Summertime… and the Living is Booky

So it’s the end of summer, which I love/hate* (*delete as appropriate).  The thing is, after more than five years of living here, I still haven’t quite made up my mind about southern Spanish summers.  They are fiercely hot. I mean, it’s brutal. Every day and every goddam night. Relentless. Air sizzling; cicadas screaming. I make up excuses to visit shopping centres and other public buildings that I know have kick-ass air conditioning.  I have to sit in front of a fan on max to have a coherent thought. I can’t stand to wear underwear, anything that clings, or anything with a waistband, while dresses are out because my thighs stick together, so basically there are NO ACCEPTABLE CLOTHES IN THE WORLD.  Any footwear but flips flops is out of the question so my feet harden. The idea of any makeup is suffocating and there’s no point doing my hair because it just sweats into a hot mess within five minutes. Luckily all of the above means that nobody I run into even recognises the baggy-shorts-wearing, part-melted, mole-eyed, cloven-hooved, wild-haired woman swearing to herself in front of the warm cava at the supermarket, so at least that’s a bonus.

But I don’t work my day job for July, or for most of August (which is lucky considering the clothing issue), and we have a swimming pool in our backyard and a beach down the road, so really I don’t have an awful lot to complain about.  And there’s a certain predictability about it that makes life easier. What will the weather be like today? No need to ask. It’ll be screamingly hot, blazing blue skies, it’ll make you want to shake your fist at the sun by early evening and yell “Damn you, you flaming ball of hellfire – just set already!” – so you can go ahead and plan that picnic.

What better time to try and coax my confused brain into catching up on some reading?  Which is exactly what I did. Here’s my summer round-up (part one):

THE IMMORTALISTS

I loved this.  It starts with a great conceit.  It’s the end of the sixties in New York and the Gold siblings visit a psychic who claims to be able to tell you when you will die.  Essentially, the rest of the book concerns itself with two questions – would you really want to be in possession of this knowledge, and what would you do with it if you were?  The book then deep-dives into the lives of the siblings as they span the decades, spending time with one at a time and really getting below the surface of the different worlds in which they find themselves – their relationships, their careers, the way they feel about the twists and turns their lives take.  In doing this it gives us insight into not only the way the world (or more specifically the US) has changed over the intervening decades but also into the way people develop over the course of their lives – priorities and dreams and philosophies shifting as they move from their teens and twenties into their thirties and forties and beyond.  From San Francisco’s gay scene in the seventies and eighties, to the glitzy/seedy underworld of Vegas magic shows – there are regrets, loss, trauma, secrets and love; in each of the four sections of the novel, which feel like a story in themselves, another piece of the puzzle of the family’s fortune is traced. This is a real page-turner without ever feeling predictable.  It’s heartbreaking and melancholy and unusual and original and well crafted and slicky plotted and atmospheric and beautifully characterised. Do you remember that TV series they made in the nineties of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City? It kind-of reminds me of that in some ways… it’s probably largely the San Francisco thing, but also just a general atmosphere, a colour palette, an unflinchingly dark undertone overlaid with humour and warmth?  Not sure, but it put me in mind of it in a good way.

THE LIGHT BETWEEN US

I love Katie Kahn because she writes in a zone in which I also consider myself a resident.  We’re literary neighbours, as it were. She writes human, up-close personal trajectories in vivid, grand-scale sci-fi settings.  If you know my books, you’ll know that her stories are pretty much literally Right Up My Street. In this one she moves from space and the future (the settings for her first book HOLD BACK THE STARS) to time travel, and I love time travel.  Ever since THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE I’ve been a sucker for using time travel to explore human, emotional stories, while also throwing the reader off on some total headspins. What I love about this book is its central female foursome – academics, scientists, BFFs – and how fierce and fearless they are in their pursuit of discovery.  There’s something refreshingly lo-fi about the science in this book – it happens in barns and gardens and outhouses and is held together by sticky tape (actually I’m not sure this last one happens but it gives off that vibe). Purists might be frustrated by the lack of scientific explanation but I was relieved. One of my favourite films in the world is INCEPTION, which manages the very clever trick of getting you to completely accept a very unlikely scientific concept (lucid dream sharing and delving into someone’s subconscious) without questioning the theory behind it at all.  In a similar way, Kahn doesn’t waste time on huge info dumps or anything like that and instead concentrates on giving us character and story and setting and atmosphere and rainy bike rides through London. There was a couple of loose ends maybe… but what good story answers all of the questions it poses? Doubly true of decent science fiction, and I’m keen to see what Katie does next (see what I did there?).

EVERLESS

OK so you know that movie with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried where people use the time they have left to live as currency – IN TIME?  This is built on a similarish premise, but set within a world that couldn’t be more different. Let’s say it’s a fantasy version of IN TIME. I’m not at all sure if this is how Sara Holland would want it described but it’s how I summed it up to my girls’ reading group at school just before they unanimously voted to read it, and I should add that I love IN TIME.  I think IN TIME is, in fact, vastly underrated. So anyway EVERLESS is this kind of idea but more medieval and fantasy-ish and with a petrifying queen and a heroine with a special secret and a few extra twists like a town where… wait, no – that’s a spoiler and I really really wouldn’t want to spoil this. I read this on holiday in France and to this day I still can’t look at my pictures of the River Loire without thinking about my trip through the world of EVERLESS.  To say I was disappointed when I jumped straight on to the Kindle Store to buy the sequel and found out that it’s not out until January is an understatement. And I am NOT just saying this because I met Sara over the summer and she was lovely. That’s just a bonus. To sum up, if you like RED QUEEN you’ll like this, as they’re kind-of similar in vibe. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll like this a heck of a lot more – fewer crazy fight scenes, more crazy cocktails and female friendship.

THE CRUEL PRINCE

What is it about fairies?  I mean, I’ve gone on record before about how much I love SJ Maas’ A COURT OF… series, and now this.  Man there is something about a tall, dark, morally questionable fairy male I can’t resist. Ugh, that sounds terrible but you know what I mean.  For me the only problem is the title. I know Holly Black won’t lose sleep over this as she has a legion of fans and absolutely no trouble selling books, but somehow it feels like this simplistic descriptor of a title vastly undersells this darkly beautiful twisted tale and its intoxicating, uneasy atmosphere.  In the early pages I kept wondering if it was going to turn out to be a pastiche, a patchwork of all the high fey, fantasy tropes we know (and love), but it turned out to be something entirely new and unexpected, with bolshy, loveable, flawed human heroine Jude dragged off to the fairy realm by a murderous stepfather and raised among the beautiful and deadly courts of the kingdom.  Bullied at school and feeling out of her depth, Jude is looking to wrest some power for herself through her strength and skill as a warrior, but is drawn down a shadier path into espionage. I was so THERE for this story. The characters are so well drawn and nuanced in their many shades of grey. Who should and shouldn’t we trust? We as readers can never, never be sure. And there are hallucinogenic fairy fruits and wild parties and a crazy open-air magical fairy school and trips to the real world to go shopping in the mall.  Devoured it. Devoured it and left wanting more. Hopped straight onto the Kindle Store to buy the follow-up only to learn it won’t be out until January. ARGH HOW WILL I COPE UNTIL THEN???!

Aaaaaannnnd I still have six more books to review from my summer reading so…. To be continued!

Distant Beings and Falling Stars on Offer

To celebrate the release of THE TRUTH OF DIFFERENT SKIES this week, both THE LONELINESS OF DISTANT BEINGS and THE GLOW OF FALLEN STARS are now 99p on ebook for Kindle (in the UK).  Bargains!  I know deals like this are always music to my ears, so I thought I’d spread the joy.  This means that during the whole of the very merry month of May, you can complete your Ventura Saga collection for less than a tenner!  You can’t say fairer than that.  Follow the links below to make your wise purchases

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Loneliness-Distant-Beings-Book-Ventura-ebook/dp/B0119EPOKQ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1525179553&sr=8-1

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ventura-Saga-Glow-Fallen-Stars-ebook/dp/B071LM6Z5K/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1525179613&sr=1-1&keywords=glow+of+fallen+stars&dpID=61V7yI9kXVL&preST=_SY445_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

The Soundtracks of Different Skies

My Spotify soundtracks for the Ventura series are a combination of:

  • songs I listened to a lot while writing the books
  • songs that (lyrically or musically) fit with the narrative and mood of the story.
  • songs that feature on my fantasy soundtrack for the movie adaptations that I daydream about ALL THE TIME. Can’t even tell you how much time I spend on this. It would be embarrassing to admit it.

Most of the time it’s a combination of all of the above. Either way, these are the songs that have come to be associated with my books, for me anyway, and every time I hear them I’m right there, watching the non-existent movie adaptations as they play on the big silver screen in my mind.

I’ve just finished putting together the latest, for THE TRUTH OF DIFFERENT SKIES (out this Thursday – squeeeeeee!).  One of the characters in this part of the series has an obsession with the late seventies, and most of the songs in this playlist from that era are about breaking free. The others contain the pain and longing and heat and desire that this story is imbued with throughout.  It can be found on the link below and should be listened to while reading, after reading, or just whenever you’re in the mood.  I mean, I have pretty great taste in music so – believe me – you can’t go too far wrong.

My Summer as Charles Dickens

Wow, I have loved being on Wattpad.  From a bit of initial scepticism (feeling like I was falling down rabbitholes of soft porn every time I went on there) (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing) I have become a real convert to this amazingly supportive and productive community.  I love hearing people’s thoughts on my book in real time, as they read it.  I love answering questions, seeing which bits they think are funny, what resonates with them.  I also really got a kick out of getting to be Charles Dickens for a summer – serialising my book one chapter at a time and really getting the most out of my mini cliffhangers!  I’m evil like that.

Loneliness is now on up on Wattpad in its entirety, and  I am in the process of posting The Glow of Fallen Stars at the moment.  Chapter Four will go up tomorrow to celebrate the release of the book itself, and I will stop there, apart from adding some exclusive deleted scenes from The Loneliness of Distant Beings over the coming weeks.  There may not be DVDs any more, but I’m still calling them my DVD extras.  I’m retro.

I think I’ll probably write more about Wattpad, and the stories and netherworlds I discovered while wandering the labyrinthine hallways of its fanfic, once I’ve got more time, but for now I’m off to finish posting – I’m starting a competition tomorrow asking what song would feature on a soundtrack to The Loneliness of Distant Beings – should be fun!

Book Review: This Savage Song

Monsters.  Under the bed, under the sea, looming over us with their huge spiked club mid-battle… over the years we’ve seen them all, but none quite like those that feature in VE Schwab’s haunting, insidiously chilling THIS SAVAGE SONG, which I recently raced through in a few short days.

The monsters in this relentlessly dark future are real, walking amongst us, taking our form, but brought into being by our own evil deeds – the more unspeakable the horror the deadlier the creature that is created.  In this world, the edgy and difficult Kate is trying to find her way despite the machinations of her all-powerful father, and with the help/complication of charismatic new boy (and undercover monster) August.

A clever premise combines with unusual and intriguing characters to bring this appalling alternative society to life, and the reader is sucked in and lost amongst its brutal urban landscape of decay (both moral and physical) from the very first pages.  The pace of this book is somehow simultaneously hypnotic and frenetic, with plenty of action and horror to satisfy while also providing the space for a tender love story to blossom at its heart.  The fact that it also acts as an allegory for the ‘evil that men do’ and meditates on whether we can control the evil that may be innate, lying dormant but inevitable within us, also makes it a relevant read within today’s global atmosphere of unrest and unease.  I will definitely be reading the sequel of this black-hearted urban symphony.

Book Review: Chasing The Stars

 

It will not be a surprise to anyone that I love books set in space, and when I heard about this – a take on Othello by the amazing Malorie Blackman – I knew it would be fantastic.  Othello is actually one of my favourite Shakespeare plays – it’s so complex, so rich and must have been so forward-thinking for its time.  (I even got my one and only 100% for an essay on it when studying it at A-level, but that’s a different story).

V and her brother are alone on a spaceship, lone survivors of a virus which has wiped out the rest of the crew.  Into this isolation comes Nathan and his fellow crewmembers, and he and V feel an immediate and powerful attraction to each other.  But there is trouble ahead, as the varying motivations of those around them lead to manipulation, betrayal and secrets that threaten to tear them, and the wider situation, apart.

It’s an intriguing and eerie set-up, with Blackman creating a very dark and intensely lonely world for her protagonist.  It initially stretches believability that two teenagers would be able to manage to survive in deep space alone on a huge spacecraft, but there is a good explanation for this that is later revealed (and I didn’t see it coming at all).  Blackman is typically unflinching and honest in her realistic depiction of both sex and violence, which is something I really love about her writing.  True to her well established form, she ratchets up an almost unbearable amount of tension in depicting the increasingly twisted loyalties between her cast of characters, leading to an exciting climax and an unexpected final twist, that definitely leaves you wanting more.

A dark, brutal, suspenseful space tale, with plenty of twists and a fearless but believable heroine, from a seasoned storyteller at the top of her game.

Book Review: Illuminae

illuminae-coverYou can only hear about a book so many times before you realise you’re going to have to read it for yourself.  And so it was with the much lauded Illuminae.  A dark, dirty, brutal space apocalypse of a novel that explores endurance, resilience and the nature of intelligence through records of conversations, documents, memos, IMs and emails, with inevitably shifting viewpoints.

It’s hard to believe that a story told in this way could make the deep emotional impact that Illuminae does, and as a writer I sometimes found myself wondering why the authors had set themselves this specific challenge.  I couldn’t initially see that this form could be anything other than a barrier to the telling of a great story and the building of a well-drawn world.  But, as it progresses, two things happen: one is that you become so used to it that you stop even noticing, and the second is that the realisation dawns that this particular story could only ever have been told in this particular way.

The central character’s bravery, while staggering, never strays into the realms of the ridiculous.  My pet hate is heros who appear to feel no fear or hesitation; that’s not courage, that’s a psychological issue.  Kady’s fear and trepidation and doubts and horror and pain are visceral and bleed through the page.  But in amongst it all, sitting incongruously in this inevitably cold and brutal environment, there is also warmth, love and humour.  Particularly in some of the IM sections, I actually had several of those bedtime LOL moments that make my husband look askance at me.  

(More looking askance occurred when I began tilting and peering at my Kindle, and a brief aside here on the limits of the format, for consideration when investing in this book.  Living in a country where I can’t easily buy physical books in my preferred language means that I am usually a die-hard fan of the Kindle, but Illuminae’s artistic ambitions and insistence on experimentation with form make this a challenge that the plucky device is not quite able to deliver on.  Although there was something inherently pleasing about reading it on a little glowing crystal display in the dark, almost like I was tucked into a corner of the spaceship myself.  That said, I definitely feel I missed out by not possessing it in full physical glory.)

Protagonists who are believable as both teenagers and everymen, a suitably cold and well-defined space setting, and a backstory that underpins and founds, without overwhelming, Illuminae weaves in the familiar while simultaneously subverting the expected.  Making thrilling use of elements of zombie apocalypse and high-brow cerebral sci-fi, as well as twisty political intrigue and high-octane action, Illuminae has the genre-defying air of a captivating epic just getting started.

A Blog on a Vlog

I was recently asked to make a video for hebban.nl on my thoughts about why sci-fi is popular. Obviously I made a bit of a hash of it. I mean, I’ve never done anything like that before so I ended up recording it about eight hundred times before I could manage to say it all without massive pauses and loads of umming and ahing. It was only later I realised that what I really should have done is just edited those out. Doh. Well, you live and learn. And now I have my own YouTube channel I guess I might as well try my hand at a few more.

Here’s the link in case you want to hear me rambling on and sharing my thoughts about why sci-fi is particularly popular at the moment.

Book Review: The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet

 

TLWTASAPI was recommended this book on #ukyachat but really had no idea what to expect.  I loved the title and of course I’m a HUGE sci-fi fan, so I was looking forward to finding out what the buzz was about.

In TLWTASAP, Becky Chambers introduces us to a vast, complex, multi-racial interconnected universe in which economic, political and cultural differences have been overcome to form a fragile alliance between many of the planets, systems and alien races. This is explored in both macro scale and micro scale, in the form of the multi-racial crew of the jobbing tunnelling ship The Wayfarer, a diverse and quirky band who have accepted their differences and fallen into a close camaraderie. They land the high-paying job of their dreams, but over the time and distance it takes them to complete it, they discover that it is not without its drawbacks.

The morals and ethics of war, the greed and inevitable fate of the human race, differing philosophies and notions of love, family and friendship – there is just so much in this book to think about and discuss. I found myself thinking that there was more than one story here, that there were, in fact, potentially dozens of spin-offs I would be interested to read. For this reason I was not surprised and was happy to find out that this is the first in a series.

The dazzling world building put me in mind of Iain M Banks’ Culture sci-fi series in its epic scale, diversity and solid rendering, and will ensure that any reader is keen to revisit this world. A fantastic and highly original book with action, tension, depth and heart.

Found in Translation

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 18.21.10July 1st saw the release of the first translated foreign language version of The Loneliness of Distant Beings – Eenzaam en Extreem Ver Weg – in Holland.  So far, the Dutch publishers, bloggers, readers (well just about everybody involved) have been so positive and responded with such enthusiasm and I am super excited to have been translated into a language I don’t even slightly understand so that I can reach a whole new set of readers.  Can you imagine how hard it is to translate a whole book?  Crazy.

On the left is the quote card the Dutch publishers produced with a book club who sent my book out in the monthly box to their subscribers.  There were two hundred of these cards that traveled all the way to Spain for me to sign, before heading back to Holland and into the homes of new readers.  A few of them even made videos of them”unboxing” and then posted them online (apparently this is a thing).  Obviously I have no idea what anyone is saying in these videos but I still think they’re very cool:  http://www.celebratebooks.nl/unboxing/.

Tonight I will even be dropping in to an event over there (sadly only via Skype) but I am really looking forward to meeting (sort of) some of my readers over there.  Wish me luck!