• Something Special

    A tour across the world with the help of YA novels

    Just like many of you, I really miss exploring the world. I miss going new places so much, but for now I have to do all my traveling with the help of novels for now. So I’m very happy that I’ve got to read some books with wonderful worlds recently – and here are mini reviews for a few of them!

    These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy takes you to a Slavic inspired world, in a queer retelling of the story of the Firebird. Izaveta and Asya are sisters, one raised at court as the future ruler and the other with her aunt, the Firebird. The Firebird is a creature of magic, making deals with the people for favours in exchange for a steep price. This is a beautifully written tale of magic, sisterhood and growing up. It has all the elements of a great story, the kind of YA fantasy escapism that the world needs right now. It evokes some similar vibes to Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series or Lana Popivic’s Wicked Like Wilfire duology. I love it – I preordered my copy ages ago, and I can’t wait to reread this in its finished form. It came out on the 20th of April, and you can get your own copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Our next stop on this tour is the Spanish inspired Puerto Leones of Zoraida Cordova’s Illusionary. This is the second in a duology. Incendiary, the first one was one of the most compelling YA fantasy novels I read in 2020, and this follow-up takes everything I loved about it and made it even better. Renata Convida is a great leading lady, and the reader can’t help but be charmed by the rebel prince of Puerto Leones, Castian (and his brother Dez, raised by actual rebels). All of the characters undergo massive growth arcs over the course of the story, and I loved the way the book ended. It felt very apt, without being overly cliché. And we get to spend time with Leo again who is just an amazing cinnamon roll of a person. If you haven’t checked this series out yet, please do. Illusionary will be released on the 11th of May, and you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood takes you to Ethiopia. This reimagining of the classic Jane Eyre story interprets the heroine as a debtera, a religious sort of exorcist. Andromeda, orphan, thrown out by her mentor, takes a job in a fancy manor house, owned by a mysterious and rich man. While it largely follows the known storyline of the classic, Lauren Blackwood manages to twist it into something new and unexpected. Yes, obviously Andromeda and her dark and brooding employer end up together as they do in Charlotte Brontë’s version, but the journey there is what makes this interesting. It is deeply rooted in its Ethiopian background, and also explores the role of foreign, colonial, influences. This won’t be out until the 9th of November, but preorders are open, and you can get a copy via Blackwells here.

    Last, but not least, our trip around the globe takes us to the US, to Oregon. You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao is a contemporary YA, though with a supernatural twist. Julie is shortly before high school graduation when Sam, her boyfriend, dies in a car accident. The story follows her as she navigates her grief, and rebuilds her life after this massive upheaval. But this isn’t made easier by her being able to call Sam on her phone. Somehow, they are able to have conversations across the boundaries between life and death, and Julie gets a chance to say goodbye all over again. This is heart-wrenching – though not as emotional as I was expecting it to be. But it’s still a very solid read, even if I personally didn’t fall in love with it. This is also not out until November, but you can pre-order a copy from Blackwell’s here.

  • Something Special

    Debut Author Interview Project: Gabriela Houston

    And today we have Gabriela Houston and her debut The Second Bell stopping in. This one not only sounds brilliant, but I’ve also reviewed it on Grimdark Magazine (read my review here). I loved this book so much, and I hope this will make you want to check it out too. Add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Please tell us about your book

    The Second Bell is a Slavic-mythology-inspired fantasy novel, about a striga and her mother.

    In a remote community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. Such a child is considered a monster and is cast out. My story follows a mother who chose to leave with her baby and a 19-year-old striga woman, as they navigate the strict social rules governing the striga village they live in and struggle against the taboos threatening to tear them apart.

    How did you celebrate its release?

    Under lockdown a celebration is a relative term. I had two different takeouts with my family during the day and then joined a zoom launch for my book which was lovely.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I have always been quite earnest about my artistic pursuits, but it wasn’t until after my first child was born that I made the conscious decision to set up writing as a priority in my life. It works differently for different people, but for me that time in my life gave me the razor sharp focus on what I needed to make space in my life for.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Before The Second Bell I wrote one unpublishable moloch of a fantasy epic. I think it took me too long to complete it, and that resulted in a very uneven, underedited mess. It had some good bones and got a bit of initial interest from agents, but in the end I’m glad it didn’t find a home.

    It was a huge learning curve. I made ALL the mistakes. And that’s great. I try not to make the same ones twice.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    I wouldn’t say it changed so much as all my plans and ambitions suddenly became more likely to be realised, which is a wonderful thing. It definitely gives you the push to work more, as you want to give yourself the best chance to succeed.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    No regrets. Except for the one phrase I should have edited out, which I found in the published book. That will haunt me for all eternity.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    I guess my experience so far has been so good, I need to be prepared that not everything will go as smoothly from now on necessarily! As a writer there’s a lot you have no control over, sadly, and I like the control.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Extremely! I have met some incredible people – bloggers, instagrammers, podcasters, other writers! All of whom are passionate about books and are rooting for the debut authors to succeed which is fantastic.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    I wrote a book and a half during the first lockdown (UK), which was great. Since then it’s been up and down to be honest, but with all the pre-launch work I was doing, there wasn’t much time to wallow really (and I did want to wallow, for sure!)

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    It’s really hard to tell. There are themes tackled in the book that correspond to some of the wider issues at the moment, but whether or not they would have been seen in the same way under more normal circumstances is really hard to tell, especially as I don’t have much to compare it to.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I have defied my agent’s directive to never ever go on Goodreads about a month before the book came out. I guess when you’re dealing with the publishers, your agent, and bloggers/magazine reviewers so much, you get lulled into a false sense of security, where you think “We all like books, right? Book people are my kind of people, the never-be-mean sort of people, who, if they dislike the book, will phrase their reservations in a kind, compassionate manner.”

    Needless to say, I will never again go on Goodreads.

    On a serious note though, even knowing that you can’t please everyone, there is no way you can prepare for people being unkind or dismissive about the work you’ve poured so much love into. But you grow thicker skin. Eventually.

    What are you planning next?

    I have a couple projects ready to query, and a couple of ideas more, but nothing’s set in stone for the moment.

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I try to write every day (or pre-launch do writing work every day). I have a writing buddy who I meet on zoom and we both do our work with each other’s faces hovering in the corner of the screen. It helps to keep you motivated, and having someone to talk through the thorny plot bits with is incredibly helpful.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I don’t always have one. It has to be something I know well though, or else I start focusing on the lyrics too much.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Both and either. I’m not picky, but I like sipping on something hot while writing.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    Strangers reaching out on social media to tell me they loved the book and that it meant something to them. It never fails to move me.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Stacey Halls’ The Foundling, Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn, and right now I’m reading the wonderful The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec at the moment.

  • Something Special

    Debut Author Interview Project: R.W.W. Greene

    Another wonderful Angry Robot debut author! Please welcome R.W.W. Greene and his debut, The Light Years. Add it to Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Please tell us about your book:

    My debut is called The Light Years and it came out Feb. 2020 just as everyone was gearing up to shut down.  The book is about a lot of things, but I think Kirkus said it best with, “On the surface, you get an engrossing space opera, but if you look deeper you will find explorations of poverty, arranged marriage, and the toll that difficult moral choices take on families.”

    How did you celebrate its release?

    I was fortunate to have a few live events … including one with cake … before the lock downs started.  A couple of nights after the publication date, we did an event at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, NH. I played guitar, did a little reading, answered some questions, ate cake, and drank (really) cheap wine.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I was a print journalist for about a dozen years after college, but I didn’t get serious about fiction until 2010 or so. I’d segued to teaching high-school English, and the work I was doing with my creative-writing students lit a fire under me.

    What was your publishing journey like?

    I started getting short stories published around 2012 and began nibbling at the ‘find an agent’ thing. I’d written a book as my MFA thesis and sent that out a dozen or so times before shelving it. In 2017, I sent a different book to Angry Robot as part of their Open Door unagented submission process. About a year later I got an email back, and two years after that they published The Light Years.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Three or four full manuscripts and a few partials. The first was my MFA thesis, and I wrote it thirty pages at a time with a critique of each installment. I likely would not do things that way again. I prefer to crank out a full draft – beginning, middle, and end – and then go back to it rather than move from stepping stone to stepping stone. Probably the most important thing I learned was that writing a book was possible and then repeatable. I recently hit 30K with my current manuscript, and it struck me that once-upon-a-time I would have found that number mighty intimidating.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    I’ve been putting my writing in front of people for a long time — as a “poet” in high school, a journalist, and now as a guy with a book — and the doubts and worries have never gone away. It’s a mix of “Hey, I wrote a book!” and “Please read my humble offering” and “Don’t hurt me!” Writing is a tool that I use fairly well, but there’s still a hard knot of fear in putting it out there.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    I did a lot of work to educate myself in advance, including going to conferences and joining (and later running) my statewide writers’ organization, The New Hampshire Writers’ Project. I got into the writing community pretty deep, and I believe I was as prepared as I could have been.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    The biggest challenge is staying published and trying to build a career out of it. I wrote The Light Years by getting up at 4:30 in the morning for months and banging on a typewriter before going to work. Then revisions. And edits. And queries and submissions.  And you can’t just write one book. An agent is going to ask you “what else ya got?” and you’re going to want a drawer full of work to turn to. It’s almost too hard write successfully solely as a hobby.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    I think so. It was difficult to break into, but now that I’m here, the industry seems curious about the stories I have to tell.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    I had a really hard time getting anything going for the first several months. The combination of pandemic and Trump created way too much static for me to think through.  I wrote a book in there somewhere, but it getting it out wasn’t easy.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    I don’t believe it changed how it was received, but it might have affected whether or not it was. True, I had a couple of reviews say the book was “too woke,” and that was kind of a Trumpy-political reaction, but the sheer amount of information flying around last spring made it hard to see anything that wasn’t COVID or US election related. And then it go to the point where I couldn’t leave the house to flog it, and I became just another “look at me” on the Internet.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I tend to think reviews are for the readers rather than for the writers, and thus don’t spend a lot of time perusing them. By the time someone reviews something of mine, it’s already out, and there’s no way to bring it back for another round of revisions.  That said, it’s wonderful to get a good review, and sometimes there is truth in a bad review. I’m not perfect, and there is always more to learn about telling a story. The first review that got under my skin was a dude who played the “too woke” card.

    What are you planning next?

    I’ve another novel, Twenty-Five to Life, coming out through Angry Robot in August 2021, and I’m currently working on book two of a planned trilogy. 

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I prefer writing in the morning, but now that I’ve left teaching, morning starts at eight or nine rather than 4:30 [am] . I have a daily 1,000-word goal. Sometimes that takes two hours, sometimes three, sometimes four, but I rarely shut down Scrivener without hitting my mark.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I like jazz or hiphop or punk or classical turned down low so I can feel it rather than hear it. I want the rhythm not the words.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Black coffee by the quart, tea and water by the pint.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    I’m a U.S. writer, and Angry Robot is a UK publisher. My favorite part was the immediate expansion of my active awareness. All of a sudden, I had friends and colleagues in the UK, and my world got bigger and more interesting.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Too many. So many. I love that Netflix allows me to see sci-fi from all over the world. “3%” from Brazil, “Ad Vitam” from France, “Space Sweepers” from Korea … it’s really exciting. I’ve also been getting into plot-heavy video games like “Detroit: Becoming Human” and “The Last of Us.” I just read The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, the First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie,  Afro Puffs are the Antennae of the Universe by Zig Zag Claybourne, and The Wayward Children books by Seanan McGuire.

  • Something Special

    Debut Author Interview Project: Chris Panatier

    Welcome to Libri Draconis, Chris Panatier! His book, The Phlebotomist was published by Angry Robot in September 2020, and has one of the most memorable covers I’ve ever seen – AR have been killing it in the design department. Add it to your Goodreads here and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link). And the more I talk to AR authors, they seem like a fabulous publisher, so listen up, aspiring authors!

    Please tell us about your book:

    Thanks for having me! Since it took me so long to get the short synopsis down for The Phlebotomist, that is what I’ll put here, because anything else would miss something:

    To support herself and her grandson Isaiah, Willa works for the blood contractor Patriot. Instituted to support the war effort, the mandatory draw (The Harvest) has led to a society segregated by blood type. Hoping to put an end to it all, Willa draws on her decades-old phlebotomy training to resurrect an obsolete collection technique, but instead uncovers an awful truth.

    Patriot will do anything to protect its secret. On the run and with nowhere else to turn, Willa seeks an alliance with Lock, a notorious blood-hacker who cheats the Harvest to support the children orphaned by it. But they soon find themselves in the grasp of a new type of evil.

    How did you celebrate its release?

    Probably just like every other debut in 2020, in front of my computer! Angry Robot did a great job of introducing the book during the pandemic and I did a host of blog posts and podcast interviews to go along with the release. So, while I’m sure everyone would have preferred to be able to do bookstore events and convention panels, I felt that my book received a nice reception.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    January 2015. I had just seen the movie Interstellar and read The Science of Interstellar by Dr. Kip Thorne. I was so blown away by the world of astrophysics that I’d been introduced to that I felt compelled to write about it.

    What was your publishing journey like?

    Well, after seeing/reading about all that awesome science, I immediately dashed off an epically mediocre “middle grade” epic fantasy/sf thing, convinced it would break the world. When eighty agents didn’t agree, I was disappointed, but moved on to the next project. Writing had its hooks in me. So, I began writing other novels and also really dove into short fiction in 2018. Short fiction, at least for me, has been key in honing my skills.

    After 150+ agent rejections over two novels, Angry Robot said yes. It’s certainly no lie that you have to put out the absolute best work you can, and then find one person who connects with it.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    That’s a hard question to answer because there were (and probably are for most writers) a lot of partials. So, I had one full novel written and then four or five partials into which substantial time had been invested. The Phlebotomist was my second finished novel.

    At this stage in my career, all of those words were about learning. My writing, aka ‘the prose’, got better by leaps and bounds—this is, I think, the first thing to improve with practice. After that, came understanding story structure and character development. The chief Big Thing I learned was that all problems in writing are solved with time and practice. I’m still learning a lot.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    It became a whole lot scarier. That’s not as bad as it sounds, but all of a sudden, you learn your work is going to be out there and judged. It’s a dream come true—and anyone who gets a book deal should celebrate that—but I’m so tightly wound, my celebration was short lived. I worked even harder after I knew The Phlebotomist would be published. Revised and edited until my eyes fell out. More hours, reading more, interacting more with other writers. Since then, I’ve chilled some. I have more perspective, but I’m still largely driven by fear.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    Angry Robot really takes care of its authors in terms of preparing them and helping to drive publicity for their books. I didn’t feel all on my own. That said, most of the things you learn along the way is really stuff you can only learn by going through it. Experience is the real teacher, I guess.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    There is pressure, of course, to improve on the last thing, to avoid a sophomore slump, I guess. My next book is nothing like The Phlebotomist, so I know that it won’t appeal to everyone who liked the first book. Every author feels that pressure, I’m sure, so I’m not unique in that respect. All the same, I have bouts of doubt, imposter syndrome, and all the rest. Hopefully it is successful enough to continue building an audience.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Absolutely. The community is very supportive. I have a tight group of fellow writers that I call my friends who I’ve never met in real life!

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    There was a lot going on over the last year that affected everyone, I’m sure. The pandemic was like, just another layer in the crap cake we were all being fed. I had a tough time focusing for a few months, but with no end in sight, I just decided to get cracking. I’ve written basically two full first-drafts since last June. In that respect, it’s become a productive time.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    My book wasn’t shy about addressing current events in an allegorical—and sometimes on-the-nose—sense. I did see a number of reviews noting that the social commentary of The Phlebotomist was apt for our time. It addressed government control, consent, media manipulation, etc.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I have never received a negative review. 😉

    Authors wiser than me warn against reading reviews or caring what they say. That’s great and all except that I am physically unable to restrain myself. I’m a complete junky, I admit it. My first negative review ruined my morning. Having someone point at your baby and say, “that baby is hideous” is tough to stomach. Nowadays, though, negative reviews impact me far less. You get used to it. Writing will teach you real fast that you can’t please everyone.

    What are you planning next?

    I’ll keep writing novels and short fiction. My next novel, Stringers is a humorous sci-fi adventure with all the requisite probing you’d expect from an alien abduction story. It comes out from Angry Robot in April of 2022.

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I do! I get up at 5:00 a.m., brew coffee, and try to write until at least 7:30 a.m. If the day allows, I’ll write again later on. Getting up early is an awful, terrible, thing and no one should ever do it, but it does keep me from tweaking all day wondering when I’m going to write, because I’ve already done it. Most of my life is spent trying to manage my Type A-ness.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    Total silence, ambient coffee shop, or instrumental music (Russian Circles, Loscil, Red Sparrows, Tides of Nebula, or Ludovico Einaudi)

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Coffee. Occasional mint tea.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    Finding an offer from Angry Robot to publish The Phlebotomist in my junk mail. No lie.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Books: Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Shrouded Loyalties by Reese Hogan, Gate Crashers by Patrick Tomlinson, one of several Murderbots by Martha Wells, The Expanse by James SA Corey, We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor, etc.

    Podcasts: Ty & That Guy (Expanse Podcast), Writing Excuses, My Dad Wrote a Porno, The Writer Files, Smartless, Our Opinions are Correct, National Geographic Overheard.

  • Something Special

    Debut Author Interview Project: Ginger Smith

    Angry Robot have an awesome publicist, which means that over the next few weeks I’ll be posting interviews with quite a few of their debut authors! I am very excited to have so many wonderful interviews to post. Today, you’ll hear from Ginger Smith about her debut The Rush’s Edge (Goodreads/Bookshop [affiliate link]). I don’t know about you, but I really want to read The Rush’s Edge now!

    Please tell us about your book:

    Lab-grown, genetically-engineered “vat” soldier Hal and his crew scour the Edge of the galaxy salvaging crashed ships. Hal knows vats like him die early chasing the adrenaline rush they’re programmed to crave, but his former commanding officer and best friend Tyce keeps him on the right path. After he meets natural-born tecker Vivi, he begins to wonder if there’s a future for the two of them, but first, they must figure out what was downloaded into their ship by a strange alien artifact and why the government will do anything to keep them silent about it. In short, The Rush’s Edge is the story of a programmed solider who, with the help of his found family, discovers what it means to be human. 

    How did you celebrate its release?

    Due to COVID, I wasn’t able to do very much celebrating, except with my husband at home. But I did buy a beautiful pair of moonstone earrings I’d been eyeing and wore them at my launch event. [The Rush’s Edge was released in November 2020.]

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I was about ten when I read The Elfstones of Shanara by Terry Brooks, and I was crushed by the ending (I don’t want to spoil it, but a character that I loved died in what I felt was a really unfair way). I got so upset and angry that I decided right then and there to write my own novel and that way I could have it end how I wanted it to, and there wouldn’t be any deaths at the end! It was a sprawling 328-page hot mess of a fantasy novel, complete with a good and evil brother, mages, dwarves, gnomes and a beautiful princess. I threw in everything AND the kitchen sink. I toiled tirelessly on that monster for two or three years, and I still have it today. It remains unpublished (lol).

    What was your publishing journey like?

    It was a crazy thrill ride, interspersed with tons of waiting. I wrote The Rush’s Edge in about three months, then spent another month editing.  When I thought I was ready, I began querying agents, changing my query for each one, as well as revising those initial 25 pages. I had gotten to agent number six or seven when I saw that Angry Robot and an e-publisher had an open submission period at about the same time, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I submitted to both as well as a few more agents.

    All summer I dreamed of my book finding a home at Angry Robot.  It seemed like such a long shot. Finally, the e-publisher called to talk contracts, then Angry Robot called to talk 24 hours after that. I thought I was going to die when I was offered the contract with AR. They were such a unique publisher that I wanted my book to find a home there. They even gave me time to get an agent. I signed with Amanda Rutter, and she was a huge help in navigating the contract and publication process!  

    Angry Robot was just a dream to work with. Editing was a team effort and I even had input on the cover, which I did not expect. All in all, except for COVID and its restrictions, the entire process exceeded my hopes.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Well, not counting the one at ten years old (lol), probably three. Two of them were fanfic novels. I think I learned so much about pacing a story, writing action scenes and building strong characterization from those experiences.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    This is a great question! I think I understand my writing process better and I trust it more now in a lot of ways. As I wrote the debut novel with the intention of getting it published, I really paid attention to the processes I used so that I could replicate them later. Success also makes everything a little more complicated because you want to live up to or surpass your first book. 

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    I wish I’d known how much waiting was actually involved. I definitely learned the lessons of patience by writing the book, then waiting a whole year for publication. I also wish I’d listened to those people that told me not to read reviews.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    First, is getting the word about my book out there. Secondly, trying to switch worlds to write something new is very, very hard. I miss Hal, Vivi and Ty. After spending two years of my creative life with them, it’s very hard to put them aside to work on something else.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Yes, all the way around. Angry Robot’s a great publisher to work with, and I have a great group of author friends I met on Twitter. Also, Amanda Rutter, my agent, has been supportive from day one.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    It’s been harder to focus on writing, but working from home did give me more time to complete the edits on The Rush’s Edge.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    COVID really had a dampening effect upon being able to do in person events. I think this is the major reason 2020 has been hard on all debut authors.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    That’s a tough question. I’ve had two reviews say two completely different things that couldn’t possibly both be true, and that taught me that reviews are subjective/entirely for readers. I want everyone to love my book as much as I do, but unfortunately, some will not. That’s how this game is played. I don’t think anyone likes getting that first negative review, but you can’t let those things rent space in your brain, as my husband likes to say.

    What are you planning next?

    I’d love to publish more stories in The Rush’s Edge universe, but right now, I’m starting on a horror novel set in a dystopian future.  I also may put up a few stories on my website (ginger-smith-author.com) set in the world of The Rush’s Edge so keep your eyes open for those!

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I write every evening from 7 to 10, without fail.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I have different soundtracks for different moods in a story.  For The Rush’s Edge, I listened to the Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse soundtrack, The Heavy, The Police, Styx, Queen, Pink Floyd and Rush.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Coffee, but I’ll take anything caffeinated.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    When I got a favorable Publisher’s Weekly review, I felt like I’d made it.  I printed it out, framed it and hung it on my wall along with the cover artwork from my book.  Holding The Rush’s Edge in my hands was another amazing highlight that I’ll never forget.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Wandavision was simply amazing and just what I needed after The Mandalorian.

    I’ve also read a few great books over the last year: The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier, Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire by Dan Hanks and The Light Years by R.W.W. Greene.

  • Something Special

    Debut Interview Project: Lavinia Thompson

    I am very excited to launch my debut interview project. I will be talking to a variety of authors who have debuted recently (or not so recently) and their experiences of writing, publishing and life as a published author. And the first author I get to talk to is Lavinia Thompson and her debut Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna (which just came out in February), and her publication journey. This is somewhat of a guinea pig interview, so let me know if you have any suggestions/things you’d love to know from debut authors!

    Please tell us about your book:

    My book is called Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna (add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy from here). It is the first in the “Beyond Dark” series, which focuses on two criminal profilers, Agents Alyssa Rawkesby and Thayer Volikov. Alyssa is a veteran profiler who specializes in female serial killers, while battling her own mental problems. Thayer is her mysterious new rookie partner with a past he keeps quiet. They must learn how to get along while tracking down serial killers. He wants to learn from one of the best profilers out there, but quickly learns she wants little to do with other people – why is she so closed off from the world? The series explores their developing friendship, their individual stories and the cases they encounter along the way.

    How did you celebrate your book’s release?

    I kept it simple with an online launch via a Facebook event. I didn’t put too much planning into it, but I did do a special event for those who came – they got the change to request a signed copy of the book when paperbacks are ready! I’ve also been playing around with different marketing techniques.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I don’t remember how old I was. I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Stories, both reading and writing, were an escape from an abusive childhood. Even now, writing is how I cope with my complex PTSD and severe depression. I always knew I wanted to publish books, to make a career out of writing. I dabbled in various genres over the years, only starting in mystery a year or so after my divorce. Sometimes in writing, our new beginnings in life get reflected in our writing and I know mine is like that. I went from dark fantasy when I was my teens, then in my twenties I was writing a rock star story, called “Edge of Glory”, which I never finished, then in 2019, I started the “Beyond Dark” series. I’m a long-time fan of true crime stories, be it books or documentaries. My mother let me watch “Law and Order” and true crime shows when I was a kid. So, this genre was pretty inevitable for me to fall into.

    What was your publishing journey like?

    It’s been a long one. I originally began reading about self-publishing in 2012 when there was that explosion of successes. I was just graduating college and trying to break into a journalism career. That didn’t quite turn out how I planned, so I kept returning to my books. Back in 2012, I don’t think I was quite ready for the amount of work that came with a self-publishing career. I was restless, impulsive and pulled in many different directions. I didn’t know what I wanted. Various failed relationships and my marriage and divorce led me off the path I wanted to take when I was younger. Of who I was. One day I was graduating from college and over-confident in my future, and the next I was a 30-year-old woman, single and unsure of who she was.

    Funny thing, age. My personal journey impacted my publishing journey so much. When I was in relationships, I didn’t write as much. My focus became making my partners happy, even when it became toxic. I’d rip myself away and return to writing. Originally, I returned to “Edge of Glory” because it was familiar, I’d been working on it for so long already. I really, truly believed that would be my first success with self-publishing. But I couldn’t seem to get the story right. I am still playing with it. But I needed something new, given that my life was in this transition stage. So, I took up writing for a character who had resided in my mind for many years. That’s where Alyssa came from. Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna is her introduction to the world.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Quite a few! I wrote short stories as a kid, tons of poetry over the years, I wrote a couple of fantasy books, and “Edge of Glory”. In 2004, I lost all of my writing in a housefire. I was 14. I had fantasy novels, journals and notebooks of my poetry. Gone up in smoke. The original draft of “Edge of Glory” was one of them. I was devastated. I quit writing for a while, but turned back to it when I became suicidal as a result of the abuse and the fire. Writing saved my life. I think it was simply some scribbled rant on loose paper, but it reminded me of why writing was my therapy. It’s been there for me when no human was.

    Sometimes the journey is like that. We’re constantly growing and learning, both personally and in writing. That first book you really believe in won’t always be the one you publish. Sometimes it is the one meant to prepare you for the project that will be your debut. With “Edge of Glory”, I learned tons about character development, story arcs and story structure. I learned that stories don’t always work the way we want them to but it doesn’t mean we need to give up on them. “Edge of Glory” is a story that in many ways grew up with me. It came to a point where I outgrew it and now have to figure out where it is still relevant to my life. I’ll finish it one day. I swear on it.

    But it also came to a point where I had to shelve it for a while, which I did in January 2019. It taught me that sometimes, as we’re growing with these stories, we need to give them space to grow. I am excited to revisit it, as I adore the characters and their stories, and to revisit their growth in the time since I have shelved it.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    I take it more seriously, for sure. Before, self-publishing was one of those “someday” aspirations. “I’ll get there one day,” I’d always claim. I had been working on “Edge of Glory” since I was a teenager, and while I always wanted to publish it, it never seemed time. But with Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna it was so quick. I started in January 2019, and in February 2021 I was hitting that “publish” button. It had gone through various rewrites, with my wonderful beta reader several times, a professional edit and me being so indecisive on cover art. But now here it is. It’s out in the world! I certainly didn’t expect it to happen so fast. Now, I am focused on getting the second book finished, edited and published within the next year or so. If you enjoyed Belladonna, then I believe Gravedigger is a fitting follow up!

    See? I’ve already tapped into my inner book marketer. That’s another thing – book marketing! So daunting! I read tons about it before publishing “Beyond Dark” but I still sometimes sit in front of my laptop wondering, “What am I supposed to be doing?” After publishing, be it traditional or indie, it is something that takes up a lot more time. I already work a full-time job to pay my bills, so I find my writing time cut down a bit so I can market the book. It’s a learning experience, as is the whole process. I am enjoying my time learning about the other side of publishing. I am a learner at heart, so I enjoy absorbing knowledge. I find that in publishing, I am looking for more ways to better my writing. I am studying story structure and my own genre more. I am allowing my self to grow into the mystery genre and make mistakes and learn from those. I feel like my relationship with writing has only deepened. I enjoy it now probably more than I ever have. I am single, childfree and able to focus on my books. Something I have always wanted. I feel truly great about my relationship with writing.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    How long editing actually takes!! I have been writing for a long time, but never went through the full, proper editing process until Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna. To make it professional and up to publishing standards is a lot of work. My beta reader was amazing with the story and seeing my vision. The draft was admittedly a mess when it went to her, but she saw what I was trying to do and only made it better. I also did a lot of self-editing. It was also my first time working with a professional editor. I learned so much from him, and most of all, I learned why a professional editor is so important. He put a professional touch on my book that I couldn’t have. Very detail-oriented, picked up on many things I missed, and he took the time to explain many of his edits, which was really eye-opening and insightful. I am definitely a better writer for having done that. It made the book better than I could have done on my own. It’s something I am proud to put out there.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    Time. Between working full-time, book marketing, and other obligations, I really have to make my writing time count more than ever these days. I might be single and childfree, but I also need to sleep sometime and take breaks to avoid burnout. Once the pandemic is over, hopefully later this year, I will be looking forward to reviving my social life. Finding that balance is a challenge. It’s a second job, it truly is.

    Market oversaturation is a challenge faced by all authors right now. I read somewhere that there are roughly seven million books published on Amazon. That’s a huge sea to wade through in order to find ideal readers who will buy the book. Standing out in this market is hard. This is a thrilling age to be a creative mind. We have at our fingertips the internet, which allows us to put our projects out there, overstepping the publishing companies to do it on our own. But the downside is also what makes it great. Anyone can do it. We face that great big sea of works and wonder how to stand out, if we will stand out. One of my co-workers at my job makes music, and we recently discussed how the indie music industry is facing the same challenge. Every creative deserves the chance to be heard, but sometimes it feels like we yell into a crowd whose attention is torn in fifty different directions. In the digital age, attention spans are short and if we don’t capture the reader within the first few words of a blurb, we lose a sale.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Absolutely! I have mingled in the writing and publishing community online for many years now. The support from the community has been wonderful. Again, it’s an overfilled sea of books, so I didn’t expect fame and stardom immediately, but I had great support at the small book launch I did, from my writing group on Discord, and on Twitter. I published during a weird time, when we don’t have face-to-face interactions, so I do feel like I have lost out on that for this launch. But the online community has been spectacular. This industry feels so competitive sometimes, yet at the end of the day, writers are also a community and we need to support each other.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    At times, yes. For the most part, it’s given me more time to write and edit, which I believe is why Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna got done as quickly as it did. In May and June 2020, I was temporarily laid off from my job, as many people were, so I took that time to dive into the developmental edits on that book. It put me ahead. In that time, I also started a spinoff series, “Beyond Cover”, which is about two undercover agents. That was a fun side project that has become a serious spinoff to the main series. If the pandemic impacted my creativity, it did do in a positive way. As always, writing was what got me through the year of isolation, the lack of a social life, and offsetting the impact all of this would have had on my mental health otherwise.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    You know, I do wonder about this. This last year has seen a lot of societal change. The Black Lives Matter movement and the calls for police reform (both of which I completely support) made me question how a police procedural would perform in the market. As a white woman, I don’t feel the matter of racism is my story to tell, so I don’t really touch on it in my series. I’m not trying to tell that story. At the end of the day, the “Beyond Dark” series is Alyssa’s story, and so I hope that her character is what stands out. That readers will see who she is, versus just seeing another cop. I was worried when there was talk on social media about the fate of crime dramas amidst all this police brutality that we see. I hope current events, despite how important the discussion about systematic racism and police reform is, don’t impact how readers might receive “Beyond Dark.” I am not trying to change the world with this series. I simply want to tell Alyssa’s story and give a creative outlet to my fascination with criminal psychology. So I think that’s what it boils down to: knowing what story you are telling and for who.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I have yet to get a negative review for “Beyond Dark”. As of this writing, it has a singular five-star review. But given that I have been posting publicly for years, I am certainly no stranger to negative reviews. Basically, I take what’s constructive and helpful, and see how it can better my stories. If someone is being overly negative and hurtful, I say nothing and move on. It’s not worth the energy spent to respond to such a thing. People are entitled to their opinions. It’s a shame when they use that privilege to be hurtful, but we as writers also have the choice to move past it in a mature matter.

    What are you planning next?

    Oh, I have lots in the works! I am almost halfway done the first draft for Beyond Dark 2: Gravedigger. I am hoping to have that edited and published for early next year. If it happens sooner, great, but I learned from the first book that editing is a long process, so I don’t want to rush that.

    “Beyond Cover” will have four books to the series. I am about to start writing the third while I edit the first. Publishing is in the future for this series, as well. Beyond Dark 3 will be a crossover with the spinoff, so I likely won’t publish the spinoff debut until the third “Beyond Dark” is released. Give it some sort of introduction before pointing readers to the other series.

    I am also slowly working on “Edge of Glory” and seeing where I can take that. And finally, I have a silly side project, called “She’s so Lovely” – a mystery/romance novella series about a private investigator who seeks life after a rough divorce, while solving the cold case of two missing girls. My first drafts of my work all get posted on Booksie, a writing website. I emphasize, first drafts. By no means is what people read there what finally gets published. It’s fun to get reader feedback and see analytics during the early writing process.  

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I write for a few hours before work, and after. I fit in book marketing time somewhere in here. It’s set, but it is also conditional on how tired I am after work and other obligations. But I am consistent in writing or doing something book-related at least once a day, because even the small things matter.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I don’t have just one. I have a separate playlist on Spotify for each book. I make a soundtrack for each, since every one has a different vibe to it. I am a music addict in general, though. One can find almost any genre in my song library. Beyond Dark 1 had a soundtrack full of Lana Del Ray, Billie Eilish, Lacuna Coil, In This Moment, Kelly Clarkson, Linkin Park, Madonna, and even Britney Spears and Annie Lennox. I basically just pluck out songs that fit the book’s vibe and add it to the playlist. Anything goes, really. So far, Gravedigger has had a dark or old country vibe to it, since it is set in a small prairie town. Gretchen Peters, Lindi Ortega, Johnny Cash, Pistol Annies, and then I added the “Dark Country” albums to it. Those are a mixture of songs with a creepy or ominous sound.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    This depends on the time of day. Before work, it’s coffee or tea. After work, it’s tea or a whiskey or two. I also smoke weed after work (legal here in Canada), which is helpful to my anxiety and complex PTSD, and helps me focus. Music is my other writing fuel.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    I want to say hitting that “publish” button, but honestly, it was the online book launch. It was small and short, but engaging with friends and readers was really wonderful. These are people who have supported me the entire time, and it means the world to me. We hung out online and discussed female serial killers (I learned of ones I didn’t even know!) and then criminal psychology. It was a delight to connect with people who are so supportive.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    I read a lot of true crime. I recently read a book called Jersey Tough by Wayne “Big Chuck” Bradshaw, his memoir about going from outlaw biker to undercover cop. A truly fascinating read. I am currently reading The Great Diamond Heist by Gordon Bowers, about the 2015 diamond heist in Hatton Garden in London, England. Otherwise, I have been absorbing books about book marketing and self-publishing.

  • Something Special

    Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards 2021

    This is a bit of a special post. I’m very very excited to be part of the judging team for the Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards for 2021. These are blogger awards, focused on speculative fiction. This is the fourth year running – see this announcement of 2020’s winners here. This year’s judging team is consisting of Anna (@Imyril/There is always room for one more), Adri (@adrijjy/Nerds of a Feather), Arina (@voyagerarina/The Bookwyrm’s Guide to the Galaxy), Jonny (@SFFjonbob/Parsecs & Parchment), Kris (@hammard_1987/Cloaked Creators), L.A. (Aquavenatus), Lisa (@deargeekplace/Dear Geek Place), Womble (@runalongwomble/Runalongtheshelves), Noria (@noriathereader/Chronicles of Noria), Sean (@DowieSean/Nerds of a Feather) and Sun (@suncani1). They’re all wonderful people and bloggers, and I highly recommend you check them all out!

    But now, WE HAVE NOMINEES. This is not a false alert, we have actually decided on a fantastic roster of nominees for our various categories. As I am a glutton for punishment, I’ll be judging in all of them except for Sci-Fi. But luckily I have a while to read/reread all of these wonderful books. If there’s a link, it means I have reviewed the book before, and you can click to read it!

    BEST FANTASY

    BEST SCIENCE FICTION

    BEST BLURRED BOUNDARIES

    BEST DEBUT

    BEST NOVELLA

    BEST SERIES

    BEST SHORT FICTION

    • “Tiger Lawyer Gets It Right” by Sarah Gailey (from the Escape Pod anthology)
    • “Convergence in Chorus Architecture” by Dare Segun Falowo (from the Dominion anthology)
    • “In Kind” by Kayla Whaley (from the Vampires Never Get Old anthology)
    • “Volumes” by Laura Duerr (Cast of Wonders, online here)
    • “You Perfect, Broken Thing” by C.L. Clark (Uncanny Magazine, online here)
    • “Yellow and the Perception of Reality” by Maureen McHugh (Tor.com, online here)
    • “Juice Like Wounds” by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com, online here)

    And that’s all of them. Lots of reading to do, and I hope you’ll check out some of our choices!

  • Something Special

    Favourite Books of 2020

    Somehow I ended up reading more in 2020 than I ever have before (at least as far as I can remember). I aimed to read around 200 books as usual, and now, close to the very end of the year I’m aiming to hit 365 books read, one for each day of the year. Only a handful left to go! Among all these books were a lot of wonderful books, and I have chosen just three each for the various categories I read in. All the books in this post were five star reads that have stood out and I would unreservedly recommend (and order of naming is not to indicate order of preference).

    In terms of Adult SFF, my absolute favourite books this year were Sistersong, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Once and Future Witches. I got to review all three of these early, and damn, it was hard to wait until everyone else had the opportunity to read them so I had people go gush over them. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is a historical tale of suffragettes crossed with witchcraft. It is wonderfully written and features three sisters, utterly different but united in their struggle to persevere against the patriarchy. I reviewed it here, and you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab speaks of isolation and depression and how they effect our lives and personalities through the story of a girl who makes a deal with a devil for eternal life – only to have everyone she encounters forget her immediately. This book spoke to me on a level few books ever have and I love it with my whole heart. I have loved all of Schwab’s work, but this is the best one to date. Fantasy for people who like literary tales and the most amazing characters. See my review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The third book on this list, Sistersong by Lucy Holland is not actually out until April, but I was able to read an ARC of this haunting tale. My review isn’t written yet (I’m struggling to get past THIS BOOK IS AMAZING AND YOU NEED IT), but should be on Grimdark Magazine soon. Sistersong is the story of three siblings, retelling the ‘Twa Sisters’ folk ballad. It is set in a late antique Britain just before the coming of the Saxons, and tells of the society and struggles encountered by high-born women (and trans men – it features a character who we would call transmasculine today). Pre-order it from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    In terms of YA, the three books I loved most have one thing in common: they are all retellings in one way or another. Legendborn, These Violent Delights and Dark and Deepest Red are uttely different, but I love all of them unreservedly. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is a reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai. Constantly in conversation with the famous play, These Violent Delights surpasses its source material by weaving a tale of colonialism, racial tension and supernatural plague with the memorable characters based on Romeo and Juliet, accompanied by a host of side characters that have just as much personality. Check out my review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    I spent much of 2020 reading books based on medieval legends. But Legendborn is the one Arthurian-inspired novel that truly stood out from the crop. I loved this contemporary YA fantasy so much. Set on a university campus and featuring a heroine going go college early, Tracy Deonn reimagines the Knights of the Round Table as a supernatural secret society. Mixed in with are themes of Black Girl Magic, slavery and racism in the US. My review’s here, and you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore was one of the first books I read in 2020 and it has stayed on my mind throughout the year. Combining the Strasbourg Dancing Plague of the early 16th century with the modern story of a girl and magical shoes, McLemore manages to write a near-perfect book (yes, Anna-Marie McLemore meets medieval legend is catnip for Fab). As all their books, Dark and Deepest Red features lyrical writing, queer characters and a Latinx twist. Order yourself a copy from Blackwell’s here.

    The three children’s book I chose are very different from each other, but I fell in love with all of them. A Kind of Spark, Orion Lost and The House of Hidden Wonders show the breadth of amazing children’s books currently being published in the UK. Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm is the first middle grade space sci-fi I’ve read and it was wonderful. Featuring a rag-tag crew, a lot of failure and a compelling narrative, this one snuck into my heart. I love it when characters are challenged and forced to learn from their mistakes, and that is definitely the case here. Get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll is high up on my list of favourite middle grade books I’ve ever read. Featuring an own-voices autistic girl fighting for her goals, I feel like this should be required reading for everyone. Eleven year old Addie finds out about historic witch prosecutions in her Scottish town, and feeling a kinship with these women persecuted for being different, decides that she wants to dedicate a memorial to them. READ IT! See my full review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling is also set in Scotland, however, this is a historical detective story (including a young Sherlock Holmes!). Addressing disability, this story also deals with difference and acceptance, and focuses on found family. I loved this charming and thrilling story and highly recommend it. Read my full review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    This list wouldn’t be complete without some graphic novels/mangas! My favourites this year were Vinland Saga, Mooncakes and The Daughters of Ys. Vinland Saga by Yakoto Mukimura was my re-introduction to the world of Anime and Manga – a good friend watched the Anime series with me, combining my love for Viking legend with her passion for visual story telling. This (long-running) manga series is the story of Thorfinn, a young boy who loses his father and is raised as a warrior among enemies. The narrative follows King Canute and the Vikings in England – that’s about as far as I’ve gotten, I’ve only read the first five volumes. I can’t wait to read more of my favourite disaster boy next year! Order a copy of the first volume from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux is based on a Breton folktale, tells a wonderfully dark story and has the most amazing art. I randomly picked this up in a shop and ended up loving it so much. Two royal sisters, Rozenn and Dahut both fight for their city in their own ways, and suitors to the princess mysteriously disappear in a city protected by magical walls… Order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Last on this list is the book that reignited my love for graphic novels this year: Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu. This adorable queer YA fantasy about werewolves, friendship and first love got me out of a massive reading slump during the first lockdown and I can’t rave about it enough. It is wonderful and cute and makes life better. Get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Something Special

    Summer Reading Blast

    Hello friends! If this were a normal summer, us UK book nerds would be queuing for things at YALC this weekend, so I thought it would be fun to do a round-up post of some supernatural YA to read this summer! I’ve read and enjoyed all of these, so I hope you will find something to pick up too.

    DISCLAIMER: I received e-ARCs of all of these books via Netgalley in exchange for my honest reviews.

    The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi doesn’t actually come out until September 22nd, but it’s worth the wait. The sequel to The Gilded Wolves takes the crew to Russia to try and save Laila… As the bookish community knows, a group heist novel is one of the best trends to come out of YA fantasy, and Roshani Chokshi does them better than most: diverse, full of history and mythology, with complex characters! Her protagonists are from marginalised backgrounds, autistic and queer, and exceedingly well-written, and I highly recommend this series (although the book ends on an evil cliffhanger, so be warned). Get a copy from Waterstones here!

    Filipino-American debut author Janella Angeles’ Where Dreams Descend is the tale of Kallia, a showgirl wanting to prove herself in the male-dominated world of stage magic. Joining a competition in the city of Glorian against all odds, she and her mentor, Demarco, soon are up against much more than either of them bargained for. Reminiscent of cult favourites such as The Night Circus and Caraval, Where Dreams Descend takes the reader into a world of illusion and glamour, both of the magical and the mundane kind. While this won’t be my new favourite book – it is too trope-heavy and reminiscent of mid-2010s YA for my personal taste and not gritty and philosophical enough, I see this being a summer hit and something much of YA fantasy fandom will love. Get your copy from Waterstones once it comes out on the 25th of August.

    Lobizona by Romina Garber is YA fantasy’s answer to illegal immigration meets Argentinian werewolves, out on the 4th of August. Telling the story of Manuela Azul, a young girl hidden away in Miami with her mother due to their undocumented state and her strange eyes, Lobizona deals with what it is like to be different in a world not set up for people who don’t fit society’s narrow mold, be that our human world or a more supernatural one. In a world where women are witches and men are werewolves, Manu is a unique hybrid, discovering her powers after running away from ICE and joining a sort of ‘magic school’. It is an interesting concept, and I loved the way it was set up, but the execution was predictable at times and failed to keep me immersed in the story. Manu herself was a bit of a Mary Sue character, and I was more invested in the side characters, who were more complex. But definitely a summer read to recommend! Order a copy off Book Depository here.

    While the three preceding books are all very clearly fantasy, this last book, Here Lie the Secrets by Emma Young, is more of a paranormal mystery. When Mia was thirteen, her best friend Holly died. But to Mia, Holly isn’t truly gone, though she’s never admitted that to anyone else. Years later, Mia is spending the summer in New York, when she meets Rav, a parapsychology student and ends up involved in the investigation of a haunted house. While Here Lie the Secrets is about ghosts and mysteries, it ends up being much more about self-discovery, dealing with trauma and growing up. It is a wonderful example of YA truly written for a teenage audience. Mia undergoes such a journey of growth over the course of the book that will resonate with many young people reading Here Lie the Secrets, and struggling with the changes coming with finishing school and starting a new part of life. The book as a whole is charming and compelling, and I do recommend getting yourself a copy from Waterstones (it’s out now).

  • Something Special

    The Arthurian Megapost

    This is something I’ve been cooking up for quite a while – I’ve been reading and collecting some of the hottest recent stories based on Arthurian myth! I love all the diversity that these authors have brought into medieval legend, and I’m sure you will find something that intrigues you!

    Look at this pile of books!

    A honorable mention needs to go out to Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, which will be published later this year. This modern take on the Arthurian legend features a black heroine, a secret society of descendants of King Arthur and his knights and magicians calling themselves Merlins! I have been excited for this ever since it was first announced, but sadly haven’t been able to read it yet. Pre-order via Book Depository.

    So. King Arthur, in space. But make it gay. This is the basic premise of the wonderfully quirky Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy. Ari, who in this incarnation happens to be a girl, finds out that she is actually Arthur reincarnated when she pulls Excalibur out of a stone in an intergalactic amusement park, leading to a romp through space, a fight against an evil corporation, and, of course, the wooing of Queen Gwen. A thoroughly modern take on the legends, this reinterpretation nevertheless features many of the classical elements of the Arthurian tales, while packaging the quest as a space heist with a queer ensemble crew. I loved it! Get yourself a copy from Waterstones here!

    In this just-published sequel to Once & Future, Sword in the Stars, Ari, Gwen, Merlin and company are on the run again and this time they are going native: back to the time of the original King Arthur! But of course, traveling through time and space does not go as planned, and the group gets separated, shaking up the dynamics of the team again. Many shenanigans ensue, and our crew of queer heroes shake up the Middle Ages and shape Arthurian legend into the story it should always have been. Sword in the Stars is a great conclusion to the duology, and I devoured every page. Full of twists and turns, these books are inclusive, fast-paced and thrilling story-telling as it should be. More of this kind of writing, please! This lovely book is available from Portal Bookshop here.

    Kiersten White is one of the greats of current YA, especially when it comes to retellings. After having had her go at Vlad Dracul (the And I Darken trilogy) and Frankenstein (The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein), she has now turned her attention towards Arthurian myth, with a trilogy starting with The Guinevere Deception. A mysterious girl posing as Guinevere is to marry Arthur, sent by Merlin to protect the young king. Lancelot is an outcast, and a girl, which I really do hope is a hint for queer stories to come in the sequels. The story starts off slow, but does pick up towards the later parts and poses more questions than it answers. The Guinevere Deception is a decent start to a new trilogy, and I am curious to see where the second book takes the story, although I am not as in love with the series as I was hoping to be. You can get yourself a copy via Hive!

    Written by Thomas Wheeler and illustrated by comics legend Frank Miller, Cursed is the book incarnation of what is intended to become a franchise. Announced from the start as a Netflix show (slated for release this year) as well as a book, I imagine this version of Arthurian legend focusing on Nimue will work better on TV. Nimue and her people are fey, hunted due to their race by the tyrannical Uther and friendly with young Arthur and Morgan. It is grand, and written in a manner that puts its weight on images and plot, rather than character development and prose. I have to admit that I struggled to get through the book, as I could not connect to the writing or the characters. I do hope that the change of medium will help the story find its audience, as I think Nimue could be a fascinating character if given enough development. If you are interested, you can get a copy via Hive.

    Published in March of this year in the UK, Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone is a period-set mashup of Arthurian myth. This Arthur is brash, young, and power-hungry, expanding his influence out from a small band of men based in London. If I’m being honest, I struggled a lot to get through this book, although I had been looking forward to reading it – it took me almost three months to finish it. It is fast paced, and the language used is rather crass and modern, breaking the illusion for me. This led to a disconnect between story and characters, and I was unable to immerse myself in the novel. While I do not usually mind authors taking creative license with historical source material, having dialogue that is clearly twenty-first century in a book set in the early medieval period does not work for me. I do see this being a personal preference, and I’m sure that By Force Alone will be a book that is great for a different type of reader! If you are interested, you can get a signed copy via Forbidden Planet.

    April Genevieve Tucholke’s Seven Endless Forests is a very loose retelling of Arthurian myth, including as many elements reminiscent of Norse stories as English. It is a companion novel to 2018’s The Boneless Mercies, which loosely retold a feminist Beowulf. Tucholke’s novels are slow, deliberate and infinitely poetical. They are quiet books reminiscent of medieval epics, centering on women shamelessly concerned with seeking glory and pursuing their personal aims, ignoring society’s conventions and expectations in favour of those. Here, the central element taken from Arthurian legend is the true ruler’s sword, with greatness thrust not on the most willing but the chosen one. Tucholke’s take is nuanced and special, and I am in love with her books. Get this one from Waterstones!

    Giles Kristian’s Lancelot approaches the Arthurian myth from the viewpoint of the eponymous Lancelot, warrior supreme. Following along from Lancelot’s childhood to his time with Arthur past his clash with the legendary king. More historical novel than fantasy, Lancelot nevertheless contains some elements of speculative fiction – anything else would be hard in Arthurian legend with characters like Merlin! It is well written and compelling, and makes the men behind the legends come to life. Very recently, Giles Kristian has published a sequel, Camelot, featuring Lancelot’s son Galahad as the first-person PoV. Order a copy of Lancelot via Hive.