Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book review, launch + giveaway: No Attachments by Tiffany King

Today I’m thrilled to be participating in the release day launch for Tiffany King’s New Adult fiction novel, No Attachments.

Not only is this my first time actually doing a book birthday post, but today’s post also features my first NA review.

Reading this novel has made me realise that I have actually read this genre before, – I just think that in the past, I, like most others I’m sure, tended to lump this together with the general and contemporary adult fiction category instead of defining it for what it is today.

Now since that was years ago, I technically consider myself to be a newbie to this genre, so for me, being part of Tiffany’s No Attachment virtual book launch is a wonderful opportunity to not only spotlight her book, but also to highlight the NA genre.

Below you can find a synopsis of the book, my review, information about Tiffany and where you can find her, as well as a giveaway.

You can also find information about her book tour and a link to the book tour schedule (click on the No Attachments banner to view the list of bloggers participating in the event. 

About  No Attachments

(Summary provided courtesy of InkSlinger PR and can also be found on Goodreads):

Ashton Garrison walked away from a privileged life in order to hide from the one thing she's not willing to face. She knows she left behind a trail of pain, but in the long run, her betrayal will hurt less than the truth.

She now has one goal: Live life to the fullest with no regrets and no attachments.

She has high hopes that a move to new surroundings will provide the escape she desires, but what Ashton doesn't count on is how fate always seems to find a way to screw up any good plan.

Sometimes, when love comes knocking, the pull is too strong not to answer. Suddenly, what she thought she wanted to escape from is what Ashton now wants more than anything.

Nathan Lockton has one mission: find his target and complete the task he was hired to do—no attachments and no emotion necessary. He's done it over and over again.

What he thought was a typical lost-and-found job has turned into a life examining moment as Nathan is forced to deal with something he has always ignored--his feelings. Now faced with a decision, Nathan must choose to either follow his heart or complete the job.

Love can come when you least expect it. The question is: If the odds are stacked against you, how far are you willing to go for the one you love?

My review:

Having not read any of Tiffany King’s books before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I received No Attachments for review.

In the past, I’ve often found that when one usually reads a book by an author whose books you’ve never read, you experience either one of two emotions: relief because you don’t find yourself involuntarily dreading the thought that it won’t measure up to his/her previous books (regardless of whether or not they fit within the same genre); uncertainty because while you may like the premise, it may end up not living up to your expectations.

So what did I think of No Attachments?

While by no means a perfect read, the book is written in a tone that’s surprisingly light-hearted, but at the same time, still manages to deal with issues of love, life and loss in a way that is matter-of-fact and sincere without being saccharinely nauseating.

The book starts off with a bang, introducing us to Ashton and her crazy friends who find themselves at a local bar on a mission to get Ash to, ahem, hook up and have a steamy, but no strings attached one night stand – preferably with the hottest guy in the room.

Now one might assume that from what you’ve just read that Ash and her friends are shallow hussies who are constantly on the prowl for the latest and hottest piece of man candy the small town of Woodfalls has to offer; but the truth is that Ash is just a young woman barely settling into her twenties, trying to make the most of her life while still she still has the chance to.

Harbouring a painful secret and on the run from her past, the little town she’s settled in offers her a chance to do everything on her bucket list that she’s always wanted to.

In walks the delectable Nathan. 

An “investigative journalist” by trade, the man practically oozes sex appeal the very moment he sets foot in the door of the bar. New to the town, Nathan is there for one purpose only – to find the girl his client has paid him to.

Of course, things aren’t that simple – especially when Nathan and Ash actually end up getting to know one another. And soon, what started as something that progressed from the possibility of a one-night-only hook-up, to a no strings attached affair, becomes so much more than what it is.

But, with so many secrets between them, and with time not exactly being a friend of Ashton’s,  the one question that begs to be answered, is whether or not there’ll be a future for them.

No Attachments is the kind of read that is quick and easy to read. I sped through it with ease and for the most part, definitely enjoyed many aspects of it.

However, the concept is nothing new, and while written in a tone that I found to be dead-on for this particular genre (Tiffany is phenomenal at that by the way), it didn’t offer anything new that really made it stand out for me.

The characters, while certainly likeable enough, seem to follow an already tried and tested formula – one that I’ve seen all too often before. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing – but I do think that if given a little more thought, any character, regardless of whether they’re the typecasts you’ve seen before, can be presented in a fresh and engaging manner.

I think what particularly detracts from the novel is the instant lust that quickly morphs into love aspect of the book. While I appreciate Tiffany’s efforts to make her protagonist question her instantaneous reaction to the male lead, it felt to me more like a deliberate device used to compensate for the fast-paced relationship that develops between Ash and Nathan.

What I did enjoy on the other hand, was the witty and amusing banter between the characters. There’s such a sense of ease and camaraderie between Ash and Nathan, that’s it hard not to find yourself giggling your way through this novel.

The sexually suggestive innuendos practically drip off the pages and will have you smiling, blushing and thoroughly enjoying the parry between the two – so much so, that in spite of the yourself, you’ll find yourself just wishing they could side-step all the sexy flirting and set the sheets on fire already.

(I can’t believe I just said that - given the fact that I certainly had my reservations regarding their quickly developing relationship. But, while this was an issue for me, I do think it's only fair to point out that her Tiffany's hilarious dialogue will definitely cause you in many instances to forget about many of the issues you may have with the book)

Surprisingly enough, you’ll also find yourself feeling both sympathy and empathy for Ash, for whom time is seemingly limited. I did, however feel, that the part of the novel that specifically dealt with Ash’s secret, felt a little rushed.

I won’t go into too much detail, but I think that had there been more time spent on this specific aspect, the novel would have definitely packed a punch.

Having said that though, I don’t think No Attachments is a bad novel at all.

Tiffany King is certainly a very talented author – one who especially excels at writing thoroughly engaging dialogue and getting the tone for this genre spot on. Fans of NA and newcomers to the genre will definitely enjoy this highly readable, funny and romantic read.

I know I, with the exception of the issues I had with the book, certainly did.

P.S. Look out for the romantic picnic scene. That one will have you both sighing and swooning over the sweetness of it all.

Author Bio:

Tiffany King is the author of The Saving Angels Series, Wishing for Someday Soon, Forever Changed, Unlikely Allies, Miss Me Not and Jordyn: A Daemon Hunter Novel book one.

Writer by day and book fanatic the rest of the time, she is now pursuing her life-long dream of weaving tales for others to enjoy.
She has a loving husband and two wonderful kids. (Five, if you count her three spoiled cats).

Her addictions include: Her iphone and ipad, chocolate, Diet Coke, chocolate, Harry Potter, chocolate, and her favorite TV shows. Want to know what they are? Just ask.

Where you can find her:
Twitter- @AuthorTiffany
Facebook- Tiffany King
Pintrest- Tiffany King
Goodreads- Tiffany King


Friday, April 19, 2013

Book review: Anna Dressed in Blood

Anna Dressed in Blood
A ghost hunter meets his match and falls in love when he comes face to face with a blood-soaked and vengeful ghost with a tragic past.

Disclaimer: A shortened version of this book review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (Orchard Books)

It's been years since I've read a good gothic horror romance, so I was pretty excited when Anna Dressed in Blood arrived on my desk.

Having had this book highly recommended to me by bookish friends who've done nothing but praise this book, I just had to give it a go.

And boy, what an absolute treat this book ended up being.

Anna Dressed in Blood proves itself to be a ghost story filled with the kind of spellbinding power that will not only have you enraptured and biting your nails as the tension in this novel builds, but will also ensure that you’ll end up sleeping with the lights on.

For me, any ghost story that manages to legitimately creep you out in that way is a definite winner.

Not only is Anna Dressed in Blood is a spine-chilling, beautiful and sinister read, but it's also dark, bloody, and contradictorily enough, hauntingly romantic.

In short, it's very much like a nocturne in written form and - right from the start -I was drawn in by its liltingly eerie melodiousness and the biting, no-holds barred approach to its gloriously dark and bloody scenes.

This is a novel that will cause your insides to twist and turn as you desperately wait in anticipation to see who will die next, or who will manage to escape by a hair's breadth. 

Not quite sure whether to believe me or not? Let me give you an idea of what you can expect.

Her name is Anna.

Anna Korlov.

She lives in a house in Thunder Bay, where the residents, who mostly think she's nothing but an urban legend, have named her Anna Dressed in Blood. 

With her writhing hair, blood-soaked dress, coal-black eyes and prominent veins snaking across her skin, she's a terrifying and vindictive visage who tears into the flesh of any soul who dares to walk into her home.

No one who dares to enter walks out alive - at least not until Cas Lowood shows up on the scene.

Cas Lowood is not your average guy.

He lives in a world of darkness, spending most of his nights hunting the dead. Following in his father’s footsteps, Cas lives and breathes for the killing; highly skilled and fearless in the face of death.

In all his years of stalking ghosts, and with the exception of his father’s killer, he’s never failed to take out any phantom haunting the streets.

Then Anna shows up.

When a prank that goes horribly wrong ends up with Cas finding himself in Anna’s house, the ghost he stumbles upon is like an unholy vision of terror come to life.

No longer a girl who was wearing a pretty white dress when she was murdered back in 1958, the apparition he encounters is a whirlwind of rage and bloodcurdling ghastliness. 

With her demon-black eyes and blood-soaked countenance, Anna proves to be impervious to both Cas and his magic-fuelled athame.

Expecting a painful death at her hands, he's beyond surprised when Anna, for whatever reason, decides to spare him.

Of course, when he decides, with the help of his new-found friends (one of whom has his own set of witchy skills) to go back to try to finish her off, Cas discovers that there’s so much more to the wrathful ghost than he expected.

And soon, he finds himself more than a little intrigued with the ghost-girl whose devastatingly tragic tale slowly emerges and throws him for a loop - and for the first time - Cas finds himself not wanting kill a ghost, but rather to save one.

Anna Dressed in Blood is truly one of the most magnificent books I’ve read this year, so far.  Not just because the plotline is so unique, but because the gorgeous prose ensures that you get sucked into the novel,  regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of horror or ghost stories.

There’s at once a mellifluous, unflinching and gloomy quality to her prose that not only persuades you to keep reading, but makes you long to join in on the ghost-hunting escapades in spite of yourself.

There’s also an almost-but-not-quite Shakespearean quality to the novel that will not only have you rooting for Cas and Anna’s budding and fantastically understated romance, but will also make your heart bleed for Anna, whose story proves to be  a wretched tale filled with heartbreak and woe.

But, it's not just the romance that will capture you. In fact, I consider that to be a wonderful by-product of a novel that is jam-packed with magic, mayhem and spine-tingling suspense.

Cas is a fantastic character and has such a likeable voice.

I have to confess I don't often read books that are written from a strictly male point of view, so he proved to be quite a pleasant and welcome surprise (he also made me realise that I need to read male POV books on a more regular basis).

He's ballsy without being an egotistic badass, independent without treating his fellow peers any differently and although he's a total kickass at what he does, Kendare portrays him in a way that shows that he's not infallible.

The supporting cast of characters give this novel an extra kick and will make you feel as if they aren't being pushed aside and being placed in the novel for the sake of convenience.  

You'll especially appreciate the fact that the popular girl in this story is actually a NICE girl, as opposed to the usual stereotypical casting type one often sees in chick lit.

Of course, for me, Anna's story proved to be a deeply unsettling and heart-breaking tale.

What makes this novel standout for me is that she not only manages to create a believably haunted  and haunting character in Anna, but she also gets the reader to not only empathise with Anna (despite what she's done), but to actually like her too.

The unexpected twists and turns this novel takes only adds to the chilling atmosphere and will have you clenching your fists in dread to see how it all ends.

I don't want to give anything away, but I can say that with an ending like that, I'm counting down the days until the sequel comes out (it’s out in the US already).

Filled with relatively graphic descriptions of gore, I'd probably not pass this on to a very young reader. The book also deals with a fair amount of occult themes, so if you're not comfortable with that sort of thing, you may want to give it a miss.

Personally, I loved it and would definitely recommend it for those looking for a book tinged with both elements of horror and romance.  It's definitely going to be in my top 10 the end of this year.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Author guest post: Suzi Davis on magic in her book world

Today I’m featuring a guest post from author, Suzi Davis.

I first got in touch with Suzi after reading a blogger’s review of Amber Frost, the first book in a young adult fantasy trilogy.

Having read and reviewed the book, I can tell you that the one thing that really stood out for me, was Suzi’s incorporation of ancient and Celtic-inspired magic within her novel.

Now with Silver Dew (the second book in the trilogy) and Sapphire Sun already out, I couldn’t help but want to revisit the magic in the world I first got to know in Amber Frost (I’ll be reading and reviewing both Silver Dew and Sapphire Sun, so keep an eye out for that).

Luckily for me, Suzi was very obliging and kindly agreed to write a post about the magic that has inspired her trilogy.

As usual, before I hand over the reins, here’s some more information about Silver Dew and Sapphire Sun.

You read my review of Amber Frost (book 1) here. 

About Silver Dew
Just weeks before graduating from high school, Grace is running for her life with her magical and mysterious boyfriend, Sebastian, by her side.

An ancient magic has been awakened inside of Grace that is powerful, frightening and barely within her control.

The Others, who possess their own dangerous magic, are hunting them, and their only hope is for Grace to learn how to harness her incredible powers to stop them.

The answers they seek are hidden within a life lived thousands of years ago, shrouded in mystery, magic and deceit.

When their past catches up to them, Grace and Sebastian are faced with a truth that shakes the foundation of their relationship, their lives and everything they thought they knew.

It is up to Grace to learn to control the Lost Magic, to right the wrongs that have been done, and to discover once and for all, who she really is

Add Silver Dew to your Goodreads TBR pile (Scroll down for more info on Sapphire Sun).

Over to Suzi

Lost Magic

When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark. To be honest, I’m (nearly) 30 years old and I still don’t like the dark. I sleep with the hallway light on if my husband’s not home and I would never walk anywhere by myself at night, no matter how safe.

I blame my overactive imagination, a writer’s friend and foe. But when I was a child, it wasn’t just my imagination that caused me to be scared of the dark, it was because I didn’t know what might be lurking in the dark and there weren’t yet limits on what I didn’t know.

If I felt it, if I could imagine it, I knew it could also be real.

As adults, there aren’t many things that we still believe in on faith alone – religion perhaps, love (for some) but generally we want to only believe in what we can see, measure and prove. As we grow, we become somewhat jaded by life and lose our natural innocence.

Part of the magic of childhood is that the world is not only still full of possibilities but that these possibilities are limitless. Children live in a world where magic is real and they experience it every day.

A child’s world often doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t have to! There are monsters and magic and mysteries in childhood, and it is amazing and exciting and real. I miss that.

The real “lost magic” is the magic of our childhood, a time that we can never get back. This is what truly inspired The Lost Magic series and the idea for the Lost Magic itself. I wanted to create a modern world where magic is real, where possibilities are limitless, where strange things happen that you simply can’t explain.

I wanted to show that love at first sight can still exist, and that it can be honest and magical and real. I wanted to not only capture the magic of first love, but to also recreate that exciting, mysterious, limitless feeling of innocence and possibilities unknown.

The way we once were, the way the world looked, the magic that we used to feel and still can: that is what The Lost Magic is about.

From Amber Frost (Book 1 of The Lost Magic):

“I’ve always thought that my influence over events was limited by what’s possible but those limits may have been self-imposed by my own notions of what’s possible and what isn’t. Or perhaps if I want something to be possible, it can be,” Sebastian mused. “This opens up a whole new world of…”

“Possibilities?” I finished for him, my voice faint.


Thanks for stopping by Suzi! 

About Sapphire Sun
You can't escape the past. You can try to forget but it never truly leaves you. It is a part of who are you are; it has shaped you, it will shape your future.

It is the shadow behind you. You can't outrun it, you can't hide from it or deny it - the past will always exist. Who you once were is still a part of who you are today. This, I now understand.

My name is Gracelynn Stevenson. I tried to destroy The Lost Magic.

I tried to erase the past. I tried to make things go back to the way that they once were. I failed.

And now all the happiness I thought I had found, has been lost to the shadows.

Add Sapphire Sun to your Goodreads TBR pile. 

About Suzi:
What should I say about myself?

Amber Frost was my first novel and I have now added two more books (Silver Dew & Sapphire Sun) to The Lost Magic series. It is a Young-Adult paranormal romance series set in Victoria, BC.

I have been reading a lot of YA books lately but I also read books in pretty much every genre and welcome recommendations!

When I'm not reading or writing, you'll find me spending time with my hubbie and our beautiful little monsters (we have two boys under the age of 4).

I also work part-time for my local school district, supporting students who have special educational needs.

I was born in Surrey, England but currently live in a small town on Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada and get to enjoy living in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

I love to be outside (when it's warm enough!) and spend a lot of time exploring out local parks, lakes, rivers, and mountains.

Where to find her:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Author guest post: Jenny Miller on pushing the boundaries in YA fiction

So on my blog today, I have a guest post from Jenny Miller, author of Asylum –a YA historical paranormal thriller that is the first book in a trilogy.

When Jenny first contacted me, one of the first things that struck me about Asylum is that it deals with murder, insanity, and the different types of therapy and electrical shock treatments found in the Sanatorium that June, the protagonist of the story, finds herself in.

Being a huge fan of some of the darker YA fiction novels out there, especially the ones that tend to fearlessly explore the more controversial subjects, I couldn’t resist asking Jenny to share her thoughts about tackling tough subjects in YA.

Let’s face it – people are always finding reasons to criticise this genre, and the argument that many should be banned or censored, is one that I think won’t go away any time soon.

While I certainly think that parents should play a role in some of the more mature YA fiction out there, I definitely don’t think it should impact other readers’ individual choice and right to read the fiction that they want to read.

With this mind, Jenny gives us her take on tackling tough and taboo subjects in YA fiction.

Before I hand over to her, here’s some information about her book, which is available right now. 

About Asylum:
June Foster’s summer is limping along.

Her life on a 1950′s farm in eastern Washington is boring–full of milking cows, picking apricots and tending to the chicken coops.

Her only friends are her record player and her books. When gorgeous, turquoise-eyed Frank falls into her world, her life becomes anything but ordinary. June falls for Frank hard and fast–he’s beautiful, impossibly strong, and capable of things ordinary humans are not.

But she’s wary about his father Jonas, a creepy man with an agenda. She should be.

Suddenly June is deathly ill, falling in and out of consciousness. When she recovers, June and Frank discover Jonas’s deadly plans for her–and June takes revenge.

Convicted of murder, declared insane and sentenced to life at Washington Pines Sanitarium, June is stuck. Jonas’s plans are reaching her beyond the grave, and she suspects that there’s a lot more going on in the sanitarium than group therapy and electric shocks.

Something evil has followed her here, or maybe it was waiting for her all along. If Frank doesn’t break her out soon, she’ll lose her mind–and her life.

Add Asylum to your Goodreads TBR pile.

Over to Jenny:

YA Novels: What’s not to write?

While writing my young adult novel ASYLUM, I was constantly asking myself what I could and could not write about.

Without giving too much away, the book deals with murder (though not gruesomely), teen pregnancy, blossoming relationships and unstable families.

Was I pushing the envelope with a sixteen year-old pregnant character? Could I say the f-word? Could a young girl commit murder?

The long and the short of it is, yes, I could.

It was and is my book, and I can write about whatever I want. But the subjects I’ve chosen aren’t usually discussed in young adult writing, unless they’re taking place in an alternate universe (and therefore not exactly taboo).

Take the TWILIGHT saga, for example. Sex? Yep. Pregnancy? Yep. Teen marriage? Uh huh. But it’s all with a vampire, and not realistic to our world, so it doesn’t exactly push the envelope. The HUNGER GAMES series contains murder by the main character, but it’s in self-defense, and part of a game in a dystopian world.

My book delves into the paranormal, but it’s a touch more realistic than TWILIGHT and the HUNGER GAMES.

But still, the question is, what subjects do authors use and which do they shy away from in teen books?

I think (and I’m generalizing here—I’m sure there are exceptions) that young adult novels that are set in this world, in present time, tend to shy away from sex, violence, drugs, and language.

But once they move to an alternate world, everything is fair game. A dystopian or fantasy world lets you break all the rules and create your own.

So what topics should young adult writers cover and which should they steer away from? In all honesty, my answers are everything, and nothing.

I believe that kids today are much smarter and more self-aware than we give them credit for. Bella Swan didn’t spawn a thousand teen marriages, and Katniss Everdeen didn’t cause a band of young girls to pick up bows and arrows and start shooting.

I truly think that we can write about whatever we want (as long as it’s intriguing, smart and well-told) and there are very few subjects that should be taboo.  It’s all about how you handle it. As long as you’re not blatantly encouraging murder, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, etc., go for it.

Chances are kids have been exposed to these subjects long before they read it in your book.
That being said, parents should always, always pre-screen the books their kids are reading to make sure the content is appropriate for their age and personality. Just because they can read beyond their grade level does not mean they should.

Books at higher reading levels are more mature in grammar and in content. And unless you’re prepared to answer questions and discuss the subject matter with them, don’t let them read the book.

Thanks for stopping by Jenny.

More about Jenny:

Jenny Miller grew up in Seattle, writing sappy (illustrated!) novels for her obliging parents.

She studied creative writing at the University of Washington and holds a Masters in Teaching from Seattle University.

She still lives in the Emerald City with her husband, two kids, and a dog who thinks he’s a cat. ASYLUM is her first novel.

Where you can find her:
On Goodreads
Her Website & Blog

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Stolen Magic blog tour: The best things about magic in MG fiction by author Stephanie Burgis

As part of the Stolen Magic book blog tour, it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome Stephanie Burgis, author of Stolen Magic – the third book in the Kat Incorrigible series – to my blog today.

As a huge fan of fantasy, I’m always interested in the magical abilities and aspects of the characters and the world in which they live – whether or not it’s a YA novel or a book for younger readers. 

Luckily for me, when Stephanie sent through an e-mail, giving me the option to suggest a topic, magic was the first thing that came to my mind.

And of course, seeing that Stephanie’s novels are filled with all sorts of wondrously strange magic, she was only happy to oblige.

So, in today’s tour stop, she’s written about her favourite things about magic in middle-grade fiction. This post is one I’m so excited about featuring, because I agree with every single point she’s made about a subject that is so universally appealing to young and old readers alike.

Before I hand over the reins to Stephanie, here’s some brief information about Stolen Magic. 

About Stolen Magic

In this conclusion to the Regency-era fantasy trilogy Kirkus Reviews calls “enjoyable mayhem,” Kat is tasked with saving her family, the Order of the Guardians, and England itself.

With just days to go before her sister Angeline’s long-delayed wedding to Frederick Carlyle, the impetuous Kat Stephenson has resigned herself to good behavior. 

But Kat’s initiation into the magical Order of the Guardians is fast approaching, and trouble seems to follow her everywhere.

First, Kat must contend with the wretched Mrs. Carlyle’s attempts to humiliate her sister; the arrival of the mysterious Marquise de Valmont, who bears suspicious resemblance to Kat’s late mother; and Frederick’s bewitching cousin Jane, who has Charles Stephenson tripping over his feet.

But when a menacing boy with powerful magic starts hunting Kat, a dastardly villain tries to kill Angeline, and the Guardians face a magical robbery that could spell the end of their Order, propriety becomes the least of Kat’s concerns.

Can Kat save her sister’s life, the Order of the Guardians, and England itself before it’s too late?

Add Stolen Magic to your TBR.

You can also add Book 1 (Kat, Incorrigible) and Book 2 (Renegade Magic) to your Goodreads TBR pile.

And now, over to the lovely Stephanie.

My Top 5 Favorite Things about Magic in MG Fiction

1. The sense of wonder.

I really enjoy fantasy novels written for adults, but one common theme is that they’re often told from a jaded viewpoint: the urban PI who happens to be a vampire/a wizard and has already seen it all; the sorceress who’s been fighting a corrupt political system for years… Not so in MG fiction!

And as much as those darker novels can be deeply rewarding, exploring important truths about the world…

…well, honestly, it can be awfully fun to discover a magical world for the very first time without any intervening layers of cynicism to dim the view!

In general, I’ve found a lack of cynicism and an openness to wonder in most MG fantasy novels. The magic tends to feel truly magical, and readers get to feel the same “Wow!” reactions as the heroine or hero.

Readers fell in love with Harry Potter’s world just as Harry did, with open-mouthed wonder at all those magical delights. Even as the hidden shades of darkness underneath Harry’s wizarding world were revealed in later books, the series never lost a sense of fun about the pure magical possibility of it all.

The same is true for so many other MG fantasy novels I love, including Sarah Prineas’s The Magic Thief, Ysabeau Wilce’s Flora Segunda and more.

2. The sense of humor.

Of course not every MG fantasy novel is a comedy, but overall, there’s a joyful lightness to MG fantasy, and an irrepressible sense of fun to most of the MG fantasy novels I read, even when dark, serious elements are also incorporated.

One perfect example is Caitlen Rubino-Bradway’s wonderful Ordinary Magic.

There’s a lot of darkness in her magical world, there’s serious peril and bigotry against characters like the (fabulous) heroine - but oh, that book is just pure fun, delightful and funny despite all the serious issues at stake.

And oh, do I love sinking into a fun, funny novel of magical adventure!

3. The family ties.

MG fantasy novels can cover all sorts of topics, but exploring or cementing family ties - as the heroine either finds her place within her own family or creates a new family out of friends and mentors - is a recurring theme among a lot of MG fantasies I love.

While YA novels cover the years when teens are learning to grow up and separate (like it or not) from their birth-families to become independent adults, MG novels are mostly about kids still deeply enmeshed in their family lives - or else looking for new families to protect them and give them roots.

As someone who comes from a big, close family myself - and someone who’s busy building a new family of my own, with one young child and a new baby on the way - I am constantly fascinated by those family dynamics.

4. The Sense of Strength

MG-age kids, to be brutally honest, are among the most powerless people in society. Generally, we can hope that that’s a benign situation; they’re being looked after by responsible adults who nurture and protect them.

But the fact is, they have very little independence as compared to adults or even teens, and they’re told what to do in most areas of life.

In what can’t really be coincidence, one recurring theme that comes back again and again in MG fantasies is the theme of finding your own strength.

Abused and unloved Harry Potter turns out to be the great hope of his wizarding generation; orphaned and homeless Daine turns out to have powerful wild magic in Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic.

Impoverished and previously-uneducated Miri, in Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy, is sneered at by her snobby new tutors…but turns the tables on them by using her new education to start a revolution in her own village.

In MG fantasy novels, young readers get to see other kids their age (or just a bit older) claim their own strength and achieve recognition from the community around them, no matter what obstacles stand in their way. It’s incredibly empowering.

5. The Sense of Hope

When I opened up this question - what are the best things about MG fantasy? - on Twitter, @keristars wrote something that really resonated with me:

“I like how ultimately *safe* it is, tbh. Scary things happen, but it's tempered. So it's more of a happy-reading-escape.”

When I read that, I thought: yes. This really is a big part of why I grab so eagerly for new MG fantasies off the shelf.

I never have to worry, when I pick one up, that I might be confronted with a plot of such constant, unremitting darkness that I finish the book feeling utterly miserable, thinking: What’s the point? Life just sucks.

Sad things happen in MG fantasies. There are powerful moments of sorrow and grief, and I’ve sobbed over some of them, heartbroken for the characters. But there’s always, invariably hope by the end - hope that yes, things can get better.

And really, in life, that sense of hope can be the most powerful magic of all.

Thank you so much for your awesome post Stephanie. It was so lovely having you stop by. 

More about Stephanie:

Stephanie Burgis was born in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband, fellow writer Patrick Samphire, their son and their border collie, Maya.

She studied music history as a Fulbright Scholar in Vienna, Austria, earned a Master's degree at the University of Pittsburgh, and worked as a website editor for a British opera company before she began to write fulltime.

She has published almost thirty short stories for adults. Kat, Incorrigible (a.k.a. A Most Improper Magick, in the UK) is her first published novel, followed by Renegade Magic (a.k.a. A Tangle of Magicks, in the UK).

Where you can find her:

Monday, April 1, 2013

Book review: Pantomime

A magical, spellbinding and ferociously clever YA fantasy novel that deals with themes of gender and sexual identity and features characters and jaw-dropping plot twists that will keep you hooked right up until the end.

Pantomime by Laura Lam (Strange Chemistry)
I have to start off by saying that Pantomime has got to be one of the boldest and most unique young adult fantasy novels that I’ve read since Cat Hellisen’s When the Sea is Rising Red. 

Now I probably should have realised this when I read a passage in the book where the main character finds herself being accused of being afflicted with genital warts - but in reality - it was only when Iphigenia Laurus’ naughty little tryst with a boy revealed something about her (that I don’t think I’ve ever seen explored so bravely in YA fiction before) that I realised that this gem of a read was more than just a novel about flying trapeze artists, circus parlour tricks and magic.

Instead, Pantomime proves itself to be a deeply complex, intriguing and exquisitely layered novel that deals with themes of gender and sexual identity and is all about learning to be comfortable  in your own skin and embracing that which sets you apart from everyone else.

The book is cleverly plotted and is ingenious in the manner in which it is structured. I’m afraid I can’t go into detail about it, because I think the way the story unfolds is the best part of the novel and is one of the major contributing factors that add to Pantomime’s distinctiveness.

It’s also one of the reasons that this review is proving to be so hard to write – I want to tell you ALL THE THINGS, but I can’t because you need to experience this book in all of its masterful splendour.

The one thing I will say is that if you read this book very carefully, you’ll be able to pick up some subtle hints that give you an indication of just what exactly is going on.

I certainly had my suspicions about the way Iphigenia and Micah’s (the boy who ran away from home to join the circus) lives were intertwined, but even so, when what I suspected was confirmed, it didn’t lessen the impact of the sheer cleverness of it all.

Because of this, I’ve also seen many people accusing the book of being misleading with regards to its synopsis, but I think, for those who enjoy a good plot twist, when all is finally revealed, you’ll appreciate how clever the synopsis really is.

I know I certainly did.

For me, Pantomime is a deliciously and fiercely intelligent fantasy novel which boasts impressive settings, fantastically diverse characters, strange creatures and a romantic element that will keep you guessing for most of the novel.

I admit that I picked this novel up on the basis of the fact that I enjoyed and loved the settings of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

Of course, when I finally read Pantomime, I realised that the two definitely couldn’t compare, nor were they even remotely similar – something which is not a bad thing at all.

While both settings are incredibly magical in their very nature, Pantomime’s towns and villages are a lot more earthier, with market stalls and vendors providing a backdrop that at once made me think I was in the midst of a Gypsy market, while at the same time conjuring up images of fantastical creatures straight out of a rare and almost unheard of mythological encyclopaedia (I especially love the damselfly).

There are also some steampunk elements scattered throughout the novel that only serves to put Pantomime inyo a category of its own. Because of this, for me, this book had both somewhat of a Victorian feel, combined with picturesque fantasy; which again added to all the aspects that I already loved about this book.

And then there are the characters.

Once again I find myself wishing I could go more into detail, but that would only spoil things for you. To give you a brief summation of it though, I can tell you that Micah and Gene couldn’t be more different, nor could they be more the same.

When we meet Gene, we’re introduced to a girl who is forced to endure a life filled with tea parties, pretty corsets and debutante balls. In reality, our Gene is a bit of a tomboy; preferring to run around, swinging from tree to tree and scampering up buildings surrounded by scaffolding.

Micah on the other hand, is a streetwise runaway who joins a circus and trains to be an aerialist.  When his and Gene’s world collide, both of them soon realise that in a world filled with balancing acts, that maintaining the perfect poise is a lot harder than it seems.

And in a circus filled with magic tricks and illusions, blood secrets may just be what is needed to tip the balancing scales.

Both Micah and Gene are very mysterious, but incredibly likeable characters. They’re the kind of personalities that make you both want to hug and root for them, while at the same time fearing for them because of some of the choices they make.

The relationships and bonds they form with the people around them adds a level of complexity that constantly seems frayed at the edges and taught with tension – both the good and bad kind. 

The supporting and strange characters that feature in Pantomime and encompass the world in which Micah and Gene find themselves thrust in,  are fascinating in the own peculiar way; each with their own share of idiosyncrasies.

Their relationships with Aenea (Micah’s trainer) and Drystan (the clown) make for a romantic element that will have you both swooning, while keeping you on edge. Personally, I found Drystan, with his hooded, broody and secretive eyes, a lot more compelling than Aenea – who, for some reason, I just didn’t gel or connect with.

Still, this didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the novel, and the ending itself, certainly sets the perfect tone for the sequel, Shadowplay, which comes out in 2014. 

Aside from one criticism – that being that for me it felt as if this was written with the idea that one should have already been familiar with the settings and the names of the different places, Pantomime proves to be a work of art.

It’s also one of my first favourite reads of 2013.

I truly applaud Laura Lam for writing a book that knocked me off kilter – I really can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next.

SA author spotlight: Elana Bregin

I’ve got something a little different on my blog for today. As most of you know, I’m more a fan of YA fiction than anything else; and as such, tend to focus my content around anything that’s Young Adult orientated.

However, every now and then I’m asked to host a post that breaks away from what I normally focus on, and today’s post is one such feature. 

Thanks to the lovely Kelly from It’s a Book Thing (who was unable to feature the post on her blog this week), it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome South African author, Elana Bregin to my blog today.

As part of a group of authors who recently attended The 16th Time of the Writer festival, where authors from all over the world participated in discussions and writer panels, Elana has been tagged by Jo-Anne Richards, who was the blog tour’s last stop, to answer a few questions about her book,  Survival Training for Lonely Hearts.

Before I hand the reins over to Elana, who gives a brief introduction and answers those burning questions about her book, here’s some more information about Survival Training for Lonely Hearts.

About the book:
Kate is a burnt-out South African editor at the busy Centaur Press publishing house; over forty and lonely, she is driven to searching for love on the Internet like so many other overworked professionals.

There she encounters the full spectrum of mid-life manhood, from the perilous to the pathetic to the promising.

The challenges of finding a belated soulmate among the men of the apartheid generation pose not a few conundrums for Kate – chief among them, the realisation of how impassable are the gulfs in outlook between the men who cross her inbox and her own personal non-negotiables.

She goes on some dates, accumulates some bruises, and has her eyes opened to a few things about herself along the way. But it is the collision with her own baggage that proves to be the most daunting encounter of all.

The coming into her life of a young African dog is the catalyst that forces her to some painful realisations: in order to find the intimacy she longs for, she first has to deal with her own destructive patterns. She loses her heart, finds her mojo and, as in all good quest journeys, discovers that the map is not the territory.

Part wry romance, part social commentary, Survival Training for Lonely Hearts tracks the complexities of modern living in South Africa, caught between the collateral damage of the old and the emerging configurations of the new, across divides both personal and political.

Through the experiences of Kate, the online dating milieu and kaleidoscopic interchanges of the book publishing world become an exploration of the broader issues we all face.

Over to Elana

I was thrilled to be tagged for this week’s blog episode of the Next Best Thing by the stunning Jo-Anne Richards, having just spent a memorable week at the Time of the Writer Festival 2013 in her company and hearing her read excerpts from her potent new novel, The Imagined Child.

For newby converts, the Next Best Thing is a circulating set of questions that give writers and other wordsmiths the chance to blog about their latest ‘word pet’.

I’ll be passing the baton on to fellow writing talents Nthikeng Mohlele, Diane Stewart, Jill Nudelman and Sally-Anne Murray, to tell about their own current Next Best Things in next Monday’s blog posts.

What is the working title of your book?

The original title was ‘The Company of Dogs’, which for me summed up the essence of what I had in mind when I first wrote the novel. It’s through the company of dogs that Kate, the protagonist in the story, begins to finds her heart again.

The company of dogs represents the safe comfort zone that we all cling to and in which she would happily have remained for the rest of her life … had fate and her author not had other plans!

The title was changed to Survival Training for Lonely Hearts because the publishing team felt the former title was too amorphous and didn’t give the sense of gritty romance that is one of the books key aspects.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

It came partly from real life, in that I was freshly in mourning for a young dog very similar to the one in the story (in fact her picture’s on the cover!). 

I’d had to put her to sleep after a long battle against liver disease, and I was so traumatised by the loss of her, thinking about all the ways that she’d changed me, by opening up the loving, caring parts of myself that I’d closed off. 

The story really began there, and then evolved into it’s own fictitious journey, looking at things like lovelessness, and the daunting aspects of online dating for over-40s, and the difficulties of finding true love in a society as wounded as our South African one.

What I’m really exploring is how the country and it’s politics and it’s historical divisions and ongoing racism gets between us as people and turns what should be a pleasant social evening out into an ordeal of unbridgeable differences.

What genre does your book fall under?

I suppose you could call it ‘intelligent romance’, well marinated in social commentary! Because it’s a love story at heart, people tend to fling the label ‘chicklit’ at it.

But it has a much broader appeal than that, male as well as female, and a serious intent, which is to examine through the lens of romance where we are as a society, personally and interpersonally, in South Africa now. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Sandra Bullock would be first prize for the role of Kate (but she’d have to learn to speak proper South African!). The male lead is more difficult – but I’d have fun auditioning!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Burnt-out, lonely, 40-plus editor goes online in search of Mr Right, and discovers that the road to love leads straight through her own painful baggage.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’s been published by Pan Macmillan, who are just great to work with.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Lo..o..ng. It was a 5-year marathon, squeezed into 3-week holiday bytes, which kept running out at the crucial moment. It took so long in fact that I despaired of finishing and threw it up at one point to write a shorter novel, Shiva’s Dance, in between.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m no good at comparisons …. It’s like asking me who I think I look like!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My dogs inspired me. Hope inspired me. And South Africa definitely inspired me – the things about it that I love as well as the things that give me pain.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

It has a really irresistible hero (I know, because I made him!). I’ve also been told it gives a view of South Africa that is loving and life-affirming, rather than the negativities this country is so often in the news for.

Thanks for stopping by on the blog Elana.

For more information about Elena, you can head on over here.