Tuesday, 19 April 2011

London Book Fair 2011, with bonus promotion for Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS

I have two excellent excuses for not blogging. Firstly, I have an internship at a publisher in central London. This is both exhausting and awesome. I come home and talk excitedly! with exclamation marks! about cool stuff I did today! And secondly, I went to the London Book Fair. I could try to sound chilled out here but I’ve been dying to go to the London Book Fair for freaking ever. Basically my life is complete.

You may be wondering what people actually do at the London Book Fair. In my case, I spent the whole time stalking Erin Morgenstern’s upcoming novel THE NIGHT CIRCUS. And here is the epic illustrated tale.

It's the morning of the London Book Fair. I register online and print out my pass so I can bring it with me.

I exit Earls Court tube station via the Earls Court exit, only to discover that the Earls Court convention centre is in fact via the other exit. Thanks to Google Map, I finally get to the Earls Court convention centre where the fair is being held. It is very shiny in the sun. There are lots of big London Book Fair posters (and more sun).

I lurk hopefully at the Random House booth, where a nice person gives me THE NIGHT CIRCUS swag! It is a glossy leaflet with a beautiful cover. Inside there is some cool text and some more cool text. And what is that on the back cover? It's the UK cover of THE NIGHT CIRCUS! (Also a six-foot-high poster inside the Random House booth, which I would also have snapped except I was afraid of being thrown out for trespassing.)

But the awesomeness is not finished. I stake out the Random House booth until 5pm. And then THE CIRCUS HAPPENS. There is a cute circus lady juggling what appear to be glass balls. There is a very distracting contortionist. There is a circus gentleman with a megaphone! Telling us all about Le Cirque des RĂªves! And just to put a feather in our cap of joy, HERE IS THE VIDEO I TAKE ON MY IPHONE.

If you too are intrigued by the pretty, you can preorder THE NIGHT CIRCUS. :D

Friday, 10 December 2010

guillermo del toro and chuck hogan - the strain

Horror is not normally my genre of choice. As I huddled under the bedcovers in gibbering terror, perversely compelled to keep turning the pages of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, I remembered why.

This is a petrifying book, packed with body horror, gruesome murders and general extreme creepiness. It also works superbly as a thriller; it’s tautly-written and the pages flick past at an impressive speed. There is some supreme badassery here, including UV light bombs and vampires getting decapitated with swords, and some great set-pieces like the dead plane at the beginning of the book or the eclipse in the middle.

The one aspect that disappointed me was, and I apologise for yet again banging the same old drum, the gender roles. All the badasses are male. All the main characters are male. All the characters present at the climax are male. There are only two female characters; one is a damsel distress who is kidnapped and later fridged, and the other was ordered by the men to stay at home and look after the children during the climax. I rolled my eyes pretty hard at that point, especially since that second female character was supposed to be the protagonist’s colleague and equal, her training every bit the match of his. But she’s a girl, so she stays sidelined.

If you can overlook the gender aspect, The Strain is a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable read which is still giving me the creeps a month later. You may experience sleep deprivation and/or uncontrollable sobbing, is all I’m saying.

Verdict = 4 out of 5 stars. I'll definitely be picking up the sequel.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

pc and kristen cast - marked

Oh dear. I cracked open PC and Kristen Cast’s Marked hoping that House of Night would be another gem a la Richelle Mead or Rachel Caine. I ended the book feeling not just disappointed but bitter, and I feel the need to share my bitterness with the world.

Marked repeats all the worst flaws of Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series without the strength of character that makes Alanna (mostly) sympathetic. Like Alanna, the protagonist Zoey Redbird is designated by the author as special, and that point is hammered home so hard and so often I ended up with a slight concussion. A mere sampling of the ways in which we’re told Zoey is special:
  • She has a special tattoo. By the end of the book her tattoo is even specialer.
  • She has special magic powers.
  • She has a special unique bloodlust.
  • She has a special mentor who had a special vision of her.
  • She herself has special visions.
  • Everyone constantly reassures her that she's wonderful.
  • Goddesses literally intervene in person to tell her how amazing she is.
  • She has a special cat, which I assume was ripped directly from Tamora Pierce.
  • She has a special ability to just somehow know the right thing to do by instinct. (This is a trope I absolutely hate with a burning passion. If your character has no actual reason to make the next plot step, rethink your plot. Don’t just lazily give her special intuition.)
  • She’s being lined up to become the next high priestess, except super special because of her amazingly special magic powers.
That’s a truckload of special trinkets the author hands to her. What does Zoey actually do to deserve this universal admiration from the gods on down? Well, her world-shakingly epic achievement is ... wait for it ... she defeats some school bullies.

Yup. That’s the scale of the plot here -- gossip, backstabbing and dresses.

A key problem is the lack of an external antagonist posing a real threat to the protagonist and her comfortable world. In Richelle Mead’s excellent Vampire Academy series, protagonist Rose Hathaway has a driving purpose in life: to protect her charge Lissa Dragomir by fighting the evil Strigoi. That’s why Rose gets up in the morning. That’s why she fights, why she struggles, why she sacrifices. That threat, which cases a progressively longer shadow across the series, puts everything into perspective. Schoolgirl bitching is a minor irritant when your best friend could be murdered and your world crushed at any moment.

By contrast, Zoey has nothing to worry about. Her world contains no threat greater than another girl stealing the boy she’s crushing on, no purpose greater than earning queen-bee status among her classmates. The protagonist is innocent to the point of childishness; her worldview divides people into into slutty evil bitches and perfect beautiful people. (As you can probably imagine, this immaturity sits a little oddly with the dubiously-consensual public blowjobs -- it comes across slightly like an eight-year-old set loose on the set of a porn film.)

And that’s why this novel feels small and shallow to me. All the epic specialness and personal visits from goddesses are wasted on high-school bullies and slut-shaming.

Zoey Redbird needs to grow up.

Verdict = 2 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, 31 October 2010


It’s the most glorious month of the year again! And I’ve been making preparations. Write-ins have been scheduled. Chocolate has been stockpiled. My spreadsheet is filling out. As our reading week (a week’s holiday) falls conveniently in November, I’ll be taking ten days off to do nothing but write. I’ve found that I need to build momentum in the first days of Nanowrimo to carry me through the rest, so as soon as the clock hits midnight tonight, I’ll open up my shiny new Word document and start writing.

This year I’m taking a second crack at my YA urban fantasy DREAD MACHINE. I’m aiming to kill this scarily huge project in 100k max. If I’m especially good, I might even beat last year’s total. I hope the tiramisu of victory is in my future!

Are you doing Nanowrimo this year? How have you been preparing?

lauren kate - fallen

I picked up this novel despite (or perhaps because of) the strong suspicion that I wouldn’t be able to stand it, so I admit the bitter taste in my mouth right now is self-inflicted. But its stunning cover seduced me, and I wanted to test out my local digital lending library, so I took a deep breath and dove in.

First, the good. There’s a prevailing feeling of darkness thanks to the reform school the protagonist Luce attends, which I think is the first reform school I’ve ever seen in YA. I was pleased by Luce’s surprisingly complex relationship with her parents, who condemned her to reform school as a last resort after she possibly murdered someone in a fire; they love her and fear her and want to protect her all at once, and I’m glad that the protagonist sees their flaws and loves them nonetheless. I only wish that the other character relationships were as intriguing. Most of the writing is merely serviceable, but at times it touched on the beautiful. One line I particularly liked:

She spotted a lone dandelion, and it crossed her mind that a younger Luce would have pounced on it and then made a wish and blown. But this Luce’s wishes felt too heavy for something so light.

I did a little victory dance when, after 200 pages of the designated love interest Daniel showing nothing but contempt for her, Luce finally stands up for herself. She points out that far from being as stupid as he apparently thinks, she’s extremely academic. Full scholarship. 4.0 GPA. She speaks several languages. She does the Sunday crossword! And she’s going to be a psychiatrist! Immediately my love for Luce started to bloom like a previously stunted flower.

Unfortunately, as with the rest of the book, this flare of promise subsides into disappointment. The supposedly academic Luce never uses any of the skills she claims to have. Everything she learns is served up to her on a silver platter by a nosy friend. If she were as smart as all that, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t get into a strange car to go to an unknown place to meet her violent soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, without telling anyone where she’s going. The evilness of the evil characters is written in letters big enough to be visible from space, but somehow genius Luce misses it. People keep saying how special Luce is -- “Believe me. You have no idea how many strong and impossible things you are capable of” -- but it’s never actually backed up in the text.

I think the key failing here is that the author never gives her an opportunity to shine. The narrative is so in love with perfect beautiful Daniel and his beautiful perfection that Luce is an afterthought. She’s just a window through which the reader is invited to ogle those rippling muscles. In the entire book Luce is given nothing to do, so she accomplishes nothing -- her only action in the climax, and I use the word action loosely, is to lie on an altar while the antagonist attempts to sacrifice her, only to be saved at the last moment (of course) by the designated love interest.

It’s a shame, because this book could have been redeemed. I feel like I got a brief glimpse of the Luce who could have been -- a heroine who stormed through this book, kicking ass and taking names, using every bit of that intelligence -- but then the moment died.

Verdict = 3 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

back from the dead

Since my last post, I turned in my final-year research project, scraped through my final exams, graduated from university, scored a place at University College London to study MA Publishing, narrowly missed out on a scholarship, found a house in London, got a summer job and applied for a terrifyingly huge bank loan to afford all this, read a lot, wrote a lot, and somehow survived.

How about you? :)

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

theme song

Frivolous post today. I often play music while I’m writing, but the aim is for the music to fade into the background, so I’ve never really thought of any one song as a theme song. The one exception is Within Temptation’s “Hand of Sorrow”. From the moment I first heard this, way back when IRONBANE was still coming together, I knew this was the perfect song for protagonist Anjen, the war she fought and the things she did to win.

Please forgive me for the sorrow
For leaving you in fear
For the dreams we had to silence
That's all they'll ever be
Still I'll be the hand that serves you
Though you'll not see that it is me

So many dreams were broken and so much was sacrificed
Was it worth the ones we loved and had to leave behind
So many years have past, who are the noble and the wise?
Will all our sins be justified?