fictional telling of Carter as a magician in San Francisco. Very detailed and beautifully written. I based Maske a bit on Carter mixed with Robert-Houdin. I didn’t write a review of this one.

6. The First Psychic – Peter Lamont. This was another one of my early researching books, which I nabbed from the library. It’s the biography of Daniel Dunglas Home, one of the most famous psychics in the Victorian era, who was never caught using any tricks, even though what he did seemed to be impossible. Very fascinating. Longer review here.

7. The Prestige – Christopher Priest. I saw the film when it came out and it (and the Illusionist) were both great visual research. I read the book and loved it – thought it was fantastic. It sparked the idea for the magician duel I have in Shadowplay, though I take a very different focus. I also didn’t write a review of this one, since as an author I feel a bit uncomfortable writing reviews these days.

In conclusion: I LOVE RESEARCH. It helps me feel more confident while writing, but I also never take notes when I research, or else I’ve noticed I invent crazy ways to work in THIS ONE COOL FACT I found rather than what’s needed for the story at the right time. My world of Ellada and the magicians of Ellada differ in many ways from our own, but there’s a nod at our own past there. Those who made the magic.

Follow the Tour

Shadowplay is out soon in paperback and ebook editions.
UK/AUS/NZ: 4 January 2014
US/CAN: 2 January 2014
Pantomime page (including ordering links)
Shadowplay page (including ordering links)
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Thursday, 19 December 2013

How I Live Now

Daisy’s mother died giving birth to her. Aged fifteen, he father sends her away to live with her aunt and cousins in England. As she settles into life in the countryside and bonds with her cousins, the world outside her bubble is falling apart. A war is brewing and soon she will learn about love and family, and surviving against all odds.

I loved the idea of looking at a war breaking out in modern day Britain and told from the point of view of a fairly normal girl. Not a girl who is central to the fate of the country. How I Live Now is a personal story. As the story starts, the political unrest is bubbling away in the distance but Daisy doesn’t give it a second thought. She is the centre of her world and she is more concerned about the feelings she has towards her cousin, Edmond.

Now let’s try to understand that falling into sexual and emotional thrall with an under-age blood relative hadn’t exactly been on my list of Things To Do while visiting England, but I was coming around to the belief that whether you liked it or not, Things Happen and once they start happening you pretty much just have to hold on for dear life and see where they drop you when they stop.

I’m not convinced the telepathy thing was entirely necessary. It is such a small part of the story and removes it a little from reality, whilst the rest of it seems very real and down to earth. It covers the day-to-day struggles of living in an occupied country and some of the horrors of war. Though maybe the telepathy explains the impact one event has on a certain character, it must have been ten times worse for them…

By the end, we find that the title doesn’t apply to the war, but coping after the events of the story. It’s a thought-provoking and at times rather funny novel. I loved Daisy’s narrative voice and the capitalisation which adds a certain emphasis and more than makes up for the lack of speech marks.

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Also reviewed @ Tiny Library

Shelve next to: This is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees

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.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Echo

The Echo is the sequel to The Explorer and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

It’s been twenty years since the disappearance of the Ishiguro. A new mission has set out to conduct research on the anomaly, where the Ishiguro was last seen, a vast area of nothingness in space.

There is a sibling rivalry between Mira and Tomas, right from the start of their lives and throughout their careers. Identical twins; Tomas was born with a birthmark and Mira, Mirakel, was unexpected, both looking towards science, both over achieving. Tomas is left at mission control on earth whilst Mira had the chance to see the anomaly in person. This separation and professional reliance on each other is a red flag. Something is bound to go wrong.

It took me a while longer than James’ other books to get into. Mira’s lack of connection to the crew also distances the reader, but I think what Mr Smythe does well are characters in isolation. Whilst Mira might not be physically alone, he does manage to be apart mentally, and without giving too much away, there are still parts that are very much about the loneliness and emptiness of space, even though it is a different sort of novel to The Explorer.

In The Explorer, Cormac became an observer of himself. Here, Mira becomes an external observer of the anomaly’s behaviour, not a participant. Even in this he is distanced, an outsider, again. Before the anomaly was a mystery, completely unexplained. This time, they are setting out to discover what it is.

One thing I enjoyed was the constant references to lack of sleep in the early parts. I read this during the final stages of a 24 hour readathon, so they had a certain relevance at the time. Mira’s determination not to sleep is probably the first thing that pushes him away from the rest of the crew. He doesn’t miss anything but they must sleep. Even Tomas, back on earth sleeps. Staying awake puts Mira in a position of power over everyone else. But what is the price of insomnia? I rather wanted some more consequences to this, but thinking back on the ending, maybe that’s what happens, maybe he’s just crazy?

The Echo is another bleak book, one that gives hope and then snatches it away. Perhaps that is worse than never having hope in the first place… It’s an admirable sequel to the excellent Explorer, which is a very hard book to beat. Like all of James' books, there's plenty to ponder and return to.

The Echo is published by Harper Voyager and will be available on 16th January 2014 in hardback and ebook editions (so save some of your Christmas vouchers). 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.

Thursday, 12 December 2013


Shadowplay is the sequel to Pantomime and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Micah Grey is on the run from the circus, with Drystan, the white clown, in tow. Determined not to be returned to his noble family, he takes refuge with the once great magician, Jasper Maske. As he learns the tricks of the trade, he also starts to understand that magic is more than just an illusion and it’s real.

Parts of Shadowplay reminded me of The Prestige, with old style illusionists gripped in an ancient grudge. I loved the atmosphere of the theatre and the images conjured up by their performances. Yes, in the first book Micah/Gene ran away to join the circus and now he’s run away to join a magic show. Though life seems a little easier this time round.

Whilst Micah spent a lot of time in Pantomime worrying what other people thought of him, this is much more about acceptance. More people know his secret and everyone is accepting. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling about the story, despite there being darker aspects.

Of course, Micah is still in hiding and desperate to stay out of the reach of the Shadow on his tail. But he also wants to learn more about Kedi and what that means about him. I’m starting to identify Micah/Gene as a young man in my head, because I think that’s how he identifies himself, but there are still aspects of Gene sneaking through, especially in the narrative voice.

The unfolding relationship between Micah and Drystan is lovely and chaste and completely believable. I loved the moments when they curled up in bed together.

It’s a worthy follow up to the utterly fantastic Pantomime. It had a lot to live up to, and like many second books, it’s not quite as good as the first, but if you loved the first book, do carry on and read Shadowplay too. Whilst there is a bit more on the Vestige, I think I wanted more magic, something I suspect we’ll see in the future.

Shadowplay is published by Strange Chemistry and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 4th January 2014. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley and keep your eyes out for the blog tour, coming soon.

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Also reviewed @ Uncorked Thoughts

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.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Amelia Grey's Fireside Dream

When Amelia wrote her things to do before she’s 30 list, it included living in the countryside, with space and fresh air. Instead she’s living in a tiny flat in Hackney with her husband Jack and cat, Dexter. She’s not exactly happy at her teaching job either, so when she unearths her list, she convinced Jack that a move to the countryside would be perfect. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems.

Amelia Grey’s Fireside dream was not the cosy read I was expecting and there were multiple things that irritated me about the main character. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would quit their job before their mortgage was finalised. And if they did, at least wouldn’t phone up and tell the bank before they’d got another job. She’s meant to be a teacher, someone you hope would have common sense.

She acts like a spoiled brat a lot of the time, incredibly selfish and Jack has the patience of a saint not to turn on her. She gets all huffy when the cottage isn’t perfect and it’s all her own fault (again with the very stupid behaviour, won’t go into details otherwise I’ll tell you the whole plot). Her senseless spending got on my nerves so much, you buy a house after quitting your job, you’re going to hold onto money, right? Not Amelia Grey! She’s a bit unfair to her mum and a wet blanket when it comes to standing up to her dad.

The storyline about not wanting a baby was the final straw. If you’ve been married for years and bought property together, more than once, you think the topic of starting a family would have been discussed? As in one person doesn’t want kids and the other does. The resolution of this conflict really annoyed me, from the point of view of someone who doesn’t want kids. You just aren’t that easily swayed.

The story of the new house in the country doesn’t start until well into middle of the book either. I thought it would be an autumnal read but it’s not really, it’s more about moving house without using your brain. There’s lots of different threads going on too, I wouldn’t have minded more on the old owner or general village life. I also quite liked her sister, although again, everything was resolved a bit too easily. A risk you take when you try and pack so much in.

I think I must have carried on reading in the hope of an unhappy ending... or maybe it's just that I haven't finished many books lately. But this really was a let down and not even stupidly romantic. I think you'd be much better off with something by Milly Johnson or Tricia Ashley.

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Also reviewed @ Page to Stage Reviews | Reading in the Sunshine | Jess Hearts Books

Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 8 December 2013


AKA Showcase Sunday

A big thanks to the Other Ellie for my early Christmas pressie this week, it was a complete surprise. I need to get organised and send out some mystery packages to bloggers too. Amazing how little time there is left. *flails*

Part of my prizes from Angry Robot showed up too (there is another package on its way). I managed to get both prizes for the Team Blogger Award and a cover remake competition AR ran a while ago. So lots of lovely books for me! Huzzah!

For review:
The Book of You by Claire Kendal (HarperCollins)

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce

vN by Madeline Ashby
iD by Madeline Ashby

Wild Justice by Kelley Armstrong

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Holders

Becca has put her life on hold to protect her little brother, Ryland, who hears voices in his head. She is determined not to let anyone take him away “for his own good”, but when two men turn up and convince her mother that he should take his place at a special school in Ireland, Becca starts to believe they might be the answer. They know things about her family and Alex shows her something she would never have imagined. Yet she won’t let him be taken away by himself, and agrees to go with him to St. Brigid’s, despite the risk she could run into her own father, a man she has never forgiven for leaving them.

As it turns out, St. Brigid’s is part normal boarding school, part training ground for Holders, a group of people with heredity powers. The Holders are starting to die out and so many have weak powers that are barely any use at all. Of course, there’s a shady villain in the background and a love interest to boot.

I liked the idea that the protagonist wouldn’t be the one with special powers, but a relative along for the ride. There was a part of me that was disappointed later on in the story, when I realised this wasn’t going to be that story. I’d love someone to pick that up though; what do the non-prophesised about kids feels about it all? I think we’ve had our fill of main characters who are at the centre of saving the world, let’s see those on the sidelines.

For the first time actually admitting to myself that I was seriously falling for this guy. Falling hard. And if I didn’t watch myself, I might not be able to get back up.

Becca is a bit too isolated to really get the best out of the boarding school setting. She is surrounded by adults though, which is fairly unusual and there were some fantastic interactions between her and the teachers. I also liked her relationship with her brother although she did overthink things a lot. She’s very good at coming to a mature conclusion but the way her thinking was written maybe made it overstated. There were so many leading statements, I felt the romance aspect was predictable and also frustrating, because I just wanted them to get on with it.

Overall I liked the world; it was a varied and entertaining cast and I look forward to seeing what happens in the next book, The Seers, out in February.

The Holders is published by Strange Chemistry and is available in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review (a very long time ago).

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Also reviewed @ Uncorked Thoughts | A Dream of Books | Book Angel Booktopia

Shelve next to: Night School by CJ Daugherty | Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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 December 2013

The Lover's Dictionary

candid, adj.
“Most times, when I’m having sex, I’d rather be reading.”
This was, I admit, a strange thing to say on a second date. I guess I was just giving you warning.
“Most times when I’m reading,” you said, “I’d rather be having sex.”

I don’t know what I was expecting from The Lover’s Dictionary but needless to say, this unconventional narrative of a relationship was wonderful. I know it says “a novel” on the cover but at first it didn’t quite click that each definition was the same you and I. But it feels genuine and so on the mark about so many aspects of dating and relationships, from good to bad, but done in a mostly anonymous way.

I was almost disappointed when names started to creep in (although it’s only the names their friends, an initial, their genders). They could be anybody and their anonymity makes it all the more intimate. Like sharing secrets with a stranger. But of course, the second person you, means the narrator is speaking to you as the reader, as if you were the other half in this relationship.

cocksure, adj.
We walk into a bar, and you’re aware of all the eyes on you.
We walk into a bar, and I’m aware of all the eyes on you, too.
For you, this translates into confidence. But me?
All I can feel is doubt.

It also works as a book to dip into. As it’s not linear, and it’s divided into bizesize entries, you can easily read one definition and have it bring a smile to your face. But definitely, the first time, read it from start to finish, it will only take a few hours and you will be left feeling like you got to know someone. Some the moments from definitions will be revisited under others, slowly building up a picture of this couple.

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Also reviewed @ Lucybird's Book Blog | Alexa Loves Books

Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Month That Was... November 2013

I'm really not sure where November went. It started off with World Fantasy Con and an awful lot of books and has vanished since. I feel I've barely read anything and yet I still have plenty of reviews that need writing before the thoughts vanish from my brain. Argh! But Christmas is around the corner which just means me time for me, FTW.*

*I am writing this in my elephant onesie.

Here's what made it onto the blog...


Disappointed with: The Falconer by Elizabeth May

Read and awaiting review: Shadowplay by Laura Lam, The Holders by Julianna Scott

Blogged about:

I was shortlisted for the Team Robot Blogger Award, woohoo! Dan Newman stopped by to tell us a bit about the island of St. Lucia. Of course I went to see Catching Fire too.

Memes, events + challenges:
Incoming: World Fantasy Con Edition
Incoming! (24th Nov)
Win The Fall of the Stone City
Literary Giveaway Blog Hop

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Team Robot Blogger Award Shortlister Giving of Thanks

The lovely people at Angry Robot (and they are lovely) shortlisted me for their Team Robot Blogger Award. I may not have won, but the shortlisting itself made me all misty eyed. So in the spirit of giving thanks, I will respond with a round-up of all my Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry/Exhibit A reviews so far. May there be many more in the future*!

Guest posts and whatnot:
Strange Chemistry Launch
Extract: The Assassin's Curse
Q+A with Cassandra Rose Clarke
Cover Reveal: The Pirate's Wish
The Zenn Blog-a-palooza Tour
Q+A with Bryony Pearce
A post about St. Lucia

* I have reviews of Shadowplay and The Holders to come shortly. Plus many Strange Chemistry titles that will be read soon(ish).