Book Review: Storm Child by Sharon Sant

In Sharon Sant’s novel Storm Child, thirteen-year-old Annie has a big problem. Her baby sister is a witch in an alternate Victorian society that does not look kindly upon such magical beings. Worse still, Annie lives in the care of Ernesto Black, a contemptuous man instructed by a ruthless power to find and do who knows what with magical children. Annie has no choice, then, but to leave her baby sister somewhere she’ll be safe. And this tearful goodbye is how the book opens.

Annie is not the only one living under the iron rule of Ernesto, however. Polly and Isaac, a pair of former street urchins, are also present. Polly (perhaps the book’s most excellent character) is under strict instruction to wheedle out where Annie took the baby, using a blossoming friendship as cover for doing so. The first half of the book is a masterstroke of shady motives, suspicion and Don’t trust him/her! moments, the perfect set up for learning all we need to know about the characters. The second half sees magic move more into the fray, with a wonderful action-packed climax and lots of juicy revelations.

Sant’s knowledge of the Victorian era is breathtaking. The characters feel so real (thanks in no small part to perfect use of slang in dialogue) and the world building is effortless. The plight of being a young person growing up in such a ruthless and unfair time is beautifully transmitted and the magic on show is subtle and well thought out. In short, a fine Victorian fantasy romp!

Storm Child is available via Amazon UK now.

April 21, 2016Leave a comment

Book Review: In Exchange by Steven M. Caddy

It would seem that space is having something of a renaissance. First we had Chris Hadfield shooting a music video in orbit, then we watched Tim Peake present a BRIT Award to Adele live from the ISS. Space is cool again. But, much more importantly, NASA and other space programs have finally embraced the concept of space belonging to everyone. Space exploration is no longer a race between warring nations, but a joint, global venture to discover, learn and tweet cool pictures.

So, no better time for Steven M. Caddy to release his debut novel, In Exchange. The novel follows Michael Morgan, the first ever human raised in space, as he comes down to Earth to meet Peter Davies. The two boys are part of an experiment, an exchange. Peter will show Michael what it’s like to live on Earth, and, after some gruelling training, Michael will lead Peter back to the space station Daedalus.

Michael and Peter are likeable leads and watching their friendship grow is a real pleasure. Especially during a trip full of camping-related capers anyone who embarked on such adventures in their youth will immediately recognise. The novel is also beautifully researched. You will learn so much about space (for example, sleeping in orbit is troublesome because of phosphenes; spontaneous flashes of light visually perceived by astronauts), but the facts are never overwhelming. Technical detail never takes precedence over story and this is good to see.

On top of that the novel dishes out plenty of exciting catastrophes and the ending comes with a sizeable twist. Whether you’re on board with the second Space Age, or just looking for a good adventure story, In Exchange is the book for you.

In Exchange is available from Amazon UK now.

Download free sample chapters here.

April 12, 2016Leave a comment

Author Interview: Zoë Markham

Last year I did a joint interview with the ace Zoë Markham. It was so much fun that, after I read her latest release White Lies, I knew I needed to talk to her again! Below is the full interview (which originally appeared on Liz Loves Books).

Schools and school life are an important part of both Under My Skin and White Lies. What makes a school such an effective literary setting?

With YA you often hear the ‘Get rid of the parents!’ line. School tends to work really well in this respect because, whether you chose to get rid of the parents or not, it’s one of those environments where it’s all down to you: parents or no parents, from 9am to 3pm you’re on your own.  And of course it’s an environment that’s familiar to all of us, whether we like it or not.

When you started writing White Lies did you already have the twist in mind, or did it (or maybe several different versions of it) occur to you as you went along?

I did always have the twist in mind, but it became one of those areas in which I really had to compromise, because my editor didn’t like the feel of the ending in my first draft. In the end, it went through, I think, three different variations before we found one that worked for both of us. My initial twist, and the one I was rubbing my hands with glee over when I wrote it, all came down to who was driving the car at the end …

I loved the character of Scarlet, she’s so intriguing, so well-written. Have you ever known someone like her in real life?

I went to school with an ‘almost’ Scarlett, which is where she initially came from. She started out as just a very controlling ‘Queen Bee’ figure – the classic Mean Girl really, but again as the initial draft was edited there was a concern that she was perhaps verging on stereotypical. It was great editorial advice as it gave me the chance to think about why Scarlett acted the way she did, and it brought her background and her own story to light. It made her heaps more fun to write – and it’s why editors are brilliant.

How did you get the idea to incorporate a magpie into the story?

I really liked the idea that Abby, never quite making it as one of the ‘cool crowd’, didn’t score the big, dark, brooding raven she’s familiar with from the books she reads. A magpie felt a bit more urban, and a little quirkier – maybe even more British somehow, although I have no idea why. There’s the whole ‘One for sorrow’ aspect, which I thought went well with her character, and I remembered reading somewhere, years ago, about the whole ‘devil’s blood under their tongue’ thing, which I thought was nicely creepy. I’m all for creepy!

As a reader, what kind of story scares you most?

The ones rooted so firmly in everyday experience that they could, potentially, happen to anyone. Ones where you get the ‘That could be me’ paranoia creeping in around the edges as you read.

How have you found the experience of having your stories, your characters and what might be considered an intimate part of yourself out in the world?

Honestly? Terrifying! I’ve been massively, massively fortunate in finding people who’ve connected with both novels and been absolutely lovely about them – but there’s still part of me that seems to always be hiding in the corner, trembling. I tell myself it’s because I care about what I write, and want to get it right, but I also have to admit to the fact that I’m just a giant wimp, in general. I’ve never been the most confident of souls, and I find release days hard. I’m really going to have to try and get over that somehow!

Is there a genre you’d love to write in but haven’t yet had the chance to? Or perhaps one you never would write in?

I would love to write Epic Fantasy, it’s my favourite genre to read and I’ve been sort of plotting ideas of my own on and off for about two decades now. The world-building becomes so complex and immersive in my head though that I have the feeling I’d only ever be able to write Epic at a time when the day-job wasn’t a necessity!

One day! (A girl can dream.)

What’s next for you?

This year I’m really lucky to have two more YA titles coming out, Blood Bank with Kristell Ink, and Headcase with Tenebris. They’re both very different to my Carina titles. Blood Bank is a vampire novel (these aren’t just any vampires, they’re SWINDON vampires!) and Headcase is a deeper and darker journey into teenage mental health, with a bit of a fantasy twist.

Under My Skin and White Lies are both available now.

March 24, 2016Leave a comment

My Favourite Literary Character

I tried so hard not make this post about Lyra Silvertounge. After all, I’ve written plenty of posts about His Dark Materials already – people are probably sick to death of me blabbering on about it! But, alas, unless I pretend otherwise, Lyra is my top pick, probably always will be …

So, why Lyra? Well, there are lots of reasons! Firstly, I love how we find Lyra at the start of Northern Lights. She’s running free around Oxford, half-feral and getting into all sorts of trouble on a daily basis. The scholars of Jordan College are doing their best to educate her, but she’s proving impossible to contain. When I first read the book I was a few years into secondary school and I was desperate to have a life like Lyra’s, a life free from all the rules, exams and monotony of being a teenager in the 00’s.

Then there’s Lyra’s dæmon, Pantalaimon. If you haven’t read His Dark Materials (what are you playing at?!) then I should probably just explain that every person in Lyra’s universe has a dæmon, a kind of animal embodiment of their soul. A person’s dæmon accompanies its human everywhere and, after initially being able to transform into any animal it chooses, it ‘settles’ into a specific animal sometime around adolescence. Lyra’s Pan is a shy sort, always terrified of what his human partner is about to do. Lyra and Pan are a great double act, so often funny, but never too far from a touching moment either.

The settling thing is genius. The animal a person’s dæmon settles into says something about that person, it represents a certain aspect of their personality. That means it’s great fun to think about what your own dæmon would be, or try to guess other people’s. Unsurprisingly I’ve put a lot of thought into this and I’ve decided that my dæmon would be a heron because I’m patient, persistent, and absolutely I love water!

I have a weirdly long neck too …

February 12, 2016Leave a comment