Friday, 24 March 2017

Inspire Me with Helen Peters

Now this is definitely my last post for a while. So I really hope you enjoy it. I'm so pleased to welcome Helen Peters onto the blog, to tell us all about the things that inspired her to write, Evie's Ghost. 
Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved visiting historic houses and imagining what life must have been like for the people who used to live and work in them. The idea for Evie’s Ghost came to me when I visited Osterley Park, an extremely grand house now owned by the National Trust. Another visitor asked the guide if the original family who lived there had had any children. The guide said they had just one daughter, who was expected to marry very well, but who eloped at seventeen with an ‘unsuitable’ man and broke her father’s heart. 
I thought what a strange life that girl must have led, as an only child in this enormous palace. I wondered whether she was lonely. And then I thought, what if a modern girl, also an only child, came to stay in that house now? And what if the twenty-first century character somehow found a way back to the house as it was in the eighteenth century, so that the two girls could meet?
One of my favourite books is Tom’s Midnight Garden. I love the premise of the boy being torn away from his own happy home and being sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in an old house that’s been converted into flats, the once-beautiful garden now concreted over. The way the house transforms at midnight, Tom’s discovery of the garden that only exists at night, and his friendship with an equally lonely girl in the past are completely magical. The book cast a spell on me and was a major source of inspiration for Evie’s Ghost.

In early drafts of Evie’s Ghost, Evie was invisible to everyone in the past except her two friends, as Tom in Tom’s Midnight Garden is invisible to everyone but Hattie. But my editor suggested that it would give the story more drama and tension if Evie were not only visible but made to work as a servant. This idea appealed to me, as I have always been fascinated by stories of servants’ lives. When I was thirteen, I read and loved One Pair of Hands, Monica Dickens’s account of how, bored witless in the debutante world of the 1930s, she shocked her family by going out to work as a cook-housekeeper. Her account of her transition from Upstairs to Downstairs is hilarious, but also a real eye-opener about the hard work of servant life before central heating and vacuum cleaners were invented. 
I had a personal reason, too, for being interested in the upstairs/downstairs dynamic. My father’s parents both came from wealthy families who employed servants, whereas my mother’s parents both came from poor families and went out to work as servants. My granddad became a gardener’s boy when he was thirteen and my grandmother went away to work as a housemaid at fourteen. I remember her telling me how horrible her employer was and how she was desperately homesick for her happy, loving family, and especially for her mother, whom she adored. In Evie’s Ghost, Evie has to work as a housemaid and the friend she makes in the past, Robbie, is a gardener’s boy. I thought about my grandparents a lot as I researched and wrote the book.
Helen's granny, when she was a Girl Guide leader after she left service and came back to work in the village. 
Helen's grandfather and his triplet brothers, aged around 15 around 1920.
Evie’s journey into the past begins when she spots words scratched into the window of the spare bedroom where she has to sleep in her godmother’s house. Her godmother tells Evie the story of Sophia Fane, who lived there two hundred years earlier and was allegedly locked up in that room for the rest of her life as punishment for a failed elopement. Evie journeys back into the past to try to help Sophia avoid her terrible fate. This part of the story was directly inspired by a similar tale I read about Hetty Walwyn, who lived at Hellens Manor in Herefordshire in the eighteenth century. Hetty Walwyn eloped with a man her family considered unsuitable, and was locked up for the rest of her life. During her long imprisonment, she used her diamond ring to scratch words onto the windowpane, which can still be read today: “It is a part of virtue to abstain from what we love if it will prove our bane.” I found this story incredibly sad, and the fact that Hetty’s writing still exists hundreds of years after her death, as the only tangible evidence of her life, felt very powerful to me.
All these stories and people inspired me and kept me going during the several years and many drafts that it took to weave the threads together into the story of Evie’s Ghost.
Summary
Evie couldn’t be angrier with her mother. She’s only gone and got married again and has flown off on honeymoon, sending Evie to stay with a godmother she’s never even met in an old, creaky house in the middle of nowhere. It is all monumentally unfair.
But on the first night, Evie sees a strange, ghostly figure at the window. Spooked, she flees from the room, feeling oddly disembodied as she does so.
Out in the corridor, it’s 1814 and Evie finds herself dressed as a housemaid. She’s certain she’s gone back in time for a reason. A terrible injustice needs to be fixed. But there’s a housekeeper barking orders, a bad-tempered master to avoid, and the chamber pots won’t empty themselves. It’s going to take all Evie’s cunning to fix things in the past so that nothing will break apart in the future…

To find out more about Helen Peters: 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

YA from My Youth – Michael Fishwick

Today I'm posting one of two posts that will be my last for awhile. I'm pleased to welcome Michael Fishwick, author of The White Hare onto the blog, to talk about the Young Adult books he read during his teenage years. 
I very vividly remember being given my first book.  We were on holiday in a rather dark hotel on the Isle of Man, and I went into my parents’ room to find, on their dark blue counterpane, the bright red Armada cover of Richmal Crompton’s William the Cannibal;  I adored the William books, and so did my children, listening to Martin Jarvis’s glorious rendition on the car audio. 
I had always been an avid reader; one of my parent’s letters describes me, aged three. marching up to people, book in hand, and plonking it down on their knee and demanding that they read to me.  I was very ill as a child, and reading was a way of escape; I spent a lot of time in bed.  So, later, my habit became to go to bed with a book and a bowl of crisps and a glass of milk and read and read.  Worzel Gummidge was a favourite, as the loveable scarecrow careened about the countryside turning up in the most unexpected places. 
 The Moomins, too; I was spellbound by Comet in Moominland, and was completely in love with Snufkin, that wandering loner, whom I just wanted to be (though I couldn’t play the mouth organ). 
 Often my recollections of discovering authors are very vivid, emotional, almost physical.  When I discovered C.S.Lewis  it was odd.  I had been read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in class when I was about eight, and didn’t really take to it.  I didn’t like the idea of a Christian analogy, it didn’t seem very creative to me.  But when a few years later I read Prince Caspian I almost fell into a swoon; there is such richness in the books, at every level, and I’m still besotted with them (and their author, who was such a brilliant literary critic, among other things).  
Then there was Swallows and Amazons, which when I read them to my boys (I have three sons, all of whom I read to until they were about eleven) I still got swept away in the adventure.  
Another moment of great, almost physical, joy was Molesworth, whom I found in the school bookshop when I was about fourteen; once I worked out what was going on with the language I was completely hooked.  More mysterious was John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk, and the mesmerising world of young Kay Harker and the governess and Sister Pouncer (one and the same of course) and Nibbins the cat and the lost treasure; that book is complete genius, as Masefield weave real life and fantasy and dream into an intoxicating, ever surprising world.
  That’s the kind of book I loved  best, and I found it, too, in Alan Garner (especially what is surely one of the  great YA books of all time, The Owl Service), but also in a book very few people read (and the one my children just didn’t go for, but which I loved), Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. 
  Puck appears to the children as they rehearse A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Three Cows Field.  When they express surprise, he says that if they want to rehearse Midsummer Night’s Dream three times over, ON Midsummer Night’s Eve, IN a fairy ring, under one of his oldest hills in Old England, what did they expect?  ‘My friends used to set my dish o’cream for me when Stonehenge was new.’   He introduces them to the old Smith of the Gods, Weland;  then, later, they come down to the stream on a summer morning to see a great grey horse reflected in the smooth water, with its rider a Norman knight, one of those who occupied the manor at Pevensey, chatting amiably with Puck.  And later we meet the redoubtable Parnesius, a Centurion of the Seventh Cohort of the Thirtieth Legion – the Ulpia Victrix – with his tales of life on the Wall (Hadrian’s, of course), before the Winged Hats came. At the end Puck says: ‘Weland gave the Sword, the Sword gave the Treasure, and the Treasure gave the Law. It's as natural as an oak growing.’  I think I always loved my fantasy to be accessible; I don’t suppose I’m the only person desperate at a young age to find a new door into Narnia.
Summary
A lost boy. A dead girl, and one who is left behind.
Robbie doesn't want anything more to do with death, but life in a village full of whispers and secrets can't make things the way they were.
When the white hare appears, magical and fleet in the silvery moonlight, she leads them all into a legend, a chase, a hunt. But who is the hunter and who the hunted?
In The White Hare, Michael Fishwick deftly mingles a coming-of-age story with mystery, myth and summer hauntings.

In case you have missed any of the stops on the blog tour, here are all the other blogs. 



Wednesday, 15 March 2017

So long for now.

I am writing this post with a heavy heart but it's one that must be written. After blogging for several years, I have come to the decision that I need to close the doors on Serendipity Reviews for the foreseeable future.  I'm not saying I may never return, but for now I need to step back and concentrate on my family, my life and my future. I still intend to continue with my writing which will take my full focus. 

I haven't been able to give the blog my full attention for a couple of months now and I'm having the worst reading slump I have ever had. So it wouldn't be fair to continue with dribs and drabs, if I can't give it my all. 

The journey has been fun. Over the years I have hosted some amazing authors, of which, quite a few I can now call friends. I have had the opportunity to work with some fabulous publicists and been able to attend amazing events. I have also been warmly welcomed into the book blogging community and made many friends. 

I have a few outstanding guest posts that will appear over the following weeks, but there will be no reviews being posted. 

I want to thank everyone for all the support and friendship they have provided with me over the years. 

I want to thank my lovely reviewers, KM Lockwood, Liss Norton and recent new members, Sarah Baker and Emma Finlayson Palmer.  KM Lockwood will continue to write and review over at her blog which is linked here. 

Maybe I will find in a few months that I miss the blog desperately, so I can't ever say that I will never come back.  However for now, I need to say so long and inform you all that I will no longer be accepting  books for review. 

I will still be around on and off on Twitter and when I finally find my reading groove, I will shout from the rooftops about the books I love. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

#ReviewMonday with KM Lockwood:The Raven's Call by Kris Humphrey

Illustrated by Chellie Carroll
224 pages in paperback (read on Kindle via NetGalley)
Publisher: Little Tiger 

When a raven drops a white feather at the doorstep on the day of your birth, it is a symbol of your destiny. You are a Whisperer – a guardian of the wild.

As Dawn races to find the earthstone – the final link in the battle against the Narlaw – Ona struggles to keep control as the situation in the capital reaches crisis point. Can the young Whisperers of Meridina banish the shape-shifting demons once and for all?
***
As far as children’s publishing is concerned, I wish we could drop the phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’. We all do – so let’s not pretend. Let’s celebrate the art of creating attractive and truthful covers.

And while we’re at it, can we also express our delight in illustrations – for all ages. The combination of the right pictures and the right words is powerful – in a joyous spectrum from picture books to Folio Editions. I love them all. One more note on this topic to publishers: please can you make it as easy as possible for reviewers to know who created all this loveliness? Thank you.

You may take it from the above that I think Kris Humphrey and Chellie Carroll make a great team. Both make bold, straightforward art that children can enjoy – and both show Meridina to be both different to, yet echo our own world. (I have to wave cheerily at The Artful Doodlers too for the maps in all four books in the Guardians of the Wild sequence – maps give great pleasure to many fantasy fans.)

However tempting the black and purple cover is, do start at the beginning of the set. This way you will get to know the array of characters and really care what happens to them in this fast-paced conclusion to the Guardians of the Wild quartet. Begin with A Whisper of Wolves, then read Warning Cry followed by Gathering Voices. It’s fine if there’s a gap between these – each have some recaps to help you pick up what’s going on.

In The Raven’s Call, the conflict with the demonic Narlaw guarantees lots of action – but there are also moments of poignant beauty, threat and heroism. For me, the most pleasing and unexpected aspect of the whole series is the emotional growth in one of the non-magical characters. Most readers will find someone to cheer on – and (no spoilers) this person was mine. See if you can spot who I mean.

Overall – this is a lively fantasy series with hints of Narnia, and a touch of Abi Elphinstone’s passion for nature. The young characters are at the heart of everything – and the ending is sure to please. I wonder if there will be any more adventures for the Whisperers and their companions.


K. M. Lockwood lives by the sea in Sussex - see the pics on Instagram. She fills jars with sea-glass, writes on a very old desk and reads way past her bedtime. Her tiny bed-and-breakfast is stuffed full of books - and even the breakfasts are named after writers. You're always welcome to chat stories with @lockwoodwriter on Twitter.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Location, Location, Location - Geek Girl Around the World by Holly Smale

It's an honour to be part of the Geek Girl blog tour today, celebrating the final book in the series and feature this amazing post from Holly Smale. In this post, Holly talks about choosing the right locations for the Geek Girl series. 
Travel has always been fundamental to the Geek Girl series: both because I love it, and because it was incredibly important and poignant to show Harriet developing from a sheltered, anxious young girl - hiding in a world within her books - to a much more adventurous and brave young woman with a fascination for the real world and an ability to both handle it and explore it. I needed to show that world slowly expanding and teaching her, and I wanted to celebrate just how glorious and accessible the real world can be: to both inspire and excite my readers to travel, especially girls. While the modelling angle made that easier to do realistically, it was really the Trojan Horse that snuck travelling in: the series was far less about Harriet modelling in different countries, and much more about using the modelling to get Harriet to them.

In terms of picking the locations, I wanted each book to have at least one new country: I wanted the maximum adventure possible, I wanted Harriet to have as many different experiences as she could, and I also wanted to write about the countries I’ve been to that have had the most impact on me personally. I picked Japan, for instance, because I lived there for two years and had so many hilarious anecdotes and details saved up, I was desperate to use them!
There also needed to be a wide spread of different feels to the locations in order to keep each book feeling fresh and new, so I consciously picked huge cities (Paris, Tokyo, New York) and natural wonders (Mount Fuji, the Sahara Desert, the Great Barrier Reef), cold (snow in Moscow) and hot (Sydney in summer), far-flung and more exotic (India) and closer to home and more familiar (London). I also tried to avoid all the ‘obvious’ tourist traps, so instead of the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State she ends up in a swimming pool and Gotham Hall.
While a lot of Geek Girl is sheer fiction, I’d never write about anywhere I haven’t been: I don’t think you really know how a place sounds, or smells, or feels, until you’ve actually been there. So I used a lot of my own, real adventures in Harriet’s stories: I’ve scuba-dived in the Whitsundays, stood in the snow in Red Square, ridden a camel in the desert, been to the lake by Mount Fuji, gotten lost in New York. Occasionally I went back for “research”, but I never wrote about a location that I hadn’t visited in real life: I needed that solid base to build a realistic story on top of it.
And - just like the facts Harriet uses - the locations were also thematically important. So for instance in book five she was actually supposed to go to Cambodia but I realised at the last minute that it wasn’t right for the theme of the novel: it was a book about letting go, about bright colours and black-and-white thinking, about control, about internal and external chaos, and I needed the location to express that. So at the very last minute, I looked up the date of the Holi festival in India, realised it fell at exactly the right time for the book, and knew it was exactly what I needed: I’d already been to India and the adventure would be spot on, thematically, and central to Harriet’s development.
Over the course of the series, Harriet visits seven different countries and frankly I could have kept going: the world is full of so many exciting places and people and adventures. So who knows? Maybe one day I’ll go back with her.
Summary
Harriet Manners knows almost every fact there is.
Modelling isn’t a sure-fire route to popularity. Neither is making endless lists. The people you love don’t expect you to transform into someone else. Statistically, you are more likely to not meet your Australian ex-boyfriend in Australia than bump into him there.
So on the trip of a lifetime Down Under Harriet’s to-do lists are gone and it’s Nat’s time to shine! Yet with nearly-not-quite-boyfriend Jasper back home, Harriet’s completely unprepared to see supermodel ex Nick. Is the fashion world about to turn ugly for GEEK GIRL?
It’s time for Harriet to face the future. Time to work out where her heart lies. To learn how to let go…

To find out more about Holly Smale: 

If you loved this post, then make sure you check out all the other blog posts on the tour as listed below.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Masquerade Blog Tour

As part of the Masquerade Blog Tour, I'm pleased to host an excerpt from the beginning of one of the chapters. Author  Laura Lam spent a long time, researching the extracts needed for the  each chapter and this blog tour, goes into detail about some of the chosen pieces, explaining why they were used. 
The Hospital – 11 march
When a child under twelve is injured, it’s common practice for any child present to “call upon the fairies” to help heal them. The other child or children will circle the injured child thrice, chanting “sprites, take flight, we need your might to spite the blight!” Sometimes the child will kiss the other on the forehead; a target for the fairy to know where to sprinkle their magic dust. 
— A History of Ellada and its Colonies, Professor Caed Cedar, Royal Snakewood University

Every chapter in the Micah Grey series has a short found document at the start, ranging from a variety of sources: history books, diaries, songs, poetry, and more. It’s basically a sneaky way to add in more worldbuilding and detail about Ellada & the Archipelago. 
As in another excerpt shared on the blog tour, Masquerade has more folklore type remedies in the third book. Ellada is rich with mythology and magical creatures, and the Chimaera are very common and tend to function a lot like fairies in stories. Every now and again, Chimaera are sometimes called fairies or sprites, as above. I used to play games like this as a child, where one of us would pretend to be ill and the others would use magic to heal them. It’s a little bit of whimsy in a section of the book where things are growing more dangerous . . . 


If you buy Pantomime or Masquerade and send your receipt to Laura, you can claim a free 10k short story, “The Mechanical Minotaur,” set in the same world. If you buy all three, you can claim 60k of free fiction as well. More details here.
Summary
The gifted hide their talents, but dare they step into the light?
Micah's Chimaera powers are growing, until his dark visions overwhelm him. Drystan is forced to take him to Dr Pozzi, to save his life. But can they really trust the doctor, especially when a close friend is revealed to be his spy?
Meanwhile, violent unrest is sweeping the country, as anti-royalist factions fight to be heard. Then three chimaera are attacked, after revealing their existence with the monarchy's blessing - and the struggle becomes personal. A small sect decimated the chimaera in ancient times and nearly destroyed the world. Now they've re-emerged to spread terror once more. Micah will discover a royal secret, which draws him into the heart of the conflict. And he and his friends must risk everything to finally bring peace to their land. 

To find out more about Laura Lam:
Make sure you check out all the stops on the blog tour. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

Why do we like real life drama? by Mary G. Thompson

I'm so pleased to welcome author Mary G. Thompson onto the blog today to discuss why we love real life drama so much. Mary has just published her coming of age thriller, Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee with Chicken House.
Sometimes when I’m reading a book or watching a show about a person in dark or dire circumstances, I ask myself, Why do I like this? Why do I want to read/watch a story about bad things happening to someone?

Is it because I want to imagine myself in the position of the hero, acting much more bravely than I would in real life?

Is it because I want to experience something apart from my everyday boring existence without really risking anything?

I think there’s a more charitable, positive explanation for why we enjoy reading and watching drama. Reading about the deep emotions of others is a way for us to feel like we are connecting with people. As humans, we have an amazing capacity to empathize with people we’ve never met. And reading books is a safe way to experience difficult things. It’s also a way for us to understand what people who are different from us are thinking and feeling. 

None of us wants to be the victim of a kidnapping like Amy and Dee, and the chances that any individual will be kidnapped are infinitesimal. But it’s amazing how easily we can imagine what it would be like to face such a thing. We are naturally prepared to empathize with those who are suffering and ready to root for them to overcome. We have a human need to experience the deep emotions that come with dramatic experiences. 

I think I enjoy thrillers and true-to-life crime dramas partly because I want to feel something that rings true and partly because I want to understand how the human mind works. Real life drama shows people taking the worst of situations and figuring out how to make it through. Even if we’ll never face anything half as bad, we can still take away something from experiencing the strength—even the flawed strength—of others. These vicarious experiences may also put us in a position to better help someone we meet who has been through something terrible, or to advocate for better policies to support victims.

When I was writing Amy’s story, I had all the experiences of reading a true-to-life book times about a million. I hope you too are able to take away something emotional and positive from Amy’s story. 
Summary
Cousins Amy and Dee were kidnapped by a stranger as children.

Now, sixteen-year-old Amy is back with her parents. Dressed in purple and clutching a plastic doll, she refuses to answer questions. As Amy struggles towards a normal teenage life, her family – and the police – press her for information. Unable to escape her past, Amy realizes she has to confront the truth. How did she survive? How did she escape? And what happened to Dee?

Follow Mary G. Thompson on Twitter: @marygthompson 

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee by Mary G. Thompson is out now priced £6.99. Order a copy here: http://amzn.to/2lleLAZ