31 October 2011

'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' giveaway winner

The names have all been collected, sorted and put into the Prize Hat, lost, found, then lost again, before I give up on the hat nonsense and head over to Randomizer.

The winner of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is ...


Congratulations! I'll be getting touch to send this out to you soon!


Also, to all of you participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you all the very best. I'm hanging back this year, and I'm instead going to work my way through Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, Carpe Julgulum by Terry Pratchett and The Hermitica of Elysium by Annemarie Banks.

28 October 2011

Zombie Fitness Friday - Week 5 (back in action)

Zombie horde vs. Twilight fangirls - frighteningly similar
So, after a longer than normal hiatus, Zombie Fitness Friday is back! I've had a chance to take a look at some real fitness goals and tweak my habits a little, which I think will serve me well in the wake of the coming zombie apocalypse:

  • Weight loss is the ultimate goal; as we all know, 'fatties die first'
  • The belly and man-boobs have to go (lovingly dubbed 'The Unholy Trinity' by my gym buddy)
  • Improve my upper body strength - Right know heavy lifting isn't my strong point, so swinging a chainsaw at a horde of the undead is going to be tricky
  • Stamina - I need to be able to run a good few miles solid without feeling the need to pass out. The more distance I can put between me and the shufflers, the better.
After about a month of no activity, most of the good work I put in initially was kind of lost. I'm rectifying that by hitting the gym 3 times a week instead of twice, and I'm also mixing cardio with weight training to shake things up so it doesn't become too boring.

I've yet to do a weight check this week to see if my first week back has made any difference, so I'll let you know next week.

My favourite from Week 4's post was from Sarah Ahiers,

"I have to say, "zombie fit" is now a term i plan on using in my every day life. Especially during my early morning workouts." -- good to see it catching on :)

What would be the one thing you'd like to improve about yourself when the zombie apocalypse hits? What would improve your chances of survival? 

26 October 2011

Bringing fantasy to the masses

UPDATE: The link below is now working. Not sure what Blogger was playing at, but it's now been fixed. Thanks to those who pointed it out :)

Some of you may remember the difficulty I had in getting people to accept copies of Northern Lights by Philip Pullman as part of 2011's World Book Night (one of the saddest moments was when someone wanted me to sign the book because they thought that I had wrote it, or the mother who refused to let her kids have books).

I've signed up to do it again in April 2012, this time (hopefully) handing out copies of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I really want to make an impact and introduce people to the fantasy genre, and I figure there's not better introduction than a book written by its two greatest British authors.

My only concern is that my efforts will be a repeat of last year. Every location and local press centres I spoke to about it ignored me completely, and people were generally apprehensive about accepting a free book.

The aim is to get non-readers to take the book, read it and find the same joy of reading that we have. This is a difficult task when these are the same people who (stereotypically for the Welsh Valleys) would sooner mug you than accept a free book.

Have you had any success in getting someone to pick up a book and read, even if it isn't fantasy? What can I do to improve on last year?

24 October 2011

Book trailer - CassaFire by Alex J. Cavanaugh

Don't forget that my giveaway for  Daughter of Smoke & Bone ends Friday (28th). Head on over to the giveaway post and pop a comment on to win!


This one's made the rounds online already; since I've been away for a little bit it's been hard to keep your finger on the pulse of the SFF world. The trailer for CassaFire by our ninja captain Alex J. Cavanaugh has been released, and it looks awesome. I really like that this time around we get to see some snippets from scenes that are in the book itself, as well as hearing Byron speak.

The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend - to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather.

The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren's civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan's technology and strange mental abilities.

To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves, the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…

14 October 2011

Pay It Forward blogfest

This event is the brainchild of Matthew over at The QQQE and Alex J. Cavanaugh. The aim is to introduce everyone to as many new bloggers as possible. Each participant lists three bloggers that they feel deserve to get more recognition, who in turn recommend three bloggers, and so on until everyone's connected. It's a great way of finding new people on this big, wide Internet, so here are my choices.

Fantasy Nibbles
A brand-new fantasy review blog, but a very good one. Great, honest reviews and banter. And you can be a part of it from the ground up. Check it out!

Hairnets and Hopes
What I love most about this blog is Vic's enthusiasm and conversational style. You'll get some great discussions from here.

Random Writings
A must-have source for every writer. As well as posting chapters from her draft serial Shades of Errol Flynn, Carol offers excellent advice on grappling with issues of grammar and structure. If you write, you need to visit!

Be sure to check out those blogs, join up, leave comments, and let them know that I sent you on over. Here's hoping that a blog or two will list me as one of their top three, hehe.

If you're looking for even more blogs to follow, check out the longlist:

12 October 2011

Concept albums that are based on literature

EDIT: I've linked my favourite tracks to the song titles rather than embed them in the post. It looks less cluttered that way.

I've said before that I'm a big fan of power/progressive/symphonic metal (hereon in called fantasy metal) because of the fantasy imagery in the lyrics and in the music itself. There's an almost literary quality to the genre as it deals with sweeping story arcs and imagined lands. Fantasy metal draws its inspiration from novels and folklore, so it's no surprise that there are concept albums that are based entirely around books. Here are my favourites.

Kamelot - Epica and The Black Halo
[based on Faust by Goethe]

Kamelot is my favourite fantasy metal band, and this two-part epic is the reason why. The MC, Ariel sells his soul to the demon Mephisto in order for untold knowledge and power.

My favourite song from these albums is Descent of the Archangel, where Ariel sells his soul to Mephisto.

Vanden Plas - Christ 0
[based on The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas]

Christ 0 reinterprets the original Dumas novel in a more modern setting, showing a man who is imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. Vanden Plas use orchestral pieces and large choirs to give their music a very epic feel.

My favourite track from this album is called Fireroses Dance. I'm not greatly familiar with the novel, so I'm not sure which part of the story it covers.

Nightfall in Middle-Earth - Blind Guardian
[based on The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien]

Blind Guardian are likely to be the archetypal fantasy metal band. They are heavily influenced by Lord of the Rings, and Nightfall in Middle-Earth is no exception. The album chronicles the events of The Silmarillion, the prequel to The Hobbit.

The whole album is teeming with Tolkien-y goodness, but if I have to pick a track it would be Nightfall.

The Dark Saga - Iced Earth
[based on the Spawn graphic novels by Todd MacFarlane]

Iced Earth are another band that are heavily influenced by fantasy and sci-fi in their work (check out their 17-minute epic of Dante's Inferno and their horror-themed concept album Horror Show). The Dark Saga follows a man who sells his soul to the Devil for the woman he loves, only to find that she has betrayed him.

The best track on this album for me is A Question of Heaven, where the protagonist realises that he cannot escape the bargain he has made.

So those are my top picks for metal albums that are based on books.
Do you like music that is based on literature? Are you a fan of concept albums like these?

10 October 2011

I am published! (sort of)

It's not a novel. It's not a novella. It's not a short story. It's not even fiction. But it's published!

I've been writing short articles on finance and technology for blog exchanges with my internship for a few weeks now, and it so happened that one of the blogs also did a monthly newspaper. Much to my surprise, my article was featured in their print run! Some of you may recall that I had an article published with an in-house work magazine a month or so ago, but this is a step up in my books.

Even though digital media is becoming the inevitable way forward, there's still a thrill in seeing you name in print. Let's hope these 500-word articles turn into 100,000 novels at some point in the near future!

Yup, that's me right there. You might not be able to see it, but it's there.
Don't forget that I'm giving away a copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Just take a look at my birthday giveaway post for more details. You can also read my review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone in case you're wondering if it's any good (it is).

8 October 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor [book review]

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Written by Laini Taylor
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback - 418 pages
Published September 2011
Review copy given by the publisher
Taylor's strength is in her characters and their interaction. Her dialogue is snappy, witty and perfectly sets the tone for her scenes. In particular, the dialogue between Karou and Zusanna is filled with banter and they compliment each other very well. Karou herself is a strong female lead, but not in the sense that the author deliberately wanted to battle against the system. Karou's strength is in her unusual upbringing and outlook of the world, which also makes her struggle for independence and desire to 'belong' more grounded and believable. 

The romantic elements of the story were well written and not put in for the sake of the YA market. Karou's nature means that she battle against any and all romantic advances but at the same time years for them. Her love interest's conflicted emotions also tie into Karou's 'otherness'. 

Taylor's mythology behind the story, particularly the seraphim and the chimaera, is well crafted and sheds a different light on how we view good and evil (the influence of the two species on mankind has great potential for future novels). Her mystery in the use of teeth by Brimstone and her magic system of denominational wishes like currency is well told and still doesn't give too much of itself away.

The wish system is something I particularly liked. Wishes are used in the same manner as money - there are certain denominations of wishes that can be used depending on how grand the wish is. These are contained within beads or coins, and once the wish is made, the object vanishes. This magic system works really well because it takes something that is thought of as less 'magical' (wish fulfillment) and turns it into something tangible. This is one side of the story that I hope Taylor expands on in her future books.

The only real downside that I saw in Smoke & Bone was a flashback sequence that took a little too long, and would have been better if it was somehow broken up with present-day chapters. The plot itself, however, was well paced and compelling, and the back-story and revelation further serves to enrich this deep-rooted world that Taylor has created.

I was a little apprehensive when I saw some of the reviews that had been coming out of the woodwork for Smoke & Bone, namely that it was a mix of Northern Lights and Twilight (those who know me know my deep disdain for sparkly vampires). However, Smoke & Bone takes the best elements of YA paranormal romance and puts them into a mystifying fantasy with very well written characters and a deep and rich mythology.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a novel that happily finds its home on the bookshelves of YA and traditional fantasy lovers alike. Taylor has written a compelling story filled with complex and believable characters, fighting a hidden war of which we've only scratched the surface. If you have a spare wish, then wish to have this on your shelf.

6 October 2011

Birthday giveaway!

Source: James Rhinehelder
It's my birthday today! *sound fanfare* I'm not just blogging about it because I expect hundreds of comments wishing me many happy returns (but if there aren't, I'll be sad, and you wouldn't want to see a sad Welshman. It's not pretty).

In true Hobbit-style, I'm taking this opportunity to give a present to one of you. Hodder & Stoughton have kindly given me a copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor to giveaway to one of you fine people. Here's the blurb:

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things.

When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

I'll post my review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone this weekend, but I'll just say that it's definitely worth reading. If you want a chance at getting a copy, just pop a comment here and you'll be entered. As always, bonus points for snark and wit. I'll keep this giveaway open until October 27th, and I'll announce the winner on Hallowe'en. The giveaway is available to the UK and Ireland only (sorry everyone else).

In either case, I'd appreciate it a hell of a lot if you all could blog, tweet and post up on Facebook about the giveaway. My UK readers are voracious yet small in number, so the more exposure it gets the better.

I will now accept your presents, cake and cries of adulation.

5 October 2011

Putting pen to paper [IWSG]

This is the second installment of The Insecure Writer's Support Group, headed by our ninja captain Alex. The IWSG is a chance for writers to come together and share their anxieties and their worries, and to offer up some advice.

On Monday, I went to the launch of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor in London. It was an amazing night, with free cocktails, strange foods and great company. I got chatting to some of the guys from Hodder & Stoughton, and they asked me about my blog. Then one of them asked,
"So, are you a writer as well as a blogger?"

I wanted to say immediately "hell, yes!" but then I realised I can't really count myself amongst the ranks of writers here. I've not actually written anything in months. I've ideas, sure, I've got about 4 different story ideas running through my head right now, but I've not actually started the process of writing the damn things.

I'm not quite sure what's holding me back. I attempted NaNoWriMo last year, but I stalled within a few days. I also have a habit of not being able to complete something unless I start it in the right way. I love planning and outlining, so that bit I'm fine with. I just never seem to be able to begin the grind of writing the story in full, and then keeping that momentum.

Is it a case of 'just grin and bear it'? Do I just push myself to write, in a similar vein to NaNoWriMo, where I have to complete a certain number of words a day? Do I start of smaller: write up flash fiction pieces that tie in with my main novel idea, then build up gradually into an epic piece? Or do I write in an expansive way i.e. sum up my entire story in a single sentence. Then split that sentence and flesh it out into 2 sentences, then 4 then 8, then 16 etc. until I have a finished novel?

I think once I have a substantial amount of written story under my belt I'll be able to carry on under my own steam, it's just getting to that point that I'm having trouble with.

What do you think is the best option for me? How have you overcome similar problems with starting to write something?

Be sure to check out some of the other participants below, and if you're tweeting about it, use the hashtag  #IWSG to let others know.

3 October 2011

Book meme - On my bookshelves #1


This is a book meme hosted by A Night's Dream of Books to highlight just how much us book nuts hoard our precious books without actually reading them. All those brand new 'must-haves' in the book shops, hand me down hardbacks that you just can't resist, and an ever-increasing selection of Christmas and birthday gifts. My shelves are fit to burst with books, and here's a couple that I've not yet had the pleasure of reading (though I intend to ... someday).

Stephen Lawhead - Song of Albion trilogy

These were given to me years ago as a gift, and have since survived the move to three different cities, and I've still not taken a look at them. I've read Lawhead's Taliesin, which I really enjoyed. I want to make sure I can read all three one after the other, so they go to the back of the pile.

Ben Aaronovitch - Rivers of London
This was an absolute bargin - I snagged this for half price when I got myself a copy of SFX Magazine. I've been wanting to read Aaronovitch for a while, but my TBR pile dictates the order of reading, so it's still waiting to be opened.

 Robin Hobb - Ship of Magic

I can't really remember actually buying this, so it must have been part of a haul at my local market (there was always some fantasy there for me to drool over). The cover attracted me more than anything else (naughty, I know) but I've never had much of a desire to read it.

One day I'll get through all of these. One day ...

What books have you got on your bookshelves that are still waiting to be read/re-read?

Just a quite note to say I'll be popping down to the great city of London this evening for the book launch of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. I'm halfway through the book, so here's hoping I can finish it on the bus trip to London!

Also, I've fixed the image issue on my post on the NPR Top 100 fantasy and sci-fi flowchart. Image compression was working against me, but now you can all see the chart in its full glory!

1 October 2011

Review: The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky (Hodder & Stoughton)

The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback - 368 pages
Published August 2011
Review copy given by Hodder & Stoughton via the author

Welcome to Low Town.
Here, the criminal is king. The streets are filled with the screeching of fish hags, the cries of swindled merchants, the inviting murmurs of working girls. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure they are never found.

Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer; now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You'd struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his.
But then a missing child, murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. 
And then another. 

With a mind as sharp as a blade and an old but powerful friend in the city, he's the only man with a hope of finding the killer.

If the killer doesn't find him first. 


The first thing that struck me about the world of Low Town is that it is every bit as bleak as the world we live in. The chances of getting killed through plague, murder, drug abuse or just stepping on the wrong toes and finding yourself thrown into the canal are very real and very high. Polansky doesn't shroud the reader from reality - just because it's fantasy, doesn't mean it's all sparkles and flying ponies. Low Town is a dark and sinister place to live, and Polansky creates it with the familiarity of someone who's spent a lifetime prowling its underbelly.

The characters of The Straight Razor Cure are well aware of their surroundings and act accordingly. There's no misplaced sense of honour, glory or duty. People do what they have to in order to survive. Warden is a great example of this. He tends to do the right thing, sure, but it goes against every fibre of his being and he'd much rather continue to peddle drugs to the low-lives of the city. The characters in The Straight Razor Cure don't conform to traditional archetypes, rather they represent the real mix of folk you'd get in a city in the grip of sickness and crime. Everyone's a little bit shady, no matter how angelic they may seem.

Polansky's greatest strength is his flair for the bitterly eloquent. My favourite passage from The Straight Razor Cure is the Warden's summary of the aristocracy (p. 106),

If the human race has ever invented an institution more effective in the propagation of intellectual and ethical cripples than the nobility, I have yet to stumble across it. Take the progeny of a half-millennium of inbred mongoloids, first cousins and hemophiliacs. Raise them via a series of bloated wet-nurses, drink-addled confessors and failed academics, because Sakra knows Mommy and Daddy are too busy diddling themselves at court to take a hand in the upbringing of a child. Ensure any youthful training they receive extends to nothing more practical than swordsmanship and the study of languages no longer spoken, grant them a fortune upon attainment of their majority, place them outside the bounds of any legal system more developed than the code duello, add the general human instinct towards sloth, avarice and bigotry, stir thoroughly and voila - you have the aristocracy.

If there is a downside, there were a couple of infodumps here and there that were a little too long, but that's just me nitpicking. 

The Straight Razor Cure is dark, eloquent work filled with a very real presence that permeates both the world and the characters within it. Polansky has created a wickedly delicious fantasy that leaves a profound impression on the reader. Despite the plague, murderers and dark magic, I can't wait to pay another visit to Low Town.