Wednesday, 28 March 2018

60 Seconds with CS Wilde

By JJ Marsh

C.S. Wilde wrote her first fantasy novel when she was eight. That book was absolutely terrible, but her mother told her it was awesome, so she kept writing.
Now a grown-up (though many will beg to differ), C. S. Wilde writes about fantastic worlds, love stories larger than life and epic battles.
She also, quite obviously, sucks at writing an author bio. She finds it awkward that she must write this in the third person, and hopes you won't notice.

Which work most influenced you when growing up?

I’d say one book and one author come to mind. The book would be “The Golden Beetle”, a Brazilian mystery for teens that I read when I was twelve. It was my absolute favourite book. Then there was the entire work of Machado de Assis, one of the most brilliant Brazilian authors who has ever lived. To this day, no one knows if Capitú really cheated on Bentinho, and I remember having these heated discussions with my friends at school, because we simply couldn’t reach a consensus. To incite that kind of reaction on your readers even 100 years after your death? It’s something pretty awesome, and also, what I really strive to do as an author.

Where do you write?

In my office at home.

Who or what had the biggest impact on your creative life?

My mom, because she was a journalist and she encouraged me to write.

How far are you influenced by other media, such as music or fine art?

I’m extremely influenced by movies and series. It’s why my writing has a very descriptive, and yet, fast-pace to it. It’s all about painting pictures, creating impact, and moving on.

Do you have a phrase that you most overuse?

In writing? I’d say it depends. I use way too many shrugs, rolls of eyes, and shakes of heads. A lot of likes and justs. In From the Stars, I used a lot of “I have a bad feeling about this”, but that was a homage to Star Wars.

In real life, I say, “Say whaaaaa?” pretty much all the time. It’s become my trademark. Also, “I can’t even”, because I just love it.

Which writers do you enjoy?

Patrick Rothfuss, Oscar Wilde, R. Lee Smith, Sara J. Maas, Junot Díaz, and so many more I can’t count.

Why do you write in your particular genre(s)?

I love action and romance. Paranormal/Sci-fi Romance are perfect genres for that kind of story. Though I do plan on writing an epic Fantasy at some point.

What makes you laugh?


Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?

Hmm, not that I know of.

Which book did you expect to like/hate and found it quite the opposite?

I really wasn’t planning on enjoying Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence, but it was pretty awesome.

Which book has impressed you most this year?

The Land of the Beautiful Dead by R. Lee Smith

Would you share what you’re working on next?

It’s a paranormal romance featuring angels and demons. I’m working on book 2 right now. It’s been such a fun ride. These will be my longest books to date, because they have pretty heavy themes, and I put my characters through a LOT so they can find the truth about themselves—and they won’t always like what they find. Also, I have way too much material to work with.

Can I interest you in some canapés, and a small excerpt?

It’s nice when it’s in the quiet of their homes or in the hospital," the Angel of Death said. "Right now, I’m present in hearings for thousands of souls. Some happen in dark alleys, some underwater, some with too much blood, and some in a gripping cold, like yours, Sella.” The creature shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s nice when they pass in the warmth of a bed.”

“It was quite cold that day,” Sella muttered, her stomach churning.

She hated remembering her death. She wasn’t certain about what had killed her; either the freezing cold or the strike to the head. Maybe, both.

What’s the best way of spending a Sunday morning?

Eating pancakes and watching The Grand Tour. Sweet.

A Courtroom of Ashes:

Thursday, 22 March 2018

A Day in the Life of ... A Book Blogger

By Jo Barton 

In 2011 I took a leap of faith and entered the world of book blogging. With no technical knowledge of where to start, or indeed of how maintain a website, I enthusiastically signed up to a free blogging platform which had a simple interface and good graphics. However, having the website wasn’t enough, my blog needed a name and so with the help of Jaffa, my glorious ginger cat, Jaffareadstoo was born. Initially my blog was simply a place to add my thoughts and when I started to tentatively add my book reviews, I did so safe in the knowledge that no-one would read them.

I’m not a professional book reviewer and even though, at the time, I was reviewing books for an independent book magazine, initially my views on Jaffareadstoo were just for my own pleasure. Then something quite remarkable started to happen, Jaffa sprinkled his magic book dust and soon my blog viewing numbers started to rise quite steadily. People were actually stopping by to read my reviews. I was absolutely astonished and utterly delighted. Jaffareadstoo’s reputation grew rapidly and when we started to be approached by authors and publishers who liked what we did and who asked if they could be a guest on the blog or who wanted us to read and review their books or take part in organised blog tours, well of course, Jaffa and I were delighted to help out.

When I was asked to describe a day in the life of a book blogger, I had to really stop and think about what I did and realised just how much time I spend in the book blogging world.

My day starts at around eight in the morning when I log onto Jaffareadstoo. I try to have a blog post every day and schedule posts at least a week in advance but there are usually last minute changes to be made and always reviews to be written. Writing book reviews doesn’t always come easily, I always seem to have my best ideas late at night or when shopping in the supermarket, so I always have a notebook and pencil to hand to jot down my thoughts. I spend a long time preparing reviews and always strive to give a balanced and thoughtful appraisal, spoiler free, of course.

Putting blog posts together takes time and patience, and by trial and lots of errors, I have found what works and what doesn’t, and hope that each blog post looks as good as I can make it. Once I am good to go, I share my blog links on social media. I have a successful Twitter account with an active and increasing following and I also have a dedicated Jaffareadstoo Facebook page.

I am always delighted to be invited to take part in organised blog tours as they are a really fun activity and I enjoy being able help to promote books in such a positive way. Blog tours give me the opportunity to share exclusive extracts, Q&As with the author or to offer a copy of the book in an enticing giveaway. Blog Tours usually generate a great deal of social media interest and it’s a wonderful informal way to interact with authors, readers and, of course, other book bloggers.

I find that it helps to be organised and I have a comprehensive monthly reading plan plus several book diaries so that I don’t miss deadlines or book publication dates. However, I use the term 'organised' rather loosely, as I can, and do juggle books around to suit my reading mood.

Once my blog post for the day goes live, I then spend quality time online, interacting with other bloggers on social media. I belong to a couple of really good Facebook groups, A Bunch of Book Bloggers and Book Connectors, whose support and encouragement is invaluable.

Tackling emails is usually a big part of my morning as my inbox is always full to overflowing!! I enjoy receiving book review requests from any and every one, from independent authors to big name publishers. I try to respond to all review requests but there is a limit to my time and I simply can’t read everything. I do have a comprehensive review policy which explains quite clearly the type of genre which doesn’t suit my personal reading taste.

Of course in order to review, first I must read, and I have an eclectic taste in books and can’t imagine a day where I don’t have a least a couple of books on the go. With Jaffa curled up nearby and armed with copious amounts of my favourite Darjeeling tea, I read in the afternoons and late into the evening and can comfortably read an average length novel in a day.

Seven years, and over 2000 blog posts later, Jaffareadstoo continues to survive and thrive in a competitive world. Being a book blogger is an absolute joy and it’s always a real privilege and such an honour when an author trusts their work with me.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Jhalak Prize 2018

By Catriona Troth

It has once again been my complete pleasure to read all six of the books from the Jhalak Prize shortlist (and as many as I could from the longlist). 

As I read through the list, I kept thinking I had found the book that could not possibly be beaten – only to find another equally as powerful. So many of these books punched me in the gut, I cannot imagine how the judges (Sunny Singh, Catherine Johnson, Tanya Byrne, Vera Chok and Noo Saro-Wiwa) are going to pick an eventual winner. Whoever it is, they will deserve all possible plaudits.

The winner will be announced on Thursday 15th but on the eve on the announcement, here is my review of this year’s amazing nominees.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

In a series of eloquently argued chapters, Eddo-Lodge addresses (among other things) the erasure of Black Britons from British history, the nature of White Privilege, the failure of White Feminism to engage with issues of racism, the often overlooked intersections of race with class – and what white people should be doing to tackle racism.

I want to put this book into the hands of every good-hearted, liberal-minded white person I know and say, ‘please read this; please try and understand. We are all complicit, but we don’t have to be.’

Catriona Troth’s full review on BookMuse

When I Hit You, Or Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

I climb into the incredible sadness of silence. Wrap its slowness around my shoulders, conceal its shame within the folds of my sari.

A fictionalised account of domestic violence and rape within a marriage, told through many different lenses. It begins with the mother recounting, over and over, the state of her daughter’s feet when she fled home. It covers letters written to imaginary lovers, and deleted before her husband can come home and read them. It goes through story boards of films she will make of her experiences, before dropping, intermittently into unvarnished accounts of a classic pattern of domestic abuse – control, isolation, verbal abuse, physical, sexual, and finally death threats.

Victims of abuse are often confronted with the question, ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ Kandasamy takes you so deep inside her narrator’s head you are forced to acknowledge the funnelling of her choices into just one, narrow conduit.

Catriona Troth’s full review on BookMuse

The Island At the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

There are some places you would not want to go. Even if I told you that we have oceans filled with sea turtles and dolphins, or forests lush with parrots that call through air thick with warmth. Nobody comes here because they want to. The island of no return.

From 1906 to 1998, Culion became with world’s biggest leper colony. In the early part of the 20th C, thousands of those touched by the disease were forcibly transported to the island, their healthy children taken from them by government authorities to avoid further contamination. This is a story of cruelty promulgated by arrogant authorities believing they know best and failing utterly to see the subjects of their experiments as whole people. A story of love and trust, hope and reconciliation, told in language that is both simple and utterly poetic.

Catriona Troth’s full review on BookMuse

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

Nadeem Aslam’s novel contains images of such lyricism they feel almost like the creations of a magical realist – beginning with scale models of two of the world’s most famous mosques, which in the winter form cosy work cabins for two architects and in summer are winched up into the rafters out of the way. But the novel is rooted firmly – and grimly – in reality.

The Golden Legend examines religious extremism, intolerance, the concept of blasphemy, and the consequences of India and Pakistan’s long tug of war over Kashmir. Its portrayal of modern day Pakistan is brutal – a searing indictment of the ever-narrowing definition of ‘purity’ applied to determine who belongs in ‘The Land of the Pure’ – first rooting out Hindus and Sikhs, then all-but eliminating other minority religions, and now turning equally ruthlessly on sects within Islam. But just as importantly, The Golden Legend holds up a mirror to Britain and the USA, warning them of the consequences path they have both embarked on, of narrowing what it means to be British or American.

Catriona Troth’s full review on BookMuse

Once Upon a Time in the East by Xialou Guo

A memoir of growing up in China, of peasant existence in the 1970s, and the immense changes that have swept over China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. It is also the story of a struggle to develop an identity and a creative voice, first in a collective society, and then later, marooned and isolated as an immigrant in a foreign country.

Fascinating as Guo’s account of her life in China is, it is her struggle to find a creative voice in a strange country and in an unknown tongue that I found most absorbing. It always seems extraordinary to us stubbornly monoglot Anglophones when someone expresses themselves creatively in a language they did not grow up with. But the gulf that Guo had to cross was far more than merely linguistic. It required an entirely new mode of thinking.

“How could someone who had grown up in a collective society get used to using the first person singular all the time? The habitual use of ‘I’ requires thinking of yourself as a separate entity in a society of separate entities.”

Catriona Troth’s full review on BookMuse

Kumakanda by Kayo Chingonyi

The title of Kayo Chingonyi’s debut book of poetry, Kumukanda, refers to the initiation rites that young boys of the Luvale, Chokwe, Luchazi and Mbunda people in north western Zambia must pass through to be considered a man. As the author says, ‘This book approximates such rites of passage in the absence of my original culture.’

The book begins with poems about growing up in south London and a ‘white flight’ town outside London, about his relationship with music and rap and how that helped forge his identity. But Chingonyi moves on from that. His poems address casual racism, colonialism, the reduction of Africa to the single image of a dying child. A whole group of poems deal with the loss, at a young age, of both his father and his mother.

These are poems that combine lyrical beauty with razor-sharp political commentary. Chingonyi said, in an interview with the ICA Bulletin in 2016, that one of his aims in writing is to “chip away at the motion that whiteness is the normative unmediated position from which all other subjectivities deviate.” Which makes him a perfect fit for the Jhalak Prize shortlist.

Catriona Troth’s full review on BookMuse

And also from the shortlist:

 We That Are Young by Preti Taneja

A darkly comic study of a monstrously dysfunctional family that is also so, so much more. Directors of Shakespeare’s plays can suggest settings in time and place the give context to the drama. But in transporting the story to India and fleshing out the location through the rich medium of the novel, Taneja has at once breathed entirely new life into a classic text, held a mirror held up to the faults and frailties of modern India, and created a powerful metaphor for greed, cruelty and corruption everywhere.

Catriona Troth’s full review on BookMuse

Come All You Little Persons by John Agard

The first test for a picture book is how it reads out loud. And, as you would expect from a poet like Agard, Come All You Little Persons has the rhythm that makes that a joy. The second test is whether is stands being read again and again, with enough to hold the interest of both adult and child. Come All You Little Persons passes that test with flying colours.

Catriona Troth’s full review on BookMuse

 Worry Angels by Sita Brahmachari

Two very different young girls, both facing massive life changes, are eased into their new Secondary School by the wonderful Grace Nuala and her messy colourful art house. Written in clear, simple English and beautifully illustrated by Jane Ray, this would suit young readers struggling with anxiety or those learning about refugees. But equally, it would be an excellent book for slightly older children learning English as an additional language. Worry Angels is full of warmth and empathy and above all, hope.

Catriona Troth’s full review on BookMuse

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

60 Seconds with Lisa Regan

By Gillian Hamer

Author, paralegal, former martial arts instructor, former certified nursing assistant, former bookstore manager - Lisa Regan has worn many hats in her life but writing has always been her greatest love. She has been writing novels since she was eleven years old when one of her parents brought home an old-fashioned typewriter and set it in front of her.

Lisa's first two suspense novels, Finding Claire Fletcher and Kill For You were published in 2012 and 2013. And she has gone on to have many bestsellers since, her latest Vanishing Girls is published in January 2018. 

Tell us a little about you and your writing.

I am a mother, wife and full-time paralegal living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the states. I have been writing fiction since I was eleven years old. I write every spare second I can get. I write crime thrillers, and they tend to be very gritty and dark.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Being able to create and just make things up. I love getting onto the page and the exhilarating feeling of freedom that comes with making up a new story or new set of characters or even a new plot twist. I get to use my imagination on a daily basis. It’s great fun.

And the worst?

I think any writer would say not being able to please all readers all the time. That’s a completely unreasonable expectation, of course, because everyone is different and people have different tastes. Writers know this intellectually, but I don’t think it stops them from wanting to knock it out of the park every time they sit down to write. The writing business is so subjective. But you always hope that readers will respond favourably to your work so if they don’t, it’s tough.

Why do you write? And why did you choose this genre?

I have always written to make sense of my world. I’ve been a bit obsessed with why people do bad things and how other people survive those bad things my entire life so all of my books are a sort of exploration of those themes. You’ll see in some of my books, I explore the bad guys as well as the good guys because I’m trying to figure out what makes them tick. I chose this genre because I’ve always been a huge mystery/suspense fan. I grew up on Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. As a reader, I love trying to figure things out and put the puzzle pieces together. I find it just as fun as a writer.

Do you have a special writing place?

No, not really. I wouldn’t have time to sit in it even if I did. I write whenever and wherever I can. Sometimes it’s the car. Sometimes it’s waiting in line at the post office. The best place to get writing done is any doctor’s waiting room. You always have to wait forever, and it’s nice and quiet.

Which writers do you most admire and why?

So many! My all-time favourite is Karin Slaughter because I love her blend of gritty realism and deep, fleshed-out characters. I also love Dennis Lehane—again for the grit but also because he has such a unique and irreverent voice. I love Angela Marsons as well. Her books are so well-plotted with really original premises, and I think her Kim Stone lead character is so unique. I can’t get enough! Other authors I love: Jennifer Hillier, Nancy S. Thompson, Carrie Butler, Katie Mettner, Dana Mason, Michael Infinito, Jr. All of them are amazing and talented, and I can never put their books down.

If you could choose a different genre to write in for just one book – what would it be?

Oddly enough, probably fantasy. I’d love to try and create my own worlds. I’m thinking of fictional worlds like Game of Thrones and even Wizard of Oz as fantasy worlds I’ve loved. It seems like the possibilities for creating a fantasy novel would be limitless! You could go in so many different directions.

What was your inspiration behind your new release, Vanishing Girls?

I’ve been obsessed with missing persons’ cases and fictional accounts of missing persons since I was a child. I was reading about a woman who had been abducted in the U.S. and then, thankfully, she was found alive. The fiction writer in me said, “What if that wasn’t the end of the story? What if being found was just the beginning of the story?” and I kind of went from there. So you’ll see that Josie comes into contact with two young women who vanished and were later found alive, and that is just the beginning of Josie’s journey in this book.

What three tips would you offer up-and-coming authors?

Write, write, write. Write every day if you can. Just get it all out and worry about fixing it or making it good later. The best way to hone your craft is by doing it constantly!
Read. Read as much as you can. You’ll learn so very much from other authors’ work. Also, make sure to read as much as you can in the genre you hope to write in so you have a feel for what’s out there.

Don’t be afraid to destroy what you’ve written. You have to be prepared to cut scenes, cut characters, change your plot, and make all kinds of adjustments to your work if you really want to get better. I know it hurts but sometimes that scene you wrote that is the most perfect piece of prose ever to flow from your pen just doesn’t belong in the book. You must be flexible and open to change.

What are your future writing plans?

Right now I’m working on the final edits for the second Josie Quinn book, The Girl With No Name, which comes out this April and I’m at work writing the first draft of the third Josie Quinn book, The Bad Mother which is due out in August 2018.

Find our more about Lisa here....           
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