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22 Oct 2010

Alex Scarrow – HSBC Book It! Tent – 09/10/10 5:30-6:30pm

 "Books are like an epic, budget-less movie." - Alex Scarrow

Aaah, what could I say to give this man justice?

Well, first off and most importantly – he is the author of a series of children’s books called: TimeRiders. Currently there are two books available, with the 3rd coming early next year, and the plan is it will be a 9-book series. W-O-W!
But Alex is no novice in the novel universe – having written several books for adults both historical and action-thrillers. Not to mention his brother, Simon, is also very prolific in the adult market of fiction.
But suffice to say, I’d not really paid much attention to the ‘Scarrow Clan’ until the first of the TimeRiders books hit my shelves. So the opportunity to meet him at the Cheltenham Literature Festival seemed like a must!

The main thing I’d have to say about Mr Scarrow is that he has a huge stage presence, and the HSBC Tent really gave him free reign to interact with his audience. Firstly he talked about his previous jobs – Rock musician, Graphic Designer and Video Game think-tank. He mentioned that while none of his ideas for video games ever made it to production; he said it played a pivotal part in his turning to children’s fiction and the TimeRiders series.

He then treats us to an amazing music video of his own creation detailing the series.

He goes on to ask the audience several probing questions about ‘what ifs’ using various slide-show images. “What if Hitler didn’t invade Russia?” and “What if the dinosaurs didn’t die out?” to some rather surprising and thought-provoking scenes.
Alex then treats us to a reading of the very first chapter of book one. The whole room is rapt with attention, myself among them!

Then came the fun part of the show – Alex’s very own TimeRiders Quiz show! Throwing his whole being into the show, he asks his teams probing questions about historical events – a lot of which they got right! (A lot of them I didn’t know *blush*)

Afterwards he throws the floor to the audience and the kids are eager, with many hands raised and a lot of bouncing in seats. I had to ask wether he had studied history at all – as it is a huge part of this series. Surprisingly though – he never did! He said he has always had a great love for history, and does indeed read as many books as he can – especially when doing research for each book. He particularly loves being able to manipulate it all as well.

Listening to Alex talk about his creation you can clearly see the love and excitement that he has for them. His whole being is animated in fact. There is also talk of film, the rights of which are in discussion at the moment.
In conclusion, I think it’s safe to say that this is a series to watch. It’s going to be MEGA!

See how cool he is? *laughs*

18 Oct 2010

Darren Shan – The Playhouse – 09/10/10 2:30-3:30pm

 "The grave lies ahead of us all!" - Darren Shan

Even as I turned up a half hour before the event was due to start, there was already a que forming at the door. Both adults and children had at least one copy of a Shan novel. One boy went as far as to have 7 books with him! And it’s no wonder, really. Given that Darren has written as many as 28 novels and claims that he has three books on the go at any given time. His current stories, including:

The Saga of Darren Shan
The Demonata Series
The City Trilogy (For older readers)
And most recently:
The Thin Executioner (his only stand-alone novel published to date)
The Saga of Larten Crepsley: Birth of a Killer (The first in a four book series focusing on the favourite Vampire from his first Saga.)

All of these novels have one critical thing in common: They are full to the brim with blood.
And so with a full-house – Darren bounds on stage to resounding applause. Right from the first you get the impression that he really is a big kid. With his rosy cheeks and spring in his step, you can tell he loves what he does.
After a bit of an introduction he reads from the first book in his Demonata series – Lord Loss. This guy really loves gore and horror. And as he reads from what he says is the goriest scene he’s ever written, the room is deathly silent… and Darren revels in it. He takes great joy in using many-a-scary voices for his characters and the kids in the room are both excited and afraid.

Among the various topics he spoke about - he claimed that of all the books he’s published to date, his favourite is The Thin Executioner. Which, as well as being a book about a young boy who wants to chop off heads for a living, is also Darren’s views and opinions on the current political state of the world. And far from being over anyone’s head, the kids know this and understand it.

He then treats us to a chapter to his most recently published novel – Birth of a Killer. Book two of which will be called: Ocean of Blood, due May 2011.

Questions are then opened up to the audience with many hands shooting into the air from the minute the floor lights are raised. One of the first questions asked is about the origine of Darren’s love for horror. To which he replies that ever since he was a child he has always loved scary stories and movies – actually enjoying the nightmares they induce! He is of the opinion that every child should be exposed to the dark side of literature and cinema as he believes it is a vital ingredient in growing up.

He then ended the event with a reading from a short story used for the World Book Day in 2008 – Koyasan. 

Darren reading from 'Koyasan'

Darren clearly loves his fans *grins*

Reviews and the like...

Well, folks... All I can say is... I'm not dead!! Really, I've been so lazy with this blog, and I do apologise to those of you who follow it. I've been attempting to get myself into gear again, and what with NaNoWriMo coming up in 2 weeks time - a nice spot of blogging may just be what I need to get back into the swing of writing!
So, the plans so far:
I've recently attended many events at the Cheltenham Literature Festival - thus will be providing my own reports on each of those (including photos!), so look out for such names as Darren Shan, Alex Scarrow, Lucy Christopher and more!
Then there's the book reviews I have been working on, most of which are tied in with the Lit Fest.
So, please stay tuned - I should have some more regular updates in the days to come!!
With much book love -

18 Jun 2010

Book Review: The Dead - David Gatward

"The Dead envy the living. It consumes them. They will do anything to take what you have, for even the briefest of moments, to experience life again." p.45

Lazarus Stone is about to turn sixteen when, one night, his normal life is ripped to shreds by a skinless figure drenched in blood.
He has a message: The Dead are coming.
Now Lazarus is all that stands in their way. To fulfil his destiny, he must confront not only the dark past of his family, but horrors more gruesome than even Hell could invent. And it all begins with the reek of rotting flesh...

Hell is coming... and David Gatward means business!

All his life Lazarus has been a fairly ordinary kid - causing mischief at school, playing computer games and hanging out with his best friend Craig. With his father constantly away at work, Lazarus has had a great deal of independence. So when he first learns of the world of the Dead and his dad's role with them Lazarus is naturally very confused and scared; wanting to do whatever it takes to get back to the 'normal' life he had before.
But even through all of the chaos and horror, Lazarus still remains switched-on and has a very commanding presence about him that gives the reader a glimpse into the person he must become if he is to find his father and prevent the Dead from crossing over into the real world...

I feel quite privileged to have received a proof copy of The Dead as it is not quite like any other horror novel I've read before. David's writing is so sense-driven that it wasn't like I was just seeing the story like a particularly gory horror movie but also living and smelling it! Yeuch! It was SO much fun (though far too short for my tastes) and I will be hanging out for book two - The Dark - due in October 2010.

Published by HodderChildren's Books - July 2010

17 Jun 2010

Book Review: Forbidden - Tabitha Suzuma

"We can't do this... If we start, how will we ever stop?"

Sixteen-year-old Maya and seventeen-year-old Lachan have never had the chance to be 'normal' teenagers. Having pulled together for years to take care of their younger siblings while their wayward, drunken mother leaves them to fend alone, they have become much more than brother and sister. And now, they have fallen in love. But this is a love that can never be allowed, a love that will have devastating consequences... How can something so wrong feel so right?

Some people find it tough to talk or read about difficult subjects - rape, disease, incest - but I suppose it is something of a fascination with me. I like to explore how other people see the subject, and how they approach them in fiction. If there is a list of 'forbidden' or 'taboo' subjects - incest would be at the number one position, without a doubt. This also reflects the lack of fiction around it... Then in comes Tabitha Suzuma. I know from her reputation that she normally writes about the hard-hitting issues of teens, but only after reading Forbidden do I now have a desire to read her previous titles.

Told from both Lochan and Maya's point of view, Tabitha gives the reader a real and raw insight into each characters reasoning's and thus connecting you in a very personal and intense way. And although the novel is laden down with darkness and despair - the passion Lochie and Maya have for each other shines so brightly it hurts, but it's a hurt you want to endure right till the very end.

When people ask me why I love this book so much I can only tell them to read it, because while the subject matter is still one of taboo, it's stories like these that really make you appreciate literature in it's every form.

Published by Random House Children's Books 'Definitions' - May 2010

25 May 2010

Book Review: Savannah Grey - Cliff McNish

15 year old Savannah Grey has never felt she's belonged. She keeps her distance, so she's surprised by her attraction to the new boy Reece. Then strange things begin to happen: nature, it seems, is exerting an overpowering force on the world. Birds behave strangely; gusts of wind blow leaves so fiercely they seems to lure people away. And Savannah learns she has supernatural powers. Nature has a purpose for Savannah and her friends. For they are on course to meet the vile and evil Orcrassa, who wants to destroy the world by corrupting nature. And it wants Savannah to help realise it's savage intent.

I'd always noticed Cliff's books on the shelves before, but it wasn't until my mum had bought and read Savannah Grey in no less than two days did I really think: "This is something I need to read." as she had trouble putting the book down; even for a second.

Savannah Grey is a brilliantly plotted tale, mixing in horror, intrigue, suspense and romance - a tricky task for something 234 pages short.
I especially enjoyed the chapters with the 'darkness.' Giving these beings a voice set it apart from the main heroin and thus the enemies are far from being one dimensional, they bring a tenseness to the story, as well as hitching up the fear several notches.

I suppose I should note that over the past few weeks I have been reading novels that are either in the beginnings or the ends of a series/trilogy. So as I started with Savannah Grey it did throw me a little as the pace or drive of the book was so different than the controlled feeling of a series, where an author has the freedom to delve deeply into plot and characters.
In no way did that diminish the strength of this novel, nor my opinion of it. Savannah Grey is a well-crafted master-piece and it only makes me want to read his others novels that much more.

Published by Orion Children's Books - February 2010.

22 Feb 2010

Book Review: Ash - Malinda Lo

 "Is this why you sought me out? To tell me a-" He paused, his lip curling, and continued, "A fairy tale?" Pg86

With her parents both gone, Ash finds herself a servant in the house of her ruthless stepmother and there seems no hope of finding happiness again.
But Ash is unaware of her mother's legacy, and that it will lead her to a magical place. A place where love, identity and belonging are all waiting...

Everyone knows the story of Cinderella, it's a staple part of our childhood and with this debut novel, it is not simply a re-telling of a classic. It is so much more than that.
Consumed with grief for her parents, Ash finds solace in the book of fairy tales her mother used to read to her, and dreams of one day falling in to the arms of a handsome faerie forevermore. So when she meets the dark and dangerous Sidhean, all her wishes seems to have come true.
 But when she befriends the King's Huntress, who teaches her the ways of the forest and other survival skills, she feels her heart beginning to change and discovers she is chasing fairy tales less and less...

 I truly loved this re-telling. The lore, The Wood, the fact that Prince Charming doesn't come to Ash's rescue. And thank the Gods, it was nice to have a little deviation from the (dare I say) 'Twilight-type' romances that have been cropping up in YA novels more and more these days.
All in all, this is a beautifully written novel - one that I will definitely re-read in the years to come, as I would any other fairy-tale.

Published by HodderChildren's Books - March 2010

20 Feb 2010

Book Review: The Game - Diana Wynne Jones

"I swear not to say a word about what we do in this game to anyone outside..."

Hayley's parents disappeared when she was a baby. Since then, she has been raised and homeschooled by her grandparents. Grandad is overworked and travels a lot; Grandma is too strict, and never lets her meet any children her own age. When Hayley does something wrong - she is not quite sure what - her grandmother packs her off to her aunts in Ireland. To Hayley's shock, her family is much bigger than she thought; to her delight, the children all play what they call 'the game', where they visit a place called 'the mythosphere.' And while she plays the game, Hayley learns more about her own place in the world than she could have expected.

Anyone who has read Diana's works before - know that they're in for a treat. To those of you who haven't had the pleasure - this is a wonderful book to start with. So simple yet full of charm, innocence and fun. I don't think I'll ever get tired of Diana's ability to weave a story in your heart and have you feeling so full of joy and amazement throughout.
The Blurb says it all in this case, anything more would be a spoiler and I wouldn't want to do that! Though I must say - I much prefer the US cover (top) to the UK, but I'll let you be the judge *grins*


First published in the US by Puffin - March 2007 
Published in the UK by HarperCollins - February 2008

17 Feb 2010

Book Review: Do the Creepy Thing - Graham Joyce

"...that's the game: fighting against the screaming need to run. But you don't. You breathe through it, and you put one foot in front of the other and you keep going. You don't even know why." Pg 34.

Caz and Lucy thinks it's pretty cool to do the Creepy Thing. After all, it's just a game. No one gets hurt, right? But Caz plays one game too many and gets more than she bargains for. MUCH more.
Caz believes she's been cursed. Her life is now chained to the hag who lives at 13 Briar Street and she's being stalked by a terrifying shadow-person. What does it want? And how can Caz get her life back?
Maybe the answers are to be found  in the seedy Black Dog pub, or the hair-raising church, or down at the tattoo parlour. One thing is for certain - Caz wont be doing the Creepy Thing again.

Anyone who knows me has probably heard me mention Graham Joyce once or twice, and while I have not read all of his books so far, I can safely say that anything he writes is a wonder to behold.
In this, one of Graham's few Young Adult titles, the story begins with two girls - Caz and Lucy - both of whom are restless in their small England town. To stave away the boredom they do the 'Creepy', essentially sneaking into other peoples homes in the middle of the night when all is silent and sleeping. Not to steal, just to take it in turns to stare at the sleeping residents face for fifteen seconds. The reason? Fifteen seconds can last a long time and the adrenaline that courses through Caz and Lucy during those times is as addictive as any drug. What's more, they know they should stop, but find it beyond their ability to do so.
That is until during one 'Creepy' their subject wakes up and slaps a silver bracelet on Cazs' wrist. Then things get really interesting...

I love Graham Joyce's works. I love the way he writes, the way he pulls you in when you least expect it, and especially the goose-bumps gained as a result. Granted, I do not think his Young Adult novels are as gripping as his Adults ones are - this is still a thrilling and exciting ride. Do you dare take it?

Published by Faber and Faber - July 2006

9 Feb 2010

Small update of the book-kind (could it be anything else?)

Hello folks, it is me - Alex - your effervescent book eater in residence. I figured it was that time to kick my rear-end into gear and remind myself of just what I need to do to get this blog continuing along on it's rickety path! So, I present you with one of my favourite activities (besides the obvious of course) - Lists!

Currently Reading:
Ash by Malinda Lo
Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling by D.M. Cornish

Books to be reviewed:  
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Invisible City by M.G. Harris
The Game by Diana Wynne Jones
Do the Creepy Thing by Graham Joyce

Next on the 'To-Read' list:
Ruined by Paula Morris
Generation Dead by Daniel Waters
The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

Books that I must re-read soon:
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Dreamside by Graham Joyce

Also, if any of you have a account, feel free to add me -
And if you have any books to recommend to me - I'd love to hear about them!


1 Feb 2010

Book Review: Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder

Choose: A quick death or slow poison...

Yelena has a choice - be executed for murder, or become food taster to the Commander of Ixia. She leaps at the chance for survival, but her relief may be short-lived.
Life in the palace is full of hazards and secrets. Wily and smart, Yelena must learn to identify poisons before they kill her, recognise whom she can trust and how to spy on those she can't. And who is the mysterious Southern sorceress who can reach into her head?
When Yelena realises she has extraordinary magical powers of her own, she faces a whole new problem, for using magic in Ixia is punishable by death...

What happens when one friend raves about a book, but another dismisses it out of hand? Well, the only thing a bibliophile can do - find out for ones self!
From the very first page you are thrust into a world coming to grips with a new leader and with it, a new way of living. All magic and sorcery has been exiled by the commander and with it a higher risk of assassination. In comes Yelena - in chains for the murder of General Brazell's son and the next in line for the noose. Until she is brought to Valek (the Commanders personal security chief) and given a choice. But is anything that easy? To ensure her loyalty Valek poisons Yelena with Butterfly's Dust, with which she must go to him to take the antidote every morning, ensuring her survival. No antidote and she dies a rather unpleasant death.
And that's just the first chapter!

I am very pleased to note that this book contains a very strong and worthy heroine. Intelligent and endearing heroines are increasingly rare in a genre filled with silly girls who follow their immortal hunks to greener pastures. Yelena is no follower. She is resourceful, witty and quick to act. Throughout Poison Study she is plagued by her tragic and haunting past and the consequences of her murder - all of which is gradually revealed as you read on.
So, for a series that has magic, murder, mystery, corruption, secrecy and love interwoven throughout - how could I not love it?

And onwards to book two...

Published by Mira Books - 2004

20 Jan 2010

Book Review: Mortlock - Jon Mayhew

"Maybe it was my reading diet as a child, maybe it's just the way I am but my writing always comes out a little bit... dark." - Jon Mayhew

The sister is a knife-thrower in a magician's stage act, the brother an undertaker's assistant. Neither orphan knows of the other's existence. Until, that is, three terrible Aunts descend on the girl's house and imprison her guardian, the Great Cardamom. His dying act is to pass the girl a note with clues to the secret he carries to his grave. Cardamom was one of three explorers on an expedition to locate the legendary Amarant, a plant with power over life and death. Now, pursued by flesh-eating crow-like ghuls, brother and sister must decode the message and save themselves from its sinister legacy.

I had a lot of fun reading this. Josie is bright and snappy, while Alfie is calm and reasoning - together they make a great team. Though just 13 years old, they go through the very depths of hell, caught up in the whirl-wind of their guardians past of mystery and power. Set in a dark and dangerous Victorian London they are ruthlessly hunted through the streets by the 'Aunts' (who are just down-right creepy) and their ghoulish crow-minions.

There are some parts in the story which are truly frightening and I realised this is becoming a common theme in a lot of younger children's these days - and I think this is a good thing. Kids are growing up in a very different world these days and their capacity of understanding what they see on the television or on the streets is much more than we give them credit for. And that's one of the beauties of books - they not only provide entertainment - they help us understand ourselves, our world around us and even why we do the things we do.

I cannot wait for this book to be released and I do hope there is room for a sequel.

Published by Bloomsbury - April 2010.

12 Jan 2010

Book Review: Temeraire - Naomi Novik

"...he took a liking to me, and we could not risk him refusing the harness from another hand." Laurence, P47

Captain Will Laurence has been at sea since he was just twelve years old. Rising on merit to captain his own vessel, Laurence has earned himself a beautiful fiancee, society's esteem and a golden future. But the war is not going well. It seems Britain can only wait as Napoleon plans to invade.
After a skirmish with a French ship, Laurence finds himself in charge of a rare cargo: A dragon egg bound for the Emperor himself. Dragons are much prized: properly trained, they can mount a fearsome attack from the skies. One of Laurence's men must take the beast in hand and join the aviator's cause, thus reliquishing all hope of a normal life.
But when the newly-hatched dragon decides to imprint itself on Laurence, the horrified captain's world falls apart. Gone is his golden future: gone his social standing and soon his beautiful fiancee, as he is consigned to be the constant companion and trainer of the fighting dragon Temeraire...

It's been a while since I've read something so refreshing and heart-warming as this. The first book in the Temeraire series sees a massive change in Captain Will Laurence's life. Unwillingly torn away from everything he holds dear - he enters the life of an aviator. Seemingly governed by their own rules - all Laurence knows about them is they are considered outcasts by everyone from the Navy to the common man. So as Laurence is thrust into the deep-end, confused and unsure of what is to become of him, only his bond with Temeraire will pull him through and experience a life that he never imagined.

Novik pulls off quite a balancing act as she tackles both draconic fantasy and Napoleonic history. I've never had much interest in the battle of Trafalgar but while reading this I found myself browsing Wikipedia often to check references, interested in how much of it was truth (and much of it was!). To my surprise I found myself fascinated with the history and it spurred me on with a renewed enthusiasm. Not to mention the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire is priceless and one to be experienced. The second book in the series - Throne of Jade - is definitely on my to-read list. Brilliant.

Published by Harper Voyager - March 2006