Friday, 31 July 2015

Book Review

Paladin by Sally Slater

(Pub: Perfect Analogy Publishing, 2015)

Paladin by Sally Slater is another Wattpad success story.  It currently sits at…wait for it… 11.4 million reads and 258K votes and has now been published. It has over 840 ratings on Goodreads - not bad for a book that was published in May this year.

Lady Samantha Heywood, daughter of the Duke of Hayward is a young woman whose life is laid out before her – duty and marriage.  Samantha knows she wants more in life, but isn’t sure what “more” is.  After witnessing the murder of her mother by a demon and narrowly escaping the same fate, Samantha decides to change the course of her life.  After training in secret, Sam Heywood joins the Paladins, an order of knights whose role is to protect the kingdom from demons and other threats – of course they don’t allow women in their ranks. 

This is a familiar story line, but you forget that and simply enjoy it, as it's well executed. Slater manages to create engaging characters with emotional depth. Sam is fallible and her character evolves throughout the course of the novel, as do those of the two main male characters.

Here we have a teen who feels trapped and rails against her future, yet doesn’t initially know what she wants – this might be a fantasy novel, but right there in the first few pages is something many in the YA core readership will relate to.  (We know almost immediately what is at stake for our heroine.  Structure 101- I wish I read more manuscripts that got this right so quickly.)

I like the fact that Slater's heroine has to work hard for what she wants, is not perfect and confronts and often overcomes sexism. On the adventure side of the story, she also faces human and demon adversaries;  there are some excellent battles.  None of her trials are without cost.  There is an emotional cost in terms of her life choices and family as well as a physical cost to her battles. She does not magically defeat her enemies as if she were invincible – she is battered, bruised and nearly killed but doesn’t give up.
What I dislike supremely in fantasy novels is romance dominating the plot entirely (geez people when this happens – just call it a romance, please) and Slater does a very good job of balancing the romance aspect of this story with the action.  The reader is presented with the golden haired stereotypical hero and the dark “bad boy” as Sam's potential love interests, however what I liked is that the relationship that Sam finally chooses has been based on a friendship that has developed into something more.  It is also a relationship based on mutual respect.  There are all the requisite “sparks” and "sizzle" but not at first sight - thank goodness. 

Slater has written an excellent, fast paced, YA fantasy novel.  To her credit she has provided her readers with a heroine who succeeds in following her dreams, despite many difficulties, and who finds romance without having to compromise her own ideals or career choice - bravo.

This is a rollicking adventure and a great weekend’s escapism - I  thoroughly recommend it.

Four Stars.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Book Review

The Calvanni (The Jakirian Cycle, Book 1)

 by Chris McMahon

(Pub: Lanedd Press, 2013)

** I was provided an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.**

If you’re after a fast paced, complex adventure with detailed world building, politics and characters, then The Calvanni may be just what you’re looking for.

The Calvanni is set upon the world of Yos – a world where all metal is magical and cannot be forged.  The weapons and armour must be made from natural materials and special ceramics – a nice point of difference from other novels I’ve read.  The magic system has been well thought out and for those who like a lot magic in their reading, this book has plenty and some excellent battle sequences. 

When the story opens the reader is plunged into the scene dealing with the assassination of the Sarlord of Athria.  The depth of the political intrigue and old rivalries within the novel are quickly revealed.  McMahon has also created a world with complex social and religious classes and many unusual animals. 

This detail is one of the greatest strengths of The Calvanni, yet it may also be an initial obstacle to reading enjoyment for some.  There is an array of unique terminology for this world within the novel.  Fortunately, there is a glossary at the beginning of the book, which many may find useful.  I actually enjoyed all the new terms and creatures that McMahon adds to the world of Yos – for me it added to its sense of authenticity.  If you find this initially difficult, then persevere because your patience will reward you with a great read. The pace and the construction of the story are such that you just keep reading and pick up the terminology, or what is implied by it quickly.

On first glance the cover of The Calvanni seemed to me to be more akin to the type of illustration one would see on the cover of an romance novel that masquerades as epic fantasy – Don’t let that fool you because this is a high fantasy with some of the most original and intricate world building I have read in long while.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Four Stars!

Friday, 17 July 2015


Ishbelle Bee

Ishbelle is the author of one of my favourite books for this year: The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath.  It is one of the few books I think I'll read many times.  I loved it so much I even read bits of it aloud (trying to sound like the characters) in a crowded coffee shop to my husband, while trying not to giggle maniacally. (You’ll understand this reference when you read the book!) 

I am delighted to interview her about her work.

Tell us a little about yourself please?
I was born in London and I now live in Edinburgh, Scotland. My hobbies are painting, drawing and reading; my favourite authors are Angela Carter and Lewis Carroll. I am an Angry Robot author and I write adult fairy tales with horror elements, inspired by folklore and mythology. My second book in the Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq., The Contrary Tale of The Butterfly Girl is being published this August. Contrary Tale features an insane collector of butterflies and a demonic Prime Minister who eats women.

What books did you read as a child?
My favourites were Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I had a cassette tape of the latter, which I listened to at night when I was very young. It was wonderfully creepy. I think they are both one of the most original and brilliant pieces of writing I have ever read.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Always and also an illustrator. My other aim was to be a Time Lord when I was six and I had an imaginary Tardis and a real very long scarf knitted by my Granny. I was never keen on The Doctor’s companions ( except for K9 who I love ) and I would have probably booted them out of the Tardis mid-flight.

Where did the inspiration come from for The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath?
I wanted to write a book that incorporated the ideas of fraudulent psychics in the Victorian era, exorcism, and Jack the Ripper. During my twenties I read a lot of the case studies of Jack the Ripper and I have always been keen to write a book with my own imaginary version of him. Goliath was originally going to be a priest in early drafts but he worked better as a detective as the plot evolved.

How did you conjure up Mr Loveheart, who has to be one of the most endearing and deranged heroes I’ve ever read?
He was originally going to be a villain who only appeared in a few chapters and was going to be eaten by a tiger, but as I was writing him I got a funny feeling, as though the entire book was really about him and now he’s become my favourite character and very special to me. He is inspired in part by David Bowie’s Jareth in LABYRINTH and a little bit of Howl from HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. He has a peculiar charming madness.

To read my review of The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath click here.

Throughout the book there are quirky uses of font for some of the characters’ dialogue, which was a wonderful touch in light of their personalities – whose idea was that?
It was my idea and something I love to do when I write. I think visually with words and like to play with them on the page which I think helps accentuate certain meaning / feelings within the text and also it keeps the story fresh and makes the work standout. It’s something that I incorporate in all my work.

Mr Loveheart’s adventures continue in The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl: From the Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq Vol 2 – how many novels are you planning in this series?
I have written 4 books for the Loveheart series and a Christmas special book ( which features him doing his Christmas shopping and inadvertently becoming involved in a curious adventure ). I will be working on Book 5 later this year. I think there maybe more scope for him in other scenarios.
Do you have a favourite place or time to write?I love writing very early in the mornings. I like to start about 6am- 7am and work until about 2pm. I can only really work at a desk with my headphones on and listen to music so I block out the outside world. I need complete isolation when I write or I get grumpy and distracted. I like to write with plenty of strong coffee.

How much planning to you do in regard to your story structure and writing?
I usually have the idea in my head for the plot and make a few pages of rough notes or write keywords down and then just get stuck in. While I am writing a book I will research in the afternoons and in the evenings I like to read for fun. I like to let the story unfold naturally and I have to work on my own and be far away from people. I need complete isolation when I write or I get too distracted.

Thank you so much for the lovely interview!


Twitter: @ishbellebee               


Thursday, 9 July 2015

Book Review

Summoner, Book One - The Novice

by Taran Matharu

(Pub: Hodder Children’s books, 2015)

** I was provided an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.**

Matharu’s book has a HUGE following on Wattpad. (It had over 3 million reads in 6 months. At present it has over 6.5million reads and 181k votes – Wattpadders aren’t stupid!) It was also recommended to me by a fellow author, whose judgement I trust.

However, when I began to read about orcs, elves and dwarves I did wonder what I’d let myself in for.  You see, I have deliberately steered clear of epic fantasy of this nature for many years. 

Our young hero, Fletcher, is an orphan raised in a remote area by the village smithy.  He has a hard life, is victimised by the bullying son of the town’s wealthiest and most powerful resident.  (Minor Spoiler) One market day he makes friends with an old war veteran and comes into possession of the diary of a battle mage, who was researching orc summoning magic.  You know what will happen next – Fletcher reads the book and summons a rare demon.  Here starts our adventure.

The Novice is very derivative of the classics of epic fantasy that have gone before it, yet it is also very well written.  In an interview with Teen librarian Matharu talked about a love of history and mythology, but said:  “I also used my favourite fantasy tropes in the creation of the Summoner world. These included the magical schools of Earthsea, Harry Potter and Discworld, the multiple races of Lord of the Rings, Skyrim and Redwall, the portals to another world in the Chronicles of Narnia and Stargate, and even the creature companions in Pokémon.”

Combining all these influences in one, means Matharu has put his own twists into the genre. In the novel we also find firearms as well as bows, a variety of bladed weapons (I particularly like the use of the kopesh) and his blend of demonology has subtle differences to it from other novels I’ve read.
Within the first page you realise that Matharu knows his craft. The narrative is well constructed: there is a perfect balance between scene setting / description and action so the pacing is excellent – it romps along.  All the way through the story was absolutely easy to visualise – something I love.

A couple of things that struck me as awkward were the fact that the orcs are said to be ruled by a large albino orc and the use of the Pinkertons as a corrupt constabulary.  This obvious lack of originality was jarring. 

The character construction is good.  Fletcher and his friends are multi-dimensional, likeable and relatable.  The bad guys, at this stage, are more one dimensional but this is a series and we’re bound find out more about them as time progresses.

I particularly liked the political intrigue, racial tension and class tensions that existed within Matharu’s world.  These added an extra layer of realism and were a nice touch in his world building.

I can see this book being loved across a wide age bracket.  I would say advanced MG readers through to adults. 

Matharu gives you what is tried and true with some new twists in one very well constructed book.  It’s a rollicking adventure for all ages, with characters you will come love.

Four Stars!

Friday, 3 July 2015


Barbara Underwood

Barbara is an Australian author of speculative fiction. Her Rhuna fantasy series comprises two books so far: Rhuna: Keeper of Wisdom, Rhuna: Crossroad, but Barbara has more planned!

Tell us a little bit about yourself please?
My parents were German migrants and I was born and raised in Sydney, so I was aware of other cultures and languages as I was growing up.  My mother loved history, and my father loved the written word, so at an early age I was reading about history and other cultures.  These interests grew over the years until one day it all came together and I decided to write a novel incorporating my favourite subjects in history and culture.  Besides writing, I am also passionate about art and music, and my other interests include languages, photography and genealogy.

What books did you like to read when growing up?  Have those books influenced you?
Apart from general children's books, I remember being fascinated by Ancient Egypt, and as my father always valued his encyclopaedia collection, I began looking up subjects I wanted to know more about in his Encyclopaedia Brittanica!  But more often than not I enjoyed reading mysteries:  The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, for example.  Perhaps looking things up in encyclopaedias has influenced me the most, because I still love researching and knowing facts, then building a story around those facts.

Had you always wanted to be a writer? (If you enjoyed writing as a child, was this something that was encouraged by your family?)
Although I never thought about being a writer as a child, I did do a lot of writing, such as short stories about my experiences. For a school project in 6th grade,  my teacher wrote the comment “I can see that we are going to have another author.” At that time, I didn’t really believe him though!  I had many interests and dreams as a child, and fortunately, my parents always encouraged everything I was interested in.

Tell us a little bit about Rhuna Keeper of Wisdom and the series.  How many books will there be?
When I began writing Rhuna, I was only concerned with finishing the one book, but when friends read it, they said they wanted to read more, so the idea to write a series or at least a sequel began to develop. At first, I only wanted to express my ideas about the legends surrounding Atlantis and other unexplained mysteries of the past, such as who really built the pyramids and other megaliths, and how. Then the ideas of certain people with special powers developed, and I enjoyed combining people, their different personalities, ways of life and outlook on the world with some of the theories about ancient civilizations. Now that Rhuna and her world have been established, I can see myself writing many more books in the series.  I am writing the third book right now, and the fourth one is taking shape.  I can foresee a fifth and sixth one further down the line, too!

What age groups do you think your book is most suited to?
When I was writing, I didn’t have any age groups in mind, but since the first book has come out, some reviewers have said that it’s a great Young Adult book.  I’m sure that’s true, but I also believe that readers of all ages would enjoy Rhuna.

Can you tell us about your main character?
The first book, “Rhuna, Keeper of Wisdom”, describes Rhuna as a young teenager, around 13, who has grown up on a remote and isolated island in the South Pacific (Easter Island, in fact), but she has never been like the other children.  She finds out that her father was a white man from the legendary land of  Atlán (Atlantis) and that she has inherited her father’s special Atlan powers.  She is taken to an Atlan colony (Tonga) where she attends an Atlan school, and when she is an adult, she goes to live in Atlán.  The books tell the story through Rhuna’s eyes and, in the beginning, she is an innocent girl who faces challenges growing up.  In the second book, she is already a grown woman who sees the world differently, and overcomes obstacles in a more mature manner.  The reader can therefore identify with Rhuna through her emotional development, seeing the world as she does, which changes as she grows older.

What inspired you to write Rhuna Keeper of Wisdom? 
The book is dedicated to Thor Heyerdahl because it was reading his books many years ago that started me on this path of fascinating discovery.  My father had an old 1950s copy of Heyerdahl’s book “Aku-Aku, The Secret of Easter Island”, and when I started reading, I was instantly hooked!  After reading the rest of Heyerdahl’s books, I ventured into New Age realms of esoteric books concerning ancient civilizations and their advanced knowledge and technology, and while I don’t necessarily believe everything I read, I found a lot of the information to be great material for a Fantasy series!

How much research did you have to do for this book? What did you learn writing the first book?
Long before I started writing, I enjoyed reading a wide range of books, but as I always tended to enjoy Fantasy, I read and researched mostly the “alternative history” theories.  This took several years, and during this time the idea for a Fantasy novel began to take shape.  Around this time, I also did a correspondence course in professional writing, and at some point I felt ready to embark on my first novel.   I’m not sure I learned all that much from writing the first book because I had learned good lessons in my course.  If anything, I learned that many of the lessons of my course were correct and were a great help to me in writing.  The main point that writing confirmed was to keep true to my own individual voice, rather than worry whether my style would appeal to everyone.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?
Quite a lot, come to think of it!   Writing the story from Rhuna’s standpoint, I often imagined how I would have thought and reacted to things. Also any of Rhuna’s interests, opinions and hobbies are reflections of my own.  Several experiences in the first book are based on my own experience in life, with people.

Can you tell us about the Sequel: Rhuna, Crossroads?
The sequel takes place many years after the first book, and Rhuna now has a teenage daughter who accompanies her to an assignment in Ancient Egypt, which was a colony of Atlán.  Although older, she had a nice, normal and uneventful life until this trip – her first without her husband and mentor.  On her own, responsible for her daughter, she faces many new challenges on all levels:  as an Atlan respresentative having to deal with problems when followers of her arch enemy, the Dark Master, turn up in Egypt; and on a personal level when she falls in love with another man!  Her life changes drastically during a short time, and while the story is complete in itself, the third book will carry on from where this one left off. 

Was writing the sequel any easier than the first book?
Yes, it was.  In fact, after writing the first book, I started getting more ideas for further adventures in the same setting with the same characters, so it came much more easily because the settings and main characters were already established.  The end of “Rhuna: Crossroads” left some doors open, so it has been exciting to continue Rhuna’s adventure now in the next book, “Rhuna, The Star Child”. 

Do you outline your books from start to finish or just start writing? Or a bit of both? 
At first, I just start writing or working with a general, overall idea, then add things that I’d like to include, and during this process the outline for the entire story gradually takes shape.  I’ve found that while I might have a fairly solid outline set in my mind, it can change as I write because I think of better plot twists or new elements I’d like to include.

Every writer has their own idea of what a successful career in writing is, what does success in writing look like to you?
For me, success would mean a reasonable number of readers enjoying my books, and the word getting around that they are a good and enjoyable read.  It is not about having a bestseller or earning a lot of money from it.  A lot of my heart and soul goes into the books, so ideally, I hope to reach readers who appreciate my style and subject, and will look forward to the next book in the series, or any other new book I might write in the future.


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