We Are Here by Michael Marshall

we are here michael marshall“Love is not a charm that pops into the world from a better place to bless two individuals before flitting back home, leaving the couple broken back in two parts and forlorn but fundamentally unchanged. Love is a fire that burns in the soul, sometimes for good, sometimes just for now, sometimes hot enough to scorch and sometimes with a low and sustainable glow. Either way, it leaves the original constituents permanently altered. After the fact everything is different—not just the relationship, but the people involved.”

We Are Here, Michael Marshall

David is about to leave New York after a meeting with his publisher about his debut novel when a strange man instructs him to remember him. John and Kristina’s friend thinks that she is being stalked, and when they look into it they find that the truth is stranger than she might believe. Their worlds collide in this grown up urban fantasy which sees magic realism explode over a familiar city, melting not only the ley lines between genres but the borders between the real and the imaginary.

Bold, vicious and clever, this is a must read for daydreamers, the imaginative and anyone who has ever wondered just who else might be in the room with them.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two by Catherynne M. Valente

the girl who soared over fairyland and cut the moon in two“Marriage is a wrestling match where you hold on tight while your mate changes into a hundred different things. The trick is that you’re changing into a hundred other things, but you can’t let go. You can only try to match up and never turn into a wolf while he’s a rabbit, or a mouse while he’s still busy being an owl, a brawny black bull while he’s a little blue crab scuttling for shelter. It’s harder than it sounds.”

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two, Catherynne M. Valente

Every time I’ve finished one of Catherynne M. Valente’s novels (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and led the Revels There) I feel very much like September after she’s been ripped out of Fairyland and away from her friends before it’s time.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two is a little slower to start that the other novels in series, but as soon as September’s loyal sidekicks A-through-L the wyverary and Saturday the Marid have reappeared Valente hits her stride and the enchanting storytelling which characterised the other books in the series comes into play and we visit a Lightening Jungle, watch two lovelorn insects (my favourites) play a variant of battleships, meet a Tyguerrotype who cleverly introduces the Turing test and run around trying to stop a Yeti who seems intent upon shaking the moon apart. I thought this book was the final title in a trilogy, and have since found that the Fairyland series will contain five books… which is great but I now need to know when book four will appear.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is only a children’s fiction series, it’s a fantastic crossover series with more than enough clever allusions and wry remarks to keep discerning adult readers hooked.

Quote me on that… JK Rowling, Joanne Harris and backbiting authors

JK Rowling Writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.

Image adapted from original by user Srslyguys on flickr under CC

Anyone who wondered what JK Rowling could possibly have experienced to inspire her latest novel The Silkworm, a novel full of bitter literary rivalries and backbiting authors, should check out Joanne Harris’ comments as reported by The Telegraph about the Harry Potter series, the bitchy tone of which undermined her otherwise perfectly valid argument about writing being a career which people depend upon for their living.

Edit
Joanne Harris has since contacted me via Twitter to let me know what she actually said is on her Tumblr account here. She will be writing her own article in the same newspaper tomorrow.

I’m in love with these bird biscuit cutters…

iconHow cute are these gorgeous love bird cookie cutters? And only £3.99! I’m definitely treating myself to these, I can think of loads of things that they’d be good for, only one of which is dove and robin flood iced biscuits for Christmas!
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Harry Potter and the Irresistible Squeeze Page

shocked owlCongratulations if you’ve been living under a rock long enough to have missed that JK Rowling posted new Potter material (specifically an article from Rita Skeeter bitching about Harry and other members of Dumbledore’s Army) on Pottermore today. If you did miss it, then you can access it here.

What’s that? You don’t have a Pottermore account? Neither did I until I used my lunch break to sign up and read the Daily Prophet article. But wasn’t it an effective squeeze page? Pottermore now has the contact details of almost everyone who has read the Potter series and has used the internet today. I’m guess that has to be numbers in the high thousands who’ve signed up today.

As for the article itself? It was all a little bit pointless. It didn’t tell me much about the characters, and I found it a bit weird that Victor Krum (who is older than Harry) is still playing Quidditch at international level when Ginny (who is younger than Harry) has retired from playing the sport professionally to become a writer… I mean, he has to be even older than Ryan Giggs, doesn’t he?

Maybe I’m jaded because I’ve finally gotten over my five-year Harry Potter themed book hangover, but whichever way you look at it, it’s a clever way to attract new users to your site. JK Rowling’s team should run courses on, how to get a million website hits in a day without using magic, charms to increase numbers of unique visitors or clever book marketing that doesn’t rely on the dark arts.

 

Image of owl by Sharon, under terms of the Creative Commons attribution license

Almond and Pistachio Biscuits #SundaySnack

Almond and pistachio biscuits with chocolate sauce and pistachio ice cream- a delicious but grown up summer sundaeI am a bit obsessed with pistachio nuts- served straight, in ice cream, souffles, macarons… I can’t get enough of them. These almond and pistachio biscuits are a grown up choice which is great for a coffee morning without being excessively sweet, though like my rose petal biscuits from last week, though dough can be tricky to handle if you want to make a decorative shape. I like to use them in ice cream sundaes in place of wafers- I can highly recommend these with some pistachio ice cream and dark chocolate sauce.

Ingredients

  • 225g salted butter
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract

Decoration

50g finely chopped pistachio kernels

Method

Cream together the butter and sugar using an electric whisk then mix in the yolk and almond extract.

Once these are combined, stir in the flour and ground almonds until everything is evenly stirred in.

As with the rose petal biscuits, this dough can be quite tricky to handle, especially if you’re making it on a warm day or in a warm room. The easiest way to manage it is to make circular biscuits by shaping the dough into a sausage and chilling it in the fridge or freezer until it’s fairly solid before cutting thin slices (about 3mm thick) from the sausage. If you want to use a biscuit cutter for a heart shape as I have here, I would chill the dough until solid, roll out to 3mm thick between sheets of greaseproof paper and then freeze that before cutting the shapes out and placing quickly onto your baking sheet.

When the biscuits are safely on the sheet in your desired shape, lightly sprinkle over the chopped pistachio kernels and press these gently into the dough. I wouldn’t add them before as it makes everything trickier if something goes wrong and you need to reshape.

Bake the biscuits for 10-12 minutes in an oven which has been preheated to 190°C until they are a light golden colour, then allow to cool on a cooling rack or fresh greaseproof paper.

 

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

the silkworm“Writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.”

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith

I realised that despite of my post about the furore around J.K. Rowling using a pseudonym to write The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first book in her Cormoran Strike series, I haven’t actually written a review of the book, for which I apologise. I read it on my way home from New York last October and enjoyed it, so I was quite excited that Robert Galbraith’s latest offering was available just in time for my holiday in Malta- after all, there’s nothing like a mysterious and gruesome to distract you from the fact that you’re dangerously high in the air in an aluminium can.

Cormoran Strike finds himself compelled to take on the apparently straightforward case of a pretentious author who has performed a melodramatic vanishing act when his agent and publisher refuse to touch his latest novel, but it quickly becomes clear that the case is more complex than it seems. The publishing world has closed ranks about the libellous manuscript filled with vicious portraits of key figures in the literary establishment, revealing their darkest secrets, so when Strike finds the missing author murdered in exactly the same way as the hero of the author’s manuscript it becomes clear that a very dangerous person is willing to go to any lengths to hide their role in his death.

Rowling is a fantastic writer and if you’re a fan of crime fiction I’ve no doubt that you’d enjoy this book. I get the feeling that she must have had enormous fun writing it, there are several references in the novel to the catharsis that comes with writing and I’d imagine that there’s a lot that she’d like to vent about in terms of literary snobbery, bitter rivals and online critics. Cormoran Strike is a bit of an enigma, there are vast aspects of his character that I get the feeling are going to be drawn out in later novels in the series, though that was a little frustrating when in the “here and now” of the story- the frequent references to his ex for example…I’m assuming that she’s going to play a bigger role in a future novel and that explains why the ghost of her needs to be kept alive for now but at times it felt a little like overkill.

On the whole, I didn’t think that the plotting was as neatly managed as the first manuscript in the series, but I did find it far more enjoyable for the characterisation and sense of mischief that was carried throughout. I hope a third addition to the series is already in the works.

Hunting Game of Thrones filming locations in Mdina, Malta

I’ve just returned from Malta where I took a (very hot) trip to Mdina, a walled city which was the capital in ancient times. It’s a pretty amazing place to visit anyway for the gorgeous architecture and narrow winding streets – locals call it The Silent City which is incredibly suggestive of mystery and drama, but I was doubly excited because it was the film location for King’s Landing in season 1 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. As you can see from the pictures below, I managed to find the filming location of the main gate to King’s Landing (easy) and Petyr Baelish AKA Littlefinger’s brothel (trickier, you need to look for Piazza Mesquita which isn’t shown on the tourist maps).

Game of Thrones location Mdina

Screenshots from Game of Thrones are the property of HBO

Visiting the real life locations of the filming was incredible, and I think that the screenshots next to my photographs in the collage above really show the artistry of the set designers and artists who work on the production to adapt George R.R. Martin’s books for the screen. The changes they’ve made to the landscape are fairly minimal – the ground has been reddened and made to look dirtier and earthier, awnings of rustic fabrics have been draped over doorways and obvious modern features removed, but these subtle changes have such a profound effect when coupled with the presence of actors in costume on horseback. It really becomes a fantasy world. Not only is it a testament to the skills of everyone who worked on the production, but it speaks volumes about the beauty of Mdina. If you’re ever in Malta, I highly recommend a visit.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

the bone season samantha shannon“Knowledge is dangerous. Once you know something, you can’t get rid of it. You have to carry it. Always.”
The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

Samantha Shannon’s debut novel The Bone Season has been much hyped and much criticized, as you might expect of any novel written by a 21-year old which sparks a bidding war that results in a six figure publishing deal and 20th century Fox optioning the rights. For every person touting Shannon as the next J.K. Rowling, there is someone keen to call her writing derivative and suggest that her style will improve “after all, she is only 21”.

So which is it? Another talented writer becoming the victim of tall poppy syndrome at the hands of those bitter about her success, or a precocious Oxford undergrad who struck it lucky? I picked up The Bone Season on my way home from shopping, started it on the bus, then took to my bed with the book until I finished it and let me tell you, her success is no fluke, the girl can write up a storm.

Set in 2059, The Bone Season follows Paige Mahoney, a powerful clairvoyant and member of crime syndicate The Seven Seals as she attempts to stay off the radar of Scion, the oppressive anti-clairvoyant system which controls several major world cities. Declaring war on unnaturalness, they have recruited voyants to help identify others of their kind who are then imprisoned, tortured and executed, whether they are aware of their ability to access the spirit realm or not. Of course, it isn’t too long before Paige falls into the hands of Scion, where her problems really begin when she falls into the hand of the Rephaim, rulers of the penal colony Sheol I in the lost city of Oxford.

I find it difficult to express exactly how much I loved this novel and the many reasons why. I really would love those who’ve called it derivative to explain what they think it’s been derived from to me, as I am pretty widely read and thought that it was a fresh, imaginative and punchy. Shannon has developed an entire lexicon, political system and history to fit her dystopian world, which splinters from our own universe in 1859 when the Rephaim first arrive. Her categorisation of the different voyant abilities is complex, with different voyants having varied abilities and degrees of power within these, of course Paige is a rare and powerful form of voyant, but I look forward to seeing the various categories of voyancy being explored later in the novel. I’m also wondering how far the theological allusions will be pursued in the series- are the Rephaim and the Emim more closely related than the voyants have been lead to believe? What’s the significance of Paige’s dreamscape being a field of poppies? Exactly how long can oil and fire mix before oil is burned up or fire extinguished?

The next book in the series, The Mime Order (in which I expect to find out the full extent of how much Paige’s Mime Lord, Jaxon Hall, is a psychopathic, evil, bad ass) is out in October 2014 and I cannot wait. I’ve already recommended it to loads of my friends who’ve enjoyed it as much as I did, and I received this text from my brother who deserves it published online for failing to call me back when he promised to:

Can you try and hook me up with The Bone Season author please? I think I have a crush on her writing ability x