Welcome to Serendipity Reviews !

The original UK book blog that brings you all the latest book news straight from the publishers, along with book reviews and author interviews. We read and review all genres, although we love paranormal, fantasy and contemporary books.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Book Cycle with Lou Morgan

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I am pleased to welcome author, Lou Morgan onto the blog to talk about her recent book cycle for Sleepless, which was recently published by Red Eye, a new imprint from Stripes Books.
 
The original idea for Sleepless came from a handful of articles I'd read about the increased use of "study drugs" at universities over the last couple of years. As someone who went into her undergraduate finals armed with pack after pack of Pro-Plus, the thought of taking actual medication (as opposed to "17 coffees in a pill") to get you through revision and exam stress interested me… particularly when you add my past experience of anti-depressants into the mix. I've been on the receiving end of brain-altering medication, and while my experiences of that were positive, the initial side-effects left me with a profound respect for anything that messes with your head.
When my agent told me Stripes were planning a series of YA horror novels in the vein of the Point Horror series I'd loved growing up, I knew I wanted to write about pills… and pills that went wrong. I wrote an outline and an initial chapter… and fortunately, Stripes liked the idea.
Sleepless was go.
My editor Katie suggested I read Ben Goldacre's Bad Pharma to give me a little background into pharmaceuticals. We met for coffee to talk over the general plot and feel of the book, and then we went to the Barbican in central London. As part of my initial outline, I'd already decided that the Barbican was as much of a character in the novel as the actual people: it's the perfect place for a story like this - all concrete and confusing walkways and hard edges. It's notoriously difficult to navigate, and people get lost there all the time: a perfect place for my poor teenagers to lose themselves.
So Katie and I walked and talked, and I took her around the locations I'd already picked out. The great thing about this was that Katie spotted the waterfall in the middle of the complex and said "We have to use that!" - and, if you've read Sleepless, you'll know that we did.
If you don't know the Barbican, or the surrounding area, take a look at the Pinterest board I put together for the book [here]. [https://www.pinterest.com/loumorganauthor/sleepless/]
When it came to actually write the book, I knew I wanted the teenagers in it to be wealthy. More than that: they had to have the kind of lives where they were used to getting what they wanted; no questions asked, no consequences. The kind of lives most of us can only imagine. I mainlined whole seasons of Gossip Girl and found myself hopelessly addicted (ironically) to Revenge - an addiction I'm still trying to break. The shows were perfect, glossy shop windows for the privileged lives of the Sleepless crew.
And then, of course, they take their Fokus-Pro pills and it all goes horribly, horrifically wrong.
I tend to write to music, so there were lots of songs that found their way into my head while I was working on Sleepless. The Prodigy's Music for the Jilted Generation seemed like a perfect fit for everything falling apart… but it was Katy Perry's Dark Horse that somehow turned into the book's theme song.
No, I'm not sure that happened either.
Bit by bit, the book came together. The body count rose. I managed to creep myself out a couple of times. I had a map of the Barbican on my computer to keep track of everyone's movements, and to make sure nobody did that impossible thing of stepping out of a building and out onto a street a mile away. I had floor plans of the Barbican centre itself and the flats in each of the Barbican's residential blocks (because, naturally, they're all different. They would be, wouldn't they?) and I think - I think - you can literally follow in Izzy, Grey and everyone's footsteps in the real world, should you want to, all round the Barbican, out into Smithfield and as far as St Bartholomew's Hospital.
Should you wish to, of course…
EASTER EGGS!
Here's a few things you probably didn't know about Sleepless
- Izzy and Grey, the two main characters, bond over terrible horror DVDS, the first of which is Warlock. Katie and I both discovered we loved this when we initially met.
- The character of Juliet is named after my fantastic agent, Juliet Mushens.
- Izzy's flat, on the 13th floor of Lauderdale Tower, is based on the flat my parents lived in for a few years… also on the 13th floor of Lauderdale Tower.
- The names of the twins, Mia and Dom, are a nod to the Toretto siblings in the Fast & Furious franchise.
- Izzy's surname is Whedon in honour, of course, of Joss Whedon.
Book Summary
Young, rich and good-looking, Izzy and her friends lead seemingly perfect lives. But exams are looming � and at a school like Clerkenwell, failure is not an option. Luckily, Tigs has a solution. A small pill that will make revision a breeze and help them get the results they need. Desperate to succeed, the group begin taking the study drug. It doesn’t take long before they realize there are far worse things than failing a few exams.
 
To find out more about Lou Morgan:

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

 
You can’t believe everything you hear, not even in Sidwell, Massachusetts, where every person is said to tell the truth and the apples are so sweet people come from as far as New York City during the apple festival. There are rumours that a mysterious creature lives in town. Some people insist it’s a bird bigger than an eagle; others say it’s a dragon, or an oversized bat that resembles a person.
Published by Simon and Schuster in March 2015
Pages - 208
Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumoured to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.
*****
I love the thought of an Alice Hoffman book, even if I don’t always enjoy the actual product. My love for Alice Hoffman began back in the days of Practical Magic, which is one of my favourite films/ books EVER. So I always approach each Alice Hoffman book nervously yet hopeful. Nightbird didn’t disappoint me at all. In fact, I thought it was every bit as magical as Practical Magic.
This is the author’s first book for Middle Grader readers and I was completely bowled over by the warmth and hopefulness that spills off the page. I felt like I was transported to Sidwell and could easily walk along the street, breathing in the scents that wafted from the apple trees and the freshly baked apple pies.
Twig is adorable. She may be young but she is extremely mature for her age. She has carried a big secret for the whole of her life. The friendships she makes have a Anne of Green Gables feel to them, which I loved.
The story has lots of elements to it that reminded me of Practical Magical, which is probably one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. Magical realism is one of my favourite genres, purely because there is always the hope that elements of the story might actually ring true.
This book would appeal to any child who hovers between reality and fantasy. Even though this book is published for Middle Grade readers, I’m certain adults would enjoy it too. All you need to do,  is to believe in a little magic…

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Art of Rejection with Jason Rohan

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Today I am pleased to welcome author Jason Rohan onto the blog to tell us about the rejections he received before finding an agent.
 
I've been writing for years and even got my first sale at sixteen so when I decided to start writing properly, I did so without any great fear. Silly me.
I finished a children's book in 2009 and sent submissions out to three UK agents, specifically chosen because they accepted email queries meaning I wouldn't have to faff around with photocopies, postage and SAE's. I got an immediate reply asking to see the full manuscript which caught me off guard, not least because I hadn't finished it - terribly unprofessional, I know. Truth is, I was at the 80% stage and struggling for motivation to get over the line so I sent out queries to amuse myself. D'oh!
Dear Jason,
XXX gave this to me yesterday and I love what I’ve read so far, great characters and hare brain plot.
Would you like to send the complete mss through?
Very best,
XXX
I politely stalled and knuckled down to write the last 10,000 words over a weekend. To my delight, the agent loved the story, sat me down for a chat to make sure I wasn't a gibbering loon and signed me up. BAM! Just like that.
Months passed and so did publishers, six at least. In my experience, agents don't always tell you how many rejections accrue, to spare your feelings, so numbers are a bit vague. Eventually, we parted ways and I started work on a new story in 2011. Having gone through the loop once already and got an agent first time, I half-expected a similarly charmed repeat but I couldn't have been more wrong.
 
  I sent out small batches of queries and tracked them all on a spread sheet listing date, agency, agent, response and date of response. Working this way, it took me two months to strike out with every UK agent who accepted unsolicited submissions for children's books - 13 in practice, and that's counting the ones who replied. This was a typical response: 
Dear Jason,
Thank you for giving us a chance to consider your work.
Unfortunately this is not right for us. We receive over 300 manuscripts a week and can only take on a handful of new writers every year. The result is that we have to be incredibly selective, so please do not be too disheartened. Another agent may well feel differently.
We wish you the very best of luck in the future.
Best wishes,
Undeterred, I then decided I would try my luck in a bigger pool, meaning I started querying agents in the US. For the better part of 2012, I sent out some 62 subs and got 31 replies. Of these, five asked for full manuscripts but none offered representation.
The way I kept myself motivated was to send out two new queries for each rejection that came in. I also set myself a target of 200 rejections before I gave up and started sending out a new novel. I didn't quite stick to this as I wrote another book and sent that out, quickly garnering another seven thumbs down.
After five years, four books and 90-odd rejections I finally got a break. I saw a small story in The Bookseller about a new UK agency starting up. Oh, why not? I thought, I should at least complete the set by giving them a chance to turn me down, so I sent off my query - and got a request for a full manuscript. Nothing new there. Except that a month later, I was signed up and, four months after that, I had a three-book deal (after some more publisher rejections, of course).
The thing to remember is that even though a rejection feels personal, it isn't. The agent is very busy and unless your work stands out from the crowd, it isn't likely to get past the first filter, just like with anything else in life. Timing is everything but the more you persist and the longer you strive, the better your chances become.

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The Sword of Kuromori is available to buy now. The Shield of Kuromori is published in May 2015. Both books are published by Egmont.
To find out more about Jason Rohan:

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

 Published by Stripes Publishing 2015
352 pages
Cover design by Ali Ardington
Summary from publisher’s website
Dunvegan School for Girls has been closed for many years. Converted into a family home, the teachers and students are long gone. But they left something behind…
Sophie arrives at the old schoolhouse to spend the summer with her cousins. Brooding Cameron with his scarred hand, strange Lillias with a fear of bones and Piper, who seems just a bit too good to be true. And then there’s her other cousin.
The girl with a room full of antique dolls. The girl that shouldn’t be there. The girl that died.
From the vintage-set prologue, Frozen Charlotte is distinctly eerie. With china dolls that have minds of their own and schoolgirls conducting tiny funerals, you know it isn’t going to become a jolly holiday romance. Alex Bell handles many of the scary tropes we know and love – if that’s the right word – with skill. 
The main part of the tale takes place in the present day with our point of view heroine Sophie investigating an ever-worsening sequence of events. For me, having such traditionally frightening elements in the contemporary world felt especially effective. 
There are some fairly gruesome scenes – not quite full-on horror, but getting close. It certainly isn’t suitable for the nervous – not least because of the psychological tension around the motives of suspect characters. It’s a ghost story crossed with a detective adventure – filmed through a very dark filter.
That said, a competent reader would not find it intimidating, and the settings are created with just enough telling detail to draw you in. I particularly liked the quotations from an unearthly ballad – which actually exists. If it were a film, this would be the creepily tinkling music just before something really unpleasant.
I’d recommend this for those who enjoy dark and disturbing tales with a good deal of unsettling ambiguity. ‘What is true? What is all in her mind?’ are questions that haunt Sophie – and will haunt the engaged reader. You may well enjoy this if you liked
‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ by Ransom Riggs, or ‘Long Lankin’ .

Monday, 2 March 2015

Secret Serendipity Seven with Curtis Jobling

As part of the Dead Wrong blog tour, I have one of my favourite people joining me on the blog today, Curtis Jobling. Curtis has written a post about for the Secret Serendipity Seven feature. If you ever get the chance to meet Curtis, I would definitely take the opportunity, as he is one of the nicest authors in publishing.
 
Both Haunt novels, Dead Scared and Dead Wrong, are based, very loosely, on my life growing up in Warrington. That's no great secret, but perhaps these other things are:
 
1) The characters in the book are based upon real life friends of mine. Dougie's home is that of my childhood friend Wayne Mitchinson's, and the view from his window was St Mary's Graveyard, complete with headstones in the mist. Will is essentially me, but with added spectral mischief. Dungeons & Dragons guru Andy Vaughn is based on Andy Jackson, and I still game with him to this day #NerdsForLife. School miscreant Stu Singer is my old mate Stu Wheeler, and yes, he was the leader of the "Damage Squad" in school. There were only four members, and I was more of a guesting member of the group, egging them on to all manner of ridiculous stunt. And the names of Will and Dougie are lifted from my friends in the north who I met through the Animex Animation Festival, Chris Williams and Dougie Pincott. Every other character is pretty much inspired by someone I met in my youth too, even the villains. . .
 
2) Redbrook House. There was an old building on the land of my old high school, but it wasn't a red brick Victorian affair that was condemned to be demolished. It was the old Labour Club, and it backed onto the school athletics field. If you traversed the scrubland beyond the running track, it would bring you out beside the old warehouse behind the Labour Club. This was apparently haunted, and kids - myself included - would be dared to creep up to its open door and chance a step into the darkness within. It was the stuff of nightmares to my overactive imagination. That wasn't the worst of it either. The Sankey Brook that bisected the school playing fields had a large sewer storm drain with an enormous steel grate, so big that you could swing open the broken door and sneak into it. That was far scarier. Rumour had it that a giant, child-eating rat had made the sewer its lair. I suspect there were far more foul things dwelling within that murky sewage water, mind you, not least the refuse from the Sixth Form toilets upstream. . .
 
3) Chapter One: Heroes and Villains. Dead Wrong kicks off in the town centre with the boys on a nerdy shopping trip. Yep, that was me and my mates, and that checklist of shops they visited was our regular routine, only with a modern twist. When they encounter the school bullies, they're chased through town, with Dougie finally finding refuge down an alleyway between the high street banks. That alley does exist, and is nestled between NatWest and the old Barclays Bank in Warrington town centre.
 
4) Mr Bradbury. The lightness in Dead Wrong comes from the jokes and japes that Will and Dougie share with their friends. The darkness is never far away though. There are still ghosts out there, such as that of the Lamplighter, and there are human dangers too like the sinister Mr Bradbury. The idea of a villain from Liverpool setting up camp and business in Warrington isn't such an unlikely scenario. Growing up in West Warrington, aka the scouse side of town, I had loads of friends whose parents were from Liverpool. These were great people, salt of the earth, moving out to my town as they followed where the work was. However, there were also genuine real life bad guys who occasionally turned up in my sleepy suburb from out of town. Mr Bradbury is based upon one such character, albeit tenuously. His style is more Reservoir Dogs meets the Krays. He was a joy to write!
 
5) The American Airbase. Warrington was indeed home to an airbase during the Second World War, and there were many Americans stationed in and around the town. When I was a teenager there were still American families living on the base, their children attending my school. The old hangars were a place of exploration and adventure for my mates and I, all of which of course was quite illegal. The base was surrounded by a tall wire fence, but my friends and I knew our way in and out of it. As the base was considered US Soil, rumour had it that if you were caught on there you could get SHOT! Chilling stuff when you considered that the most our local bobby might do was clip our ears if we were caught playing knock and run. Legend tells us that there were secret floors beneath the base, stocked with all kinds of military paraphernalia left over from the war in readiness for nuclear war. I say legend: playground banter would be closer to the truth.
 
6) "Kiss the girl". I was a painfully shy young man at school when it came to the fairer sex, so Will's feelings toward Lucy are pretty much my own. She's an amalgam of all those girls I fancied in school but never plucked up the courage to steal a kiss from. I was the perennial 'best friend' to them, utterly non-threatening and good for a laugh. I'm not so shy now, I might add. Mrs Bling tells me I'm a terrible flirt, but it's not that. I'm confident in my own skin as an adult, I know perfectly well who I am. I was less sure when I was a scrawny, freckly zit-covered teenager.
 
7) And lastly, something you may not know about me? Ghosts don't scare me. Why? They don't exist. However, I do have a pathological fear of deep water. Why? Sharks exist. I can blame JAWS entirely for this, the fact that I saw it when I was maybe eight years old. That stuff can stay with a chap, even when he's 43. . .
 
Dead Wrong by Curtis Jobling is the second book in the Haunt series and was published on the 26th February 2015 by Simon and Schuster.
 
To find out more about Curtis Jobling:
Check out the other stops on the blog tour below.
 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Where The Ideas Flow with Abi Elphinstone

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Today I am pleased to welcome Abi Elphinstone back onto the blog to show us where her ideas develop.
Abi Elphinstone
I would love to provide you with a super-slick post about how effortless my ‘Idea Flow’ process is. But sadly that’s not going to happen. I’m dyslexic – and my ideas do not flow. They bump and jostle and wriggle and squirm. In fact it would be more truthful to describe the Abi Elphinstone ‘Idea Flow’ as an ‘Idea Knot.’ But somehow the knot always untangles in the end – and I think it might be because:
1. I turned the hut at the bottom of my garden into a writing shed then filled it with things that inspire me to write: books, a framed message from Philip Pullman, dreamcatchers, gypsy artefacts, the Escape The City manifesto…
Writing Hut
2. I hung wooden signs displaying my favourite lines from children’s books all around the shed…
Children's Book Lines
3. I bought a pair of writing slippers. My feet are always cold and if I’m cold I can’t write…
Slippers
4. I found an old desk at an antiques fair and squeezed it into my shed. The marble slab on the top is strangely calming and I always have a scented candle going when I write. That way, even if I’m filled with chaotic knots, I feel outwardly like the perfection of writerly serenity…
Desk
5. I gather anything story-related onto a big mood board in my shed: newspaper clippings, letters, words, photos, postcards, hand-drawn maps, codes…
Moodboard
6. I have about three notepads on the go at any one time. And I write down everything that pops into my brain during the early ‘idea’ phase of a book…
Notepad
7. I can’t describe settings until they’re really clear in my head first so I draw my fictional worlds onto ordnance survey maps bought from charity shops
Map
8. I keep all my old diaries in a drawer in my hut and sometimes before writing about my main character, Moll (who is basically me), I read through my diaries to get myself back into the mindset of a 12-year-old girl hungry for adventure…
Diary page
9. I write everywhere I can – in my shed, in the car, on buses, trains, planes, up trees, inside caves and even on the back of a motorbike (once)…
Cave writing
10. I recently bought this magical floating reading chair and I’ve already started spinning inside it and thinking of new stories. It helps untangle the knots BIG TIME…
Hanging chair
Dreamsnatcher Final High Res Cover
The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone is published by Simon and Schuster and available to buy now.
To find out more about Abi Elphinstone:

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Secret Serendipity Seven with Rachel Hamilton

Today on the blog I’m happy to welcome author, Rachel Hamilton, to tell us seven secrets about herself and her new book, The Case of the Exploding Brains, as part of her Book Blog Tour.
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People often ask why I chose to write ‘funny’ books. I think it’s because I don’t know anything else. Since I was a child I’ve had this vague sense of being a character in a comedy show. The one that falls on the banana skin, or ends up with a bucket of water dumped on their head. If something ridiculous or unfortunate is going to happen to someone, it will usually happen to me. Here are seven examples that not many people know:
1) Mackenzie Crook (of The Office and Pirates of the Caribbean fame) once threw a pineapple at me in a comedy club. He yelled ‘duck’ and I didn’t. You’d be surprised how painful a speeding pineapple can be. They’re very spikey.
2) When I was researching how someone might be able to steal the moon rock for The Case of the Exploding Brains, I accidentally set off the Science Museum security alarm.
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Photo: my daughter being alarmed in the Science Museum
3) In my interview for Oxford University I was asked the question ‘If God is omnipotent can he build a wall so high he can’t jump over it?’ I was so nervous my tongue got tied in knots and I started my answer by describing God as ‘impotent’. I got the giggles and made no sense whatsoever for the rest of the interview. (They offered me the place).
4) Parts of The Case of the Exploding Brains are set in prison. I used to work in a men’s prison but I left because I was booked on to a ‘What do to when taken hostage’ training course. I decided I didn’t want to know.
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Illustration: The Boy Fitz Hammond, from The Case of the Exploding Brains
5) When I was younger I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It twenty seven times asking if Jim could fix it for me to visit the moon because I was desperate to be an astronaut. He didn’t. In hindsight I’m kind of glad he didn’t respond, but at the time I was gutted. To cheer myself up I bought myself a pair of toy NASA space gloves and gave them a cameo role in The Case of the Exploding Brains
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Photo: me in my NASA gloves

6) There’s a moment in the book where Noelle is terrified of her own reflection. This happened to me once in a dark nightclub in London. I was walking down the stairs and didn’t realise there was a mirror on the landing. I was so scared when my reflection loomed at me that I tripped, fell over, and had to be picked up by a bouncer.
7) The thing that excites me most about the launch of The Case of the Exploding Brains is that it might stop people referring to me as The Exploding Loo Lady! I’d definitely rather be The Exploding Brains Lady.
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About Rachel:
Rachel Hamilton is a graduate of both Oxford University and Cambridge University and has put her education to good use by working in an ad agency, a comprehensive school, a building site and a men’s prison. Her interests are books, films, stand-up comedy and cake, and she loves to make people laugh, especially when it’s intentional rather than accidental.
She is the author of The Case of the Exploding Brains (Simon & Schuster, 2015) and The Case of the Exploding Loo (Simon & Schuster, 2014), which won second prize in the Montegrappa First Fiction Competition at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and has been nominated for the Redbridge Children’s Award, Leeds Book Award and Worcestershire Awesomest Book Award.
Twitter: RachelLHamilton
Facebook: RachelHamiltonAuthor
About The Case of the Exploding Brains:
Noelle "Know-All" Hawkins has another case on her hands. 
A trip to the Science Museum results in an international mystery involving a stolen moon rock, some mindreading, and an awful lot of grumpy people. But how are they all connected?
Noelle, Holly and Porter are on the case. But will they piece the crazy clues together in time to save the planet? 
And why is Dad walking round with a blanket on his head?
Rachel Hamilton does it again in this laugh-out-loud story of science, silliness and super-villains.
The Case of the Exploding Brains