Thursday, 28 June 2012

Review: Elf Girl and Raven Boy - Fright Forest by Marcus Sedgwick

Publisher: Orion
Format: Paperback
Released: July 5th, 2012
Rating: 7/10

Amazon summary:

Eep... the adventure begins! Raven Boy has short black spiky hair, amazing night vision and can talk to animals. Elf Girl is light of foot, sharp of mind and...elfish all over. She hadn't expected to meet Raven Boy; it's not that often someone falls out of the trees and squashes your home flat like Raven Boy did. Before they know it they are plunged into some very strange, creepy, altogether spooky and hilarious adventures as they save their world from trolls, ogres, witches and things that slither and slide in the fiendish forest.


I've been looking forward to Marcus Sedgwick's new children's series for months, even though I'm still mourning the end of The Raven Mysteries (*sniffle*, I miss you Edgar). Elf Girl and Raven Boy was well worth the wait, though it hasn't quite eclipsed the wacky Otherhand family and their mad antics.

Fright Forest is the first book in this humorously dark new series, and follows the adventures of Elf Girl and Raven Boy (real name unknown - will we find it out soon, I wonder?). They met by chance, really, when Raven Boy was unfortunate enough to fall out of the tree he was sleeping in. Obviously it was all for the best, as he and Elf Girl - a girl who has very pointy ears, might I add - become friends along with Raven Boy's rat, who is fittingly named Rat. He's a great asset to the little group, and Raven Boy's ability to talk to animals makes it all the better for him to communicate. Cool or what?

There are all sorts of creatures featured or mentioned in this book, including ogres, goblins and elves and animals who can communicate rather well without actually saying anything. This series looks set to be more fantasy than Sedgwick's previous books for children, and I'm hoping a dragon or fairy might appear somewhere. After all, you never know what's living in Fright Forest!

I really enjoyed this book, and I'm really glad to see that Pete Williamson is still in cahoots with Marcus Sedgwick. His illustrations bring so much to the story, and my new favourite is a fluffy little kitten launching himself into the air. Brilliant!

So, fans of The Raven Mysteries, make sure you read this one as soon as you can. I'm already looking forward to book two, Monster Mountains, and I'm sure you will be too!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Publisher: Corsair
Format: Trade paperback
Released: June 7th, 2012
Rating: 8/10

Amazon summary:

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday. 


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, or Fairyland, as I will now refer to it, really, really surprised me. I thought it looked good from the cover (I love dragons, or Wyverns as I was soon told), but really I had no idea what to expect. The title is an odd one, and it did out me off a bit, I'm not going to lie. But that cover illustration is what drew me in, and I'm so glad it did.

I've been pondering this review for a while, wondering how much to say and what to give away. Fairyland strikes me as the kind of book you ned to read blind, knowing nothing about it and not knowing what to expect. That way in can knock you off your feet with its magic and general loveliness.

There are a whole wacky mix of characters in Fairyland, ranging from human to weather elements to Wyverns and lamps. They're all endearing and lovable, and I even liked the slightly darker characters that peppered the pages every now and then. Valente's writing is so beautiful and descriptive, it's hard not to get lost in Fairyland and experience everything September is experiencing.

Speaking of September, what a cool girl she is. She's clever and practical, and her heart is as big as Fairyland itself. As brilliant as she is, September isn't my favourite character - that title belongs to The Green Wind. Although he doesn't crop up in the book a lot, when he does it's well worth the wait for his appearance. He's one of the most magical characters to grace the page, and I just wish he was in it more. Maybe we'll see more of him in the sequel? I certainly hope so.

Fairyland's text is accompanied by amazing illustrations courtesy of Ana Juan, which alone are worth the book price. I couldn't wait to get to a new chapter and see which illustration would be waiting for me. My favourite is still the one that appears on the cover, which by now you've probably guessed is depicting September and A-Through-L the Wyvern.

I'm sorry this review is kind of vague, but I don't want to spoil any part of Fairyland. I want people to read it and get swept away like I did, and be surprised when a new kooky character shows up. This is fantasy fiction at its best, and I hope it's a big hit over here in England. I know it's gone down a storm in the US, so let's hope it gets the recognition it deserves over here too. Add this one to your wish lists immediately!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Waiting On Wednesday: Stealing Parker

Waiting on Wednesday idea from Jill at Breaking the Spine.


Stealing Parker
 by Miranda Kenneally

* Published by: Sourcebooks Fire (US)
* Format: Paperback (US)
* Release Date: October 1st, 2012 (US)
* On Amazon: here

Summary from

Red-hot author Miranda Kenneally hits one out of the park in this return to Catching Jordan's Hundred Oaks High. After a scandal rocks their conservative small town, 17-year-old Parker Shelton goes overboard trying to prove that she won't turn out like her mother: a lesbian. The all-star third-baseman quits the softball team, drops 20 pounds and starts making out with guys—a lot. But hitting on the hot new assistant baseball coach might be taking it a step too far...especially when he starts flirting back. 

I have literally just been introduced to Miranda Kenneally - I read Catching Jordan on Sunday - and already I want to be her BFF. I can't wait for her next book, after finishing her debut I was searching Amazon like a man woman. All I want is another one of her books to read, dammit! If you haven't read Catching Jordan yet, do yourself a favour and hunt it down. Then pre-order Stealing Parker.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Review: Dork Diaries - Skating Sensation by Rachel Renee Russell

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's
Format: Paperback
Released: June 7th, 2012
Rating: 8/10

Amazon summary:

Nikki Maxwell isn't at all surprised to find out that her crush Brandon volunteers at a local animal shelter. He's such a sweet guy - of course he wants to help those adorable puppies! Then Brandon tells her that the shelter is in danger of closing, and Nikki knows she can't let that happen. Especially when she discovers a shocking secret about Brandon that makes keeping that shelter open more important than ever. So Nikki and her friends Chloe and Zoey enter an ice skating competition to help raise money for the shelter, but (big surprise) Mackenzie has to stick her nose in and cause trouble so that she can be the one to swoop in and save the day. No way will Nikki let that happen: She'll just have to come up with some extra creative ideas this time! 


Queen of Dorks Nikki Maxwell is back in Skating Sensation, the fourth book in Rachel Renee Russell's Dork Diaries series. I think this is the best book in the series so far, I couldn't put it down and read it cover to cover. I laughed more than usual, too - this series has always been very funny so I was surprised at that. They're just getting better and better!

In Skating Sensation, Nikki and best friends Chloe and Zoey take part in a Skate-a-thon, sponsoring an animal shelter in trouble. Brandon, Nikki's crush, just happens to help out there, so she's desperate to make a good impression on the ice. And this is where the humour comes into it, because Nikki can't skate! Her friends and family create all kinds of diversions to mask her inability to skate, some with hilarious consequences! And let's not forget Nikki's arch-nemesis Mackenzie. Where's there's Barndon, there's Mackenzie, annoying wannabe it-girl with hair that's far too big for her head. Still, a good rivalry never hurt anyone. I don't think...

Nikki's family are on form in this book, and once again they proceed to embarrass her in public. Her younger sister, Brianna, gives a truly spectacular performance at a post ballet show, which had me in fits of laughter. Honestly, it was probably the highlight of the book for me. The accompanying illustrations made it even better, as I got to see the chaos that ensued with my own eyes. Excellent!

I absolutely love this series, even though I'm neither a tween nor a teen. It's funny, realistic and totally mental and I can't wait for the next book. I wish books like this had been around when I was growing up; I'd have gobbled them up at an alarming rate, I'm sure!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Review: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Format: Paperback
Released: December 1st, 2011
Rating: 9/10

Amazon summary:

What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn't just surrounded by hot guys, though–she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that's just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university. But everything she's ever worked for is threatened when Ty Greeen moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he's also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan's feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart's on the line?


I didn't know a lot about Catching Jordan before I read it; I bought it because any mention of sport and southern locations immediately makes me think of one of my favourite TV shows Friday Night Lights, which I kind of adore. I'm so glad I did buy it though because I loved it. Absolutely loved it. If you're a fan of contemporary YA, you need to read it!

Catching Jordan is about Jordan Woods - or Woods, as she's known to her team mates - captain and star quarterback of Hundred Oaks Red Raiders football team. She's one of the boys, with her best friends all being male and football players. Henry, JJ and Carter are like brothers, and together they kick ass on the field. Jordan is basically awesome. I want her to be my friend, and I want her friends. She is so my kind of girl - she prefers male company, can verbally hold her own and gains the respect of everyone in her small Tennessee town. She's also not that interested in boys, until Ty Green shows up at her school and throws a spanner into her life plan.

Ty brings with him a lot of home truths for Jordan, and with those truths come unwanted feelings for one of her best friends. I won't say anymore than that because I don't want to spoil anything, but the way Miranda Kenneally writes Jordan and her seventeen-year-old mind is basically genius. Jordan is the best character I've read about in ages and I wish I could live in this book!

Catching Jordan really is addictive. I love the banter and lifelong friendships between Jordan, Henry, JJ and Carter, and I love how they always have each other's backs. Being the only girl on an all-male football team often gets snarky remarks thrown her way, but the boys are always there to stick up for her and threaten anyone who dares disrespect her. They all rock. Kenneally covers all sorts of other teenage issues too, including the daunting task of applying and choosing colleges and a somewhat rocky father-daughter relationship. All this adds to the realism of Catching Jordan and, just like Friday Night Lights, it's scripting gold.

I have no doubt that I'll go back and read this book again. It's so fun and has consumed my thoughts all day today, even though I finished it yesterday. As soon as I got to the last page, I wished there was a sequel hiding somewhere. Maybe Kenneally will write more of Jordan's story in the future, and if she does, I'll be first in line to read it!

Friday, 15 June 2012

US Vs. UK: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making Covers + Catherynne's Thoughts!

US // UK

Before I start comparing these two covers, I just need to say how much I loved this book. I haven't written my review yet, but I can tell you now it will be getting a high rating. It's so well written and magical!

I'm not sure which of these two covers I prefer. I actually really like them both, though the UK one seems to be standing out that little bit more. I think it's because the image isn't constrained within an oval like the US one, although that really doesn't detract from anything. It's a beautiful illustration, let's be honest. I got very excited when I first saw it as I love dragons! I also like the old feel of the books, especially the US edition. For some reason I always imagine Giles having a copy in Sunnydale High's library!

I prefer the font used on the US version, the background colour of the UK and the bordering of the US. Both are lovely and aesthetically pleasing (I like just staring at this cover), but the UK has a slight edge for me. I do own both copies of this book, and they're both really nice. I'll be keeping both, so that should be some indication of my appreciation for both covers/editions.

That's enough from me, I think. Here's author Catherynne M. Valente with her thoughts on the covers:

I love Fairyland’s covers. I’ve been so lucky—in getting to work with Ana Juan as the illustrator and cover artist, and to have her art turned into such spectacular covers. The US cover is just gorgeous, bright red, just a few shades off of true. It looks like a book you’d find in an attic, a classic children’s book—which is, of course, part of the joke. Fairyland is a very modern, even postmodern, book masquerading as a classic.
I was so excited to see the UK edition, though! So many of the editions of the book use the US cover, which is wonderful, but I love seeing the different ways publishers and designers interpret the story. The UK version uses the same image of September and A-Through-L, her half-Wyvern, half-Library companion, but redesigns the colors and layout to be less children’s lit and more all-ages. The result is a golden book that just sparkles with life and action. The clouds and soaring key make everything look like it’s ready to fly off the page.
I’m thrilled with both editions—Fairyland is an interstitial kind of book, it’s both a children’s book and an adult novel, both new and old, both literary and full of adventure. The US and UK covers show both sides of the story.

What do you guys think? Do you have a favourite?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Review: Adorkable by Sarra Manning

Publisher: Atom
Format: Paperback
Released: May 24th, 2012
Rating: 3/10

Amazon summary:

Jeane Smith's a blogger, a dreamer, a dare-to-dreamer, jumble sale queen, CEO of her own lifestyle brand and has half a million followers on Twitter. Michael Lee's a star of school, stage and playing field. A golden boy in a Jack Wills hoodie. They have nothing in common but a pair of cheating exes. So why can't they stop snogging? 


I've been a fan of Sarra Manning's books for years now. I even remember reading some of her writing in now defunct UK teen magazine J17, and thinking it was funny and true. For me, she's one of the best writers of contemporary teen fiction in the UK, which is part of the reason why I was so looking forward to Adorkable. I'm loathe to admit I was mightily disappointed, but unfortunately I was. I finished the whole book as is always my policy, but it was a struggle.

Adorkable started off well enough. I thought "Yes! Cool characters! Realism! Laughs!", but I was soon deflated and not able to get into it at all. My major problem was the characters. I tried to like Jeane's pretentious name and self-centred qualities, but I couldn't. Eventually, ever word out of her mouth annoyed me and I just wanted to rip her out of the book and throw her out of the window. I think she was actually supposed to be like this and, by the end of the book, I think I should have liked her. But I didn't. She was horrible to Michael and thought she was better than everyone, and that does not a cool girl make. Oh, and the vocabulary she used was bordering on cringeworthy. But more on that later.

Michael Lee, as Jeane refers to him ALL the way through the book (argh!), was slightly better than Jeane, but he didn't do anything for me either. I found him bland and nondescript, and didn't like the way he basically lay down and took all Jeane's rubbish. Even when he stood up to her, I was wondering why he bothered and why he was even with her in the first place. I don't think they suited at all, but that's just me. I know other readers have read this book and adored both Jeane and Michael, so obviously they're just not my kind of people.

I did buy their surface attraction to each other, a mad lust overtook them and they snogged at every given opportunity. I never felt anything deeper between the two of them besides an immediate attraction and a respect for Michael's overall physique, though I wish I had. If I'd been more invested in their relationship, I think I would have liked them more. Or maybe that's the other way around. I think Sarra Manning did depict the first throes of a teen romance very well, that all-consuming, I-can't-stop-thinking-about-him feeling came through well.

Another thing that really bugged me about Adorkable was the language Jeane used. She said things like "totes" (totally) and "blates" (blatantly) amongst others. Now I know these words are used these days, well, I've heard "totes" before, but I usually see them used on Twitter as a joke. After a couple of uses of each, I was so irritated I wanted to put the book down straight away. Perhaps it's my age - I'm twenty-five, after all - but I would like to meet a real-life sixteen-year-old who talks like that. It would verify a lot.

Also, I got so fed up of hearing how dorky Jeane was, and how she went to so much trouble to stand out and be apart from her peers. It wasn't endearing or admirable, it was just over the top. She wasn't actually *that* good, not like she thought she was. Eurgh. If I'd been at school with her, I'd have avoided her at all available costs. I was also puzzled as to how she'd ended up as a huge internet sensation, the kind with half a million Twitter followers and thirty thousand e-mails waiting for her in her inbox. I've never heard of anyone getting that many emails, and I know from blogging and using Twitter myself that gaining that many followers would take quite a while, and you'd have to be pretty famous. I didn't believe Jeane's blog could ever be as big as it was made out to be, and the fact that she got invited all over the world to speak at events was ridiculous. I didn't buy a word of it. I did like that Jeane was a blogger, though. I could relate to that.

I realise this review is a negative one, and I feel bad about that. I have loved almost all of Sarra Manning's other books, but this one definitely wasn't for me. As I mentioned earlier, lots of other bloggers, reviewers and readers have enjoyed this one immensely, so I hope you'll still give it a chance and won't be put off because I didn't like it. I'll still be reading Sarra's future books, I just hope I like her next one more.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks Blog Tour: Ellie Phillips Guest Post!

Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks was published in the UK on June 4th, and Electric Monkey are celebrating by touring 'round the blogs! I have a cool guest post from Ellie Phillips herself, but before that, here's a summary of the book:

One girl’s search to find her father, using the internet, some boys and quite a lot of hairspray. Sadie Nathanson spends her life trying to survive the excruciating embarrassment of simply existing. It’s hard enough being a bit of a shrinking violet within a loud and outspoken extended family, but the unexpected card from ‘Dad’ on her 15th birthday is the last straw. As ‘Dad’ was an Internet sperm-donor, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is a bad joke, probably set up by her ex-best-friend Shonna. But it starts Sadie wondering – just who was her father? Is he the cause of her worry crinkle and wonky bum? What would happen if she tracked him down? So she decides to do just that. With help from her nerd cousin Billy, his friend Nodding Tony and a regular dose of ‘Haironomics’ (Sadie’s own hairstyle-related philosophy system), they uncover a lot more than they bargain for…


Growing up above a bookshop 
by Ellie Phillips

Hairstyle of the day:

It has to be bookish - maybe Audrey Hepburn's hair in Funny Face when she works in the bookstore.

I was actually pretty lazy when it came to reading as a kid. I definitely wasn't a bookworm. I would rather have watched TV any day. I was totally surrounded by books all the time and had no idea how lucky I was! I mean I read a lot of stuff that was completely inappropriate - I remember sneakily reading The Thorn Birds when I was about ten years old and being completely horrified by it but at the same time I couldn't put it down. And my Mum used to order the oddest books in for customers that I would always rifle through. I remember one series called Rude Food which was basically food pornography - naked people covered in salad or cream buns! But when the time came I did read absolutely everything aimed at teenagers – not that there was a whole lot around - and I was able to try stuff out. If I didn't like it then I put it back. I absolutely loved everything by Judy Blume and when I read Forever it completely blew my mind.

I also loved The Outsiders by SE Hinton, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, Fifteen by Beverly Cleary and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

So I was incredibly lucky because I had access to all of these wonderful stories. Of course they all had an influence. I mean I didn’t just want to read these books I wanted to write them too. So I started to write stories and I’ve never really grown out of it!


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Dork Diaries: Skating Sensation Extract & UK Giveaway!

Skating Sensation, the fourth instalment in Rachel Renee Russell's tween hit series Dork Diaries, is published in the UK by Simon & Schuster today, and to celebrate I have an extract for you all to read.

I love this series - I know I'm way over the target age, but still. It's a really fun series and every book has made me laugh. I haven't read Skating Sensation but it's not far away on my to-read pile so hopefully I'll get to it soon. Here's what it's about:
Nikki Maxwell isn't at all surprised to find out that her crush Brandon volunteers at a local animal shelter. He's such a sweet guy - of course he wants to help those adorable puppies! Then Brandon tells her that the shelter is in danger of closing, and Nikki knows she can't let that happen. Especially when she discovers a shocking secret about Brandon that makes keeping that shelter open more important than ever. So Nikki and her friends Chloe and Zoey enter an ice skating competition to help raise money for the shelter, but (big surprise) Mackenzie has to stick her nose in and cause trouble so that she can be the one to swoop in and save the day. No way will Nikki let that happen: She'll just have to come up with some extra creative ideas this time!


Here's the first paragraph of the extract for you to read:
It's about a girl and a guy who have been best friends forever. She's training to be a world-class figure skater while he's working towards a spot on the Olympic hockey team. Just as they're about to fall in love, they discover that their ice arena is the secret hideout of the Deadly Ice Vambies, half-vampire and half-zombie beings whose supernatural ice-skating abilities grow more and more powerful every time they eat a double bacon cheeseburger
...To see the rest (including cool illustrations) you need to click HERE. I would post it all but my blog doesn't like PDF files, unfortunately!



 Thanks to Simon & Schuster, I have one (1) set of the Dork Diaries series to give away.

Rules & info:
  • Open to UK only.
  • End date: June 13th, 2012.
  • One entry per person.
  • You do NOT have to follow my blog to enter.
  • Books will be sent out by the publisher.

Fill in the form below to enter, and good luck!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Gathering Dark Blog Tour: Leigh Bardugo's Playlist!

The Gathering Dark (or Shadow and Bone, as it's known in the US), book one in the Grisha series, is now published in the UK and US and is getting absolutely rave reviews across the board. I haven't read it myself yet, but I do have a shiny copy waiting for me.

To celebrate the release of Leigh's debut novel, Macmillan and Orion joined together to create one giant blog tour spanning both US and UK blogs, and you can find more information about it right here. Leigh has written a great soundtrack piece for me (does she have good music taste or what? I do believe Florence is the Queen!) but before we get to that, here's what The Gathering Dark is all about:

The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka. Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom's magical elite - the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free? The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfil her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him. But what of Mal, Alina's childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can't she ever quite forget him?

How good does that sound?! Anyway, that's enough from me. Here's Leigh Bardugo talking about one of my favourite subjects... music!


Leigh's Gathering Dark Playlist!

Hey Jenny, thanks for hosting me on Wondrous Reads!

This is a two-part playlist for The Gathering Dark that I've decided to call "Angst & Atmosphere." I don't usually listen to music when I write, but there are songs I like to use as emotional prompts. These are the Angsty tracks and they put my right into the feeling of a scene or the character's head. (They're also my favorite songs to listen to as I stride along with my headphones in, muttering to myself about plot.) I've included a few lyrics, but not all of them, because I think they're fun to discover on their own. The Atmosphere tracks are a taste of the world that inspired Ravka. It's a very narrow slice of the Slavic musical tradition, but I'm the DJ so I get to pick what I like ;)


Running Up that Hill (Placebo Cover of Kate Bush) Cool, driving intensity. This is the Darkling's song. Power seduces and it isolates, and for me, this is the story of a boy king, alone in his castle. As much as I like Bush's original, there's too much warmth in it, too much empathy. The opening lines of this version have a completely different feel:

It doesn't hurt me 
You wanna feel how it feels? 
You wanna know, know that it doesn't hurt me? 
You wanna hear about the deal I'm making?

I think this is a song about both the Darkling's heart and the face he presents to the world. Tell me we both matter, don't we?

Winter Song (Sarah Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson) I'll be your harvester of light. Sigh. This one slays me. I listened to it constantly in revisions and it takes me right into the wind and cold, the ache of separation. It's broken-hearted, but not quite hopeless, a desperate plea cast out over miles and months apart.

This is my winter song to you. 
The storm is coming soon. 
It rolls in from the sea

My voice, a beacon in the night. 
My words will be your light 
to carry you to me.

Is love alive? 
Is love alive? Is love...?

Cosmic Love (Florence + the Machine) I know this is a go-to for a lot of YA writers, and why not? Sweeping, cinematic, reckless. It's like mainlining love without caution. I first heard it on SYTYCD. I'd gotten stuck in the draft, and this song jolted me out of days of writer's block. I feel like it belongs to all three of the main characters. (And since Alina is a cartographer, I can't help but love the map reference.)

And in the dark, I can hear your heartbeat 
I tried to find the sound 
But then it stopped, and I was in the darkness, 
So darkness I became

The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out 
You left me in the dark 
No dawn, no day, I'm always in this twilight 
In the shadow of your heart

I took the stars from my eyes, and then I made a map 
And knew that somehow I could find my way back 
Then I heard your heart beating, you were in the darkness too 
So I stayed in the darkness with you

The Lucky One (Alison Krauss and Union Station) Okay, yes, a little bluegrass. Mal has his own journey to make over the course of the story, but this is how Alina sees him at the start. Things come easily to him in a way they never do for her, and despite the past they've shared, she's a little resentful and genuinely afraid he's leaving her behind.

You're the lucky one 
So I've been told 
As free as the wind 
Blowin' down the road 
Loved by many, hated by none 
I'd say you're lucky 'cause I know what you've done 
Not a care in the world 
Not a worry in sight 
Everything's gonna be all right 
Cause you're the lucky one

Sorrow (Bad Religion)

It is called Tsarpunk, after all. The unofficial motto of the First Army is "Born to Die." They're conscripted serfs who know that they have very little chance of making it out of a centuries-long war alive. Not all of the lyrics work for the FA, but the sentiment feels right and there's something about the line, "What if every living soul could be upright and strong?" that always gets to me.

Poison and Wine (The Civil Wars)
Another heartbreaker, and good gravy, I love the way they harmonize. I'm going to just leave this one at the lyrics:

You only know what I want you to 
I know everything you don't want me to 
Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine 
You think your dreams are the same as mine 
Oh I don't love you but I always will 
I always will

I wish you'd hold me when I turn my back 
The less I give the more I get back 
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise 
I don't have a choice, but I still choose you

Oh I don't love you but I always will 
 I always will

Now, let's talk ATMOSPHERE...

It's actually fairly hard to find good recordings on youtube, but here are a few:

The Two Young Lovers (The translation on these lyrics is kind of adorably naughty. It starts with "That’s not a barrel rolling around in the cellar.")

Polegnala e Todora (Love Song) from Le mystère des voix bulgares

This is the Yale Women's Slavic Chorus singing the Dove Song. You can hear the Dove's call in the voices and when that third voice kicks in at :40, CHILLS.

And if you find you like this type of thing, check out "Little Clouds In the Sky" as sung by The Kuban Cossack Women's Choir on iTunes.

I also need to shout out Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kijé." I remember hearing Sting's song "Russians" in the car as a kid. I could never get this little bit of melody out of my head. I had no idea he'd sampled it from Prokofiev until my choir teacher heard me humming it and played the original for me. It's probably the first piece of Russian music I ever heard.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Grave Mercy Blog Tour: Extract!

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is published in the UK by Andersen Press on June 7th, and it sounds brilliant! Below is a summary from Amazon and you can see the book trailer here or join the Facebook page here.

Young, beautiful and deadly. Trained as an assassin by the god of Death, Ismae is sent to the court of Brittany, where she finds herself underprepared - not only for the games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death's vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart? A dangerous romance full of intrigue, poison and ultimately finding one's way.


Chapter One 


I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I have been sired by the god of death himself.
I am told my father flew into a rage and raised his hand to my mother even as she lay weak and bleeding on the birthing bed. Until the herbwitch pointed out to him that if my mother had lain with the god of death, surely He would not stand idly by while my father beat her.
I risk a glance up at my husband-to-be,Guillo, and wonder if my father has told him of my lineage. I am guessing not, for who would pay three silver coins for what I am? Besides, Guillo looks far too placid to know of my true nature. If my father has tricked him, it will not bode well for our union. That we are being married in Guillo’s cottage rather than a church further adds to my unease. 
I feel my father’s heavy gaze upon me and look up. The triumph in his eyes frightens me, for if he has triumphed, then I have surely lost in some way I do not yet understand. even so, I smile, wanting to convince him I am happy – for there is nothing that upsets him more than my happiness.

But while I can easily lie to my father, it is harder to lie to myself. I am afraid, sorely afraid of this man to whom I will now belong. I look down at his big, wide hands. Just like my father, he has dirt caked under his fingernails and stains in the creases of his skin.Will the semblance end there? or will he, too, wield those hands like a cudgel?
It is a new beginning, I remind myself, and in spite of all my trepidations, I cannot extinguish a tiny spark of hope.Guillo wants me enough to pay three silver coins. Surely where there is want, there is room for kindness? It is the one thing that keeps my knees from knocking and my hands from trembling.That and the priest who has come to officiate, for while he is naught but a hedge priest, the furtive glance he sends me over his prayer book causes me to believe he knows who and what I am. As he mutters the ceremony’s final words, I stare at the rough hempen prayer cord with the nine wooden beads that proclaim him a follower of the old ways. even when he ties the cord around our hands and lays the blessings of God and the nine old saints upon our union, I keep my gaze downcast, afraid to see the smugness in my father’s eyes or what my husband’s face might reveal. When the priest is done, he pads away on dirty feet, his rough leather sandals flapping noisily.He does not even pause long enough to raise a tankard to our union. Nor does my father. Before the dust from my father’s departing cart has settled, my new husband swats my rump and grunts toward the upstairs loft.

I clench my fists to hide their trembling and cross to the rickety stairs.While Guillo fortifies himself with one last tankard of ale, I climb up to the loft and the bed I will now share with him. I sorely miss my mother, for even though she was afraid of me, surely she would have given me a woman’s counsel on my wedding night. But both she and my sister fled long ago, one back into the arms of death, and the other into the arms of a passing tinker.
I know, of course, what goes on between a man and a woman.our cottage is small and my father loud.There was many a night when urgent movement accompanied by groans filled our dark cottage.The next day my father always looked slightly less bad-tempered, and my mother more so. I try to convince myself that no matter how distasteful the marriage bed is, surely it cannot be any worse than my father’s raw temper and meaty fists.
The loft is a close,musty place that smells as if the rough shutters on the far wall have never been opened. A timber and rope bed frame holds a mattress of straw. other than that, there are only a few pegs to hang clothes on and a plain chest at the foot of the bed.
I sit on the edge of the chest and wait. It does not take long. A heavy creak from the stairs warns me that Guillo is on his way.My mouth turns dry and my stomach sour. Not wanting to give him the advantage of height, I stand. When he reaches the room, I finally force myself to look at his face. His piggish eyes gorge themselves on my body, going from the top of my head down to my ankles, then back up to my breasts.

My father’s insistence on lacing my gown so tight has worked, as Guillo can look at little else. He gestures with his tankard toward my bodice, slopping ale over the sides so that it dribbles to the floor. “Remove it.”Desire thickens his voice.
I stare at the wall behind him, my fingers trembling as I raise them to my laces. But not fast enough. Never fast enough. He takes three giant strides toward me and strikes me hard across the cheek. “Now!” he roars as my head snaps back.
Bile rises in my throat and I fear I will be sick. So this is how it will be between us.This is why he was willing to pay three silver coins.
My laces are finally undone, and I remove my bodice so that I stand before him in my skirt and shift. The stale air, which only moments before was too warm, is now cold as it presses against my skin. “your skirt,” he barks, breathing heavily. I untie the strings and step out of my skirt.As I turn to lay it on the nearby bench, Guillo reaches for me. He is surprisingly quick for one so large and stupid, but I am quicker. I have had long years of practice escaping my father’s rages.
I jerk away, spinning out of his reach, infuriating him. In truth, I give no thought to where I will run, wishing only to hold off the inevitable a little longer.
There is a loud crash as his half-empty tankard hits the wall behind me, sending a shower of ale into the room.

He snarls and lunges, but something inside me will not – cannot – make this easy for him. I leap out of his reach. But not far enough. I feel a tug, then hear a rip of cloth as he tears my thin, worn chemise.
Silence fills the loft – a silence so thick with shock that even his coarse breathing has stopped. I feel his eyes rake down my back, take in the ugly red welts and scars the poison left behind. I look over my shoulder to see his face has gone white as new cheese, his eyes wide.When our glances meet, he knows – knows – that he has been duped. He bellows then, a long, deep note of rage that holds equal parts fury and fear.
Then his rough hand cracks against my skull and sends me to my knees. The pain of hope dying is worse than his fists and boots.
When Guillo’s rage is spent, he reaches down and grabs me by the hair. “I will go for a real priest this time.He will burn you or drown you.Maybe both.”He drags me down the steps, my knees bumping painfully against each one. He continues dragging me through the kitchen, then shoves me into a small root cellar, slams the door, and locks it.

Bruised and possibly broken, I lie on the floor with my battered cheek pressed into the cool dirt. Unable to stop myself, I smile.
I have avoided the fate my father had planned for me. Surely it is I who has won, not he.
The sound of the bolt lifting jerks me awake. I shove myself to a sitting position and clutch the tattered remains of my chemise around me.When the door opens, I am stunned to see the hedge priest, the same small rabbit of a man who’d blessed our marriage only hours before. Guillo is not with him, and any moment that does not contain my father or Guillo is a happy one by my reckoning. The priest looks over his shoulder, then motions for me to follow.
I rise to my feet, and the root cellar spins dizzily. I put a hand to the wall and wait for the feeling to pass.The priest motions again,more urgently. “We’ve not much time before he returns.”
His words clear my head as nothing else can. If he is acting without Guillo’s knowledge, then he is most assuredly helping me. “I’m coming.” I push away from the wall, step carefully over a sack of onions, and follow the hedge priest into the kitchen. It is dark; the only light comes from the banked embers in the hearth. I should wonder how the priest found me, why he is helping me, but I do not care. All I can think is that he is not Guillo and not my father. The rest does not matter.
He leads me to the back door, and in a day full of surprises, I find one more as I recognize the old herbwitch from our village hovering nearby. If I did not need to concentrate so hard on putting one foot in front of the other, I would ask her what she is doing here, but it is all I can do to stay upright and keep from falling on my face in the dirt.
As I step into the night, a sigh of relief escapes me.

It is dark out, and darkness has always been my friend. A cart waits nearby. Touching me as little as possible, the hedge priest helps me into the back of it before hurrying around to the driver’s bench and climbing in. The priest glances over his shoulder at me, then averts his eyes as if he’s been burned. “There’s a blanket back there,”he mutters as he steers the nag out onto the cobbled lane. “Cover yourself.”
The unyielding wood of the cart presses painfully into my bruised bones, and the thin blanket scratches and reeks of donkey. even so, I wish they’d brought a second one for padding. “Where are you taking me?”
“To the boat.”
A boat means water, and crossing water means I will be far from the reach of my father and Guillo and the Church. “Where is this boat taking me?” I ask, but the priest says nothing. exhaustion overwhelms me. I do not have the strength to pluck answers from him like meager berries from a thorny bush. I lie down in the cart and give myself over to the horse’s jolting gait.
And so my journey across Brittany begins. I am smuggled like some forbidden cargo, hidden among turnips or in hay in the back of carts, awakened by furtive voices and fumbling hands as I am passed from hedge priest to herbwife, a hidden chain of those who live in accordance with the old saints and are determined to keep me from the Church. The hedge priests, with their awkward movements and musty, stale robes, are kind enough, but their fingers are unschooled in tenderness or compassion. It is the herbwitches I like most. Their chapped, raw hands are gentle as lamb’s wool, and the sharp, pungent smell of a hundred different herbs clings to them like a fragrant shadow. often as not, they give me a tincture of poppy for my injuries, while the priests merely give me their sympathy, and some begrudgingly at that.
When I awake on what I reckon to be the fifth night of my journey, I smell the salty tang of the sea and remember the promise of a boat. I struggle to sit up, pleased to find my bruises pain me less and my ribs do not burn.We are passing through a small fishing village. I pull the blanket close against the chill and wonder what will happen next.
At the very edge of the village sits a stone church. It is to this that the latest hedge priest steers our cart and I am relieved to see the door bears the sacred anchor of St.Mer, one of the old saints.The priest reins his horse to a stop. “Get out.”
I cannot tell if it is fatigue or disdain I hear in his voice, but, either way,my journey is almost done, so I ignore it and clamber out of the cart, sure to keep the blanket clutched tight around me lest I offend his modesty.
Once he secures the horse, he leads me toward the beach, where a lone boat waits.The inky black ocean spreads out as far and wide as my eye can see,making the vessel seem very small.
An old sailor sits hunched in the prow. A shell bleached white as bone hangs from a cord at his neck, marking him as a worshiper of St. Mer. I wonder what he thinks of being woken in the middle of the night and made to row strangers out into the dark sea.
The sailor’s faded blue eyes skim over me.He nods. “Climb in.We en’t got all night.”He thrusts an oar at me, and I grasp it to steady myself as I get into the boat.
The small vessel dips and rocks, and for a moment I am afraid it will tip me into the icy water. But it rights itself and then the priest steps in, causing the hull to sink even lower. The old sailor grunts, then returns the oar to its pin and begins rowing.
We reach the small island just as dawn pinkens the eastern horizon. It looks barren in the early, spare light. As we draw closer, I see a standing stone next to a church and realize we’ve come to one of the old places of worship. Gravel crunches under the hull of the boat as the old sailor rows right up onto the beach. He jerks his head toward the stone fortress. “Get out then. The abbess of St.Mortain be expectin’ ye.”
Saint Mortain? The patron saint of death. A tremor of unease washes through me. I look at the priest, who averts his eyes, as if looking at me is too great a mortal temptation. Still clutching the blanket close around me, I climb awkwardly from the boat and step into the shallows. Torn between gratitude and annoyance, I curtsy slightly, careful to let the blanket slip from my shoulder for the merest of seconds.
It is enough. Satisfied at the priest’s gasp and the old sailor’s cluck of his tongue, I turn and slog through the cold water to the beach. In truth, I have never flashed so much as an ankle before, but I am sorely vexed at being treated like a temptress when all I feel is bruised and broken. When I reach the patchy grass that grows between the rocks, I look back toward the boat, but it has already put out to sea. I turn and begin making my way to the convent, eager to see what those who worship Death want of me.

Thee right of Robin LaFevers to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Copyright © Robin LaFevers, 2012