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.

Monday, 29 June 2015

The Write Way with Sophie McKenzie

I am so pleased to have Sophie McKenzie back on the blog today, to celebrate the forthcoming publication of her new Young Adult novel, All My Secrets.
Your new novel, All My Secrets, is about to be published. Do you still get excited when a new novel comes out?
Absolutely! Still, nothing has ever quite recaptured the amazement I felt when I held my very first book for the very first time – you can see exactly how I reacted here… 

Can you give me a one line pitch for All My Secrets, so my readers can get a feel for the story?
When Evie Brown discovers she’s about to inherit a fortune from a close relative her family has lied about all her life, she embarks on a perilous journey to discover the truth about her past; this journey brings her to the sinister island of Lightsea where ghosts supposedly roam and where Evie finds romance alongside threats from both the dead and the living. 

The book is set on the fictional island of Lightsea, is that based on anywhere in particular or purely fictional?
When I was much younger, not much older than Evie, I visited the island of Skye. Though it’s far bigger than my imagined Lightsea, I have never forgotten the beauty and mystery of the windswept landscape and it definitely inspired my fictional island.

You are one of the first writers of UKYA, how do feel the genre has changed since you started writing for teens? 
I don’t think of myself as being one of the first writers of UKYA at all! There were plenty of other very successful authors, from Michael Morpurgo to Malorie Blackman, already published long before I came on the scene. In terms of changes to the genre, I guess that certain fashions (like vampires and dystopias) come and go, but fundamentally the principles of storytelling remain the same. I think the bigger changes have come in terms of social media and e-reading – and I think it’s probably too early to say what impact those things will have on #UKYA writing long term.

You are known for writing tightly plotted novels, how do you keep track of all the plot threads while you are pulling the book together? 
Honestly, this is one of the biggest challenges! It’s a bit like driving a chariot with six horses, each of which is galloping hard towards their own particular goal. My job is to keep them all running alongside each other without the reins becoming too tight or too loose or getting muddled up with each other. I could fill a book with all the mistakes I’ve made (and learned from) and another with the many and various techniques I’ve deployed to try and stay on track with my plot. Here are my top three tips:
  • Before you start planning, make sure you know whose story you are telling and what they want/need at the start of the story. 
  • Your job now is to keep that main character on course towards that goal, while throwing plenty of obstacles in their way. 
  • Make sure you know why you’re writing every single scene: What’s the point of it? Does something actually happen that moves the story on? Is that something both plausible and unexpected? 
You have written for teenagers and adults now, which do you prefer? 
I actually really like being able to do both; it helps keep the writing process fresh. There are fewer restrictions when writing for adults but if I’m honest my heart is forever YA !

When starting a new novel, what do you do first? Do you research an idea or go straight into the first draft? 
I’m not massively into research – too impatient to get writing! That’s why I tend to set my books in the contemporary world – thus avoiding the preparation required for both historical books and fantasies. I outline the main sections of the book, then I start work. As I come to the beginning of each new section, I plan it out a bit more thoroughly, but I always leave plenty of room for the story and the characters to develop as I’m writing.

Do you try and aim for a daily word target when writing? 
It depends on the book. Right now I’m broadly aiming for a monthly word count, because the novel (a psychological thriller for adults) doesn’t have conventional chapters. In the past, more typically, I’ll have tried to write a chapter every day that I’m working.

Close Your Eyes was chosen as one of the books for Richard and Judy. How did that feel? 
I felt enormously fortunate that my first book as a writer for adult readers was given such a huge boost of publicity. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have my stories supported so well over so many years.

Who are your favourite #UKYA authors? 
That’s such a hard question to answer, there are so many brilliant writers out there. I tend to like the kind of books I try to write myself – mystery stories with plenty of suspense and an emphasis on personal relationships. Two of my favourite #UKYA authors at the moment are Anne Cassidy and CJ Daugherty.

If you could choose one of your books to be made into a film, which one would it be? 
Ooh, restricting my answer to just my teen books… I think All My Secrets could be a really atmospheric, suspenseful movie – but then Split Second or Girl, Missing or Blood Ties would be super dramatic and exciting… though hang on, all the psychic powers in The Medusa Project books would work brilliantly on screen. Then the Flynn series or the Luke and Eve romances would be powerful too…

What was the best piece of writing advice you were ever given? 
Hard to pick just one thing! But I think it has to be the advice I was given by Malorie Blackman, who attended the same writing course as I did, a few years before me. She came back to talk to my year group and I asked her what made the difference between the books she’d written that had been rejected by publishers and the first book that was published. She answered with one word: ‘discipline’. I realized at that point that being able to write well or having great ideas were not the only requirements of an aspiring novelist. You also need to be prepared to put in the hours; to keep going in the face of setbacks and frustrations; and to stay open to ways of improving your work.

Thank you Sophie for your excellent answers that I'm positive other writers will gain advice from.
All My Secrets by Sophie McKenzie is published by Simon and Schuster (£5.99) 

The shocking reality behind a GBP10 million inheritance turns Evie Brown's world on its head. Unable to find out the truth from her parents, Evie ends up on the mysterious island of Lightsea, where her desire for answers leads her towards a series of revelations that threaten everything she holds dear ...including her life.

To find out more about Sophie McKenzie:


Friday, 26 June 2015

The Art of Rejection Meets The Book Cycle - how one writer turned her rejections into a positive.

This is rather a special post for me today, as it is one from one of my Book Bound gang, Tracey Mathias, who took her rejection and turned it on its head!
So let me pass you to Tracey for her Art of Rejection MEETS The Book Cycle post!
I had always wanted to write, but I had lacked – what? I told myself, time and space; I think it was actually courage and conviction. By the early 2000s, I had more or less given up the ambition. But then, in the summer of 2005, three things fell into place with a clunk. I ended up writing some children’s songs for a local music school, and rediscovering the pure joy and fun of putting words together. I found an idea for the central episode in a story – a moment of failed courage – that wouldn’t let me go. And my youngest daughter was about to start school full time… I had motive, means, and opportunity. 

So I wrote – with a kind of naivety that seems both appalling and wonderful when I look back on it. I took no courses. I read no books about writing. I didn’t join a writing group. I didn’t join SCBWI (I hadn’t even heard of SCBWI). I took the kids to school, came home, sat at the computer, and wrote. Most of my plotting was done in my head walking to and from school. My ambition – to start with – was limited to getting to the end of the story.
I had no conscious method. Looking back on it, analysing it with hindsight, I realise that I was doing something that is fairly common for a lot of writers. I had a series of landmarks: key episodes in the story that I knew I had to navigate between, and to start with, only a vague sense of what the stages in between would be like. In that sense – I guess this is familiar to a lot of writers – writing the story often felt like reading it: a moment of discovery.

I had honestly not expected to get to the end (in other aspects of life, I’m not very good at finishing things), but in the end I wrote it faster than anything since: within the school year I had completed what was to become the first volume of The Assalay Trilogy. I was lucky enough to have a friend who’s an agent, and she introduced me gently to the notion that what I had written was a first draft and guided me through two rewrites – and the beginnings of consciously learning how to construct a book.

Arcs entered my life. I spent weeks kneeling on the kitchen floor with giant sheets of paper sketching out the emotional development of my main characters. I mapped out the plot. I learned about world building. I developed the fantasy country that I had invented and in doing so discovered how one detail of an invented world can make others fall into place and cohere. (For Assalay, it was the importance of moonlight). 
With a third draft completed, it seemed for a few months as if fairy tale had migrated off the paper and into my life, as representation was followed by submissions and by offers from Germany and France. 
Only then… things started to judder to a halt. The French offer was withdrawn (the editor didn’t like volume two). Sales in Germany were ok but far from stellar and The Hunger Games came out at the same time with the same publisher. And, critically, UK publishers kept on turning the books down. Finally, the relationship with my agent ended (amicably enough) when she left to set up independently.

I guess I had been cruising on beginner’s luck for quite some time, and it was probably due to run out! After all this, I felt very much as if I was starting from square one again, and this time I did some of the beginner things I didn’t know to do the first time round: went to some courses, made contacts with other writers, joined SCBWI, joined a writers’ group. I wrote a new novel which took painful ages to complete. Submitted it to agents. Waited. Am still waiting. 
In the meantime, I had been hoping that Assalay would eventually see the light of day in English on the back of selling something else, but increasingly that came to feel like a remote prospect, both in terms of time and possibility (given the unspectacular German sales) But I didn’t want to give up on it: I still love the world and the characters. And the technology for independently making a real book is now there: fiddly, but basically easy to use. So I took a deep breath; consciously limited my ambitions to selling a few dozen copies to friends (I dream of more than that of course, but I’m not expecting it), and went ahead… 
It has been a strange and very bumpy journey.
A Fragment of Moonswood is available to buy here on Amazon for £6.99.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Moonlight on Nightingale Way by Samantha Young

I stared at the bright pink thong draped across the hand railing on the landing I shared with the new neighbour I had yet to meet. My first semi-introduction to him was last night when my work was ground to a halt by the high-pitched squealing coming from next door. 
My neighbour's girlfriend was loud during sex.
Very, very loud.

Published by Piatkus on the 2nd June 2015

Logan spent two years paying for the mistakes he made. Now, he’s ready to start over. He has a great apartment, a good job, and plenty of women to distract him from his past. And one woman who is driving him to distraction…

Grace escaped her manipulative family by moving to a new city. Her new life, made to suit her own needs, is almost perfect. All she needs to do is find her Mr. Right—or at least figure out a way to ignore her irresistible yet annoying womanizer of a neighbor.

Grace is determined to have nothing to do with Logan until a life-changing surprise slowly begins turning the wild heartbreaker into exactly the kind of strong, stable man she’s been searching for. Only just when she begins to give into his charms, her own messy past threatens to derail everything they’ve worked to build…
I started this series in the middle of it but  I'm just as upset as everyone else, to see it come to an end. I'm struggling to put my finger on what I love about these books so much. They're like candy, and you just can't get enough of them.
Samantha Young really knows how to absorb you completely in the lives of the characters so that you feel like you are actually one of them! Not that I liked Grace at first, I thought she was a little too prim and proper for my liking, but Logan soon broke that hard exterior.
The male characters in each book are hot. They can be rather overpowering and just a wee bit possessive but the author writes it in such a way, that these qualities become bizarrely rather sexy.
Logan really is in for a life changing surprise which alters his way of thinking. He realises he has a duty to step up to. Grace changes too. She becomes a lot softer around the edges.
The author has written an epilogue which revisits all the characters from the previous books, so that you get to find out their happy ever afters. It's so lovely to see how their lives have moved on for the better.
This is a lovely ending to a gorgeous, compulsive reading series. I look forward to embarking on a new journey with Samantha Young very soon.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Black Dove, White Raven written by Elizabeth Wein

I still have a plane. There must be some way I can get Teo out safely. I think Momma’s hoard of Maria Theresa dollars is enough to pay for the travel. I am hoping my new passport is waiting for me in Addis Ababa. But Teo…Teo is trapped.

Published by Hyperion US / Egmont UK in March 2015

368 pages in printed edition

Read as NetGalley proof – sorry, I can’t comment on the artwork.

Summary from author’s own website

Em and Teo are the children of stunt pilots Rhoda and Delia, who perform daring aerobatics to appreciative audiences. But while the sight of two girls wingwalking – one white, one black – is a welcome novelty in some parts of the USA in the 1920s, it’s an anathema in others. Rhoda and Delia dream of living in a world where neither gender nor ethnicity determines their life. When Delia is killed in a tragic accident, Rhoda is determined to make that dream come true. She moves to Ethiopia with her daughter, Em, and Delia’s son, Teo.

Em and Teo adapt to scratching a living in a strange land, and feel at home here; but their parents’ legacy of flight and the ability to pilot a plane places them in an elite circle of people watched carefully by the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, who dreams of creating an air force for his fledgling nation. As Italy prepares for its invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, Em and Teo find themselves inextricably entangled in the crisis — and they are called on to help.
Reviewed by K. M. Lockwood

This is exactly what those who loved ‘Code Name Verity’ and have younger relatives have been yearning for. All the passion for aviation, all the fascination of a different historical period and all the sense of adventure – in a story suitable for somewhat less experienced readers. I should add there are bonuses for older readers too – a wonderful and little-known civilisation (Ethiopia) at an intriguing moment in time, and insights into the past of America and Italy that you rarely encounter. There is a wealth of notes at the back as an extra.

And not one bit a boring history lesson.

Because you really get to know Teodros and Emilia (Teo and;Em for short), and their family background, you’re drawn through the flashbacks and complications desperate to know what happens to them. I should warn you there are some distressing moments – but overall, it left this reader with a sense of appreciation for Ethiopian culture – and hope for the future of most of the characters. No spoilers from me.

This story is ideal or those who love a big sweeping family tale in an unusual setting. It’s great for those who want to embed themselves in a culture they haven’t come across before (unless you are Ethiopian, of course – in which case you might well enjoy the two children’s perspectives anyway). There are contrasting points of view to appreciate, (Teo and Em do have their fallings-out, as well as other characters) and some character-driven humour to vary the tone. 

An enjoyment of daring escapades involving planes helps!

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Big Break with Leo Hunt

I am pleased to welcome debut author, Leo Hunt onto the blog today, to talk about his Big Break into publishing. Leo's debut novel, Thirteen Days of Midnight, is published by Orchard Books in July. 
Your debut novel, Thirteen Days of Midnight is soon to be published, how does that make you feel?
Thrilled and terrified. The novel has existed in its final draft for about six months before publication, so there’s this air of terrible inevitability about the process. The die is cast. You have this psychic defense of ‘oh well I can always rewrite this part’ before the final text is set, but once you’re done then you’re done. I’m just really curious to find out what people think of it.

Can you give me a one line pitch for your book, so that my readers can get a feel for it?
16-year-old Luke Manchett inherits his estranged father’s ghost collection, ends up in big trouble.

How does it feel to finally have your name on a book?
Weird. Some reviewers refer to me as ‘Hunt’, which makes me feel like I’m being addressed by a 1930s schoolmaster. Both my grandmother and mother wrote novels for children which never made it to publication, so I’m happy to finally represent the Hunt dynasty in print.

Which character do you most identify with in Thirteen Days of Midnight and why?
Difficult question. Although the obvious answer would be the protagonist, Luke, I think I’m a better fit with his friend Elza. Luke’s quite sporty and (superficially) confident, which was never me at all. Elza is much closer to who I remember being at 16: feeling a little isolated, arty in a place where it can feel like there aren’t many other people like you. I think there’s a streak of arrogance in Elza, and she can be pretentious in that special way of teenagers, so there was some definite self-parody that went into her character as well. So I’d say Elza is the character I feel the closest kinship with, and she’s always fun to write dialogue for.

How long did it take you to write?
The first page was written on 25th September 2010, and the final draft was completed on 8th December 2014. So just over four years. I should point out that this wasn’t four years of constant re-writing; I was a full-time university student during this period of time, which limited how much work I could do. There were also long fallow periods where I didn’t work on the novel at all. The first draft took nine months, the final re-draft took just over three. Whatever I’m doing I try to hit 1000 words a day. I’m much faster at composing prose now than I was in 2010.

Was it easy to find an agent? 
Yes and no. I sent out eight queries before I signed with my agency. The first eight queries were mostly immediate rejections, and I think I’m still waiting on a few responses! I met my agent in 2011 when she came to give a talk at my university, and I was able to pitch my story to her in person, using the same line I answered question two with. She was interested, gave me her personal email address, and I was a known entity to her. I ended up signing a contract in 2012. There are so many manuscripts coming in to agents every week, and if you can give the agent a good pitch in person it will definitely help.

Did you ever feel like quitting writing?
I’m happy to report it never crossed my mind. I thought it might take a lot longer than it did to get a book published, but I was very determined. I don’t see myself as an overly driven person, but this was something I knew I could do and would do. That said, it is extraordinarily tough to get published, and it’s possible that my faith just wasn’t tested enough. The story of Job comes to mind. If I’d gotten nowhere after twenty solid years of submitting work, I might well start thinking of quitting. It’s hard to know how you’d respond unless you’re in that position.

How many times did you have to edit your book before the agent was happy to send it off to publishers?

The novel went through one very serious re-draft, in which it was cut down from 100,000 words to a more manageable 60,000. This involved a lot of re-structuring, and the final draft still has the same chapter progression and plot that I instituted in this draft. After that I let it lie for almost a year because I was in the final stages of my undergraduate degree, and then it went through an intensive six-week editing program before my agent took it to the 2014 London Book Fair. So twice, but over quite a long period.

What was your first reaction when you found out that your book was to be published?
I remember feeling astonished, mainly because I was in a pitch-black low about the manuscript and didn’t think I’d done nearly enough work, partly because it was also final essay period (in retrospect I think I nearly died of overwork during that month). I ended up getting four offers and the manuscript went to auction, so maybe you’re always your own harshest critic. I was definitely surprised at the response to that draft.

Who was the first person you told about your book deal?
Mass text message to my family.

Tell us what a typical writing day would be like?
I rise with the dawn, take a brisk walk amongst my estates, and usually breakfast in the African Room. My manservant brings me the day’s papers, along with correspondence from fans, friends, enemies, lovers past and present, etc. I compose at an oak desk which overlooks my terrapin terrarium. Lunch is at twelve. After digesting for an hour I normally exercise, either by racing a horse on foot, yoga, star-jumps, or bare-knuckle fighting with a horse. A healthy body breeds a healthy mind. I spend the afternoon re-copying the morning’s work, then break at seven for dinner and billiards. After winning easily at billiards I can finally take out the scotch and drink myself into unconscious bliss. It’s not an easy life, but I wouldn’t wish for any other.
(I don’t have a particular schedule. As long as I produce 1000 words then I’m happy with the day. This can take an hour if things are going well, or much much longer if they aren’t.)

What advice would you give to aspiring and unpublished authors?
I feel like I could fill acres of space with advice, but I’ll try and keep it reasonably brief…
I would say you need to read widely. And I really do mean widely. If you are serious about being a writer and the craft you will never stop reading. Every writer, every book, good or bad, has something you can take from it, some quirk of voice, a literary technique, an idea you’ve never come across before. Even the most tedious, turgid, derivative novel can teach you something: it can teach you what not to do. Don’t be afraid of nonfiction, as life is often stranger and more interesting than anything anyone could invent. And I would add, please go outside your comfort zone. If you only read fantasy stories, pick up a novel about real people in the real world. If all you read is realism, please try a book with spaceships or dragons in it. If you’re only familiar with modern fiction then read something that was written back before our english language even existed. Your writing will never suffer for having a larger pool of influences to draw upon.

I’d say please remember that art is work, not divine inspiration, and ideas are actually the easiest part of writing a novel. The successful execution of the idea is what is difficult.

I’d say that to get into traditional publishing as it stands you’ll need an agent, and to get an agent you’ll need to be (a) good at your craft (your first draft of a first novel is unlikely to be good enough) and (b) you’ll need to know how to pitch your idea and send successful queries to agents. The Query Shark blog was very helpful to me in this regard.

I’d say be kind to yourself. Making stories is difficult work. There’s lots of self-doubt involved, and frustration, and getting published doesn’t ease any of that up (trust me). You have to be able to accept that you’ll make mistakes, and won’t be perfect, and that doubt is part of being a writer.

And finally I’d say that the only way you can truly learn about telling stories is by doing it. 

When Luke Manchett's estranged father dies suddenly, he leaves his son a dark inheritance. Luke has been left in charge of his father's ghost collection: eight restless spirits. They want revenge for their long enslavement, and in the absence of the father, they're more than happy to take his son. It isn't fair, but you try and reason with the vengeful dead.

Halloween, the night when the ghosts reach the height of their power, is fast approaching. With the help of school witchlet Elza Moss, and his cowardly dog Ham, Luke has just thirteen days to uncover the closely guarded secrets of black magic, and send the unquiet spirits to their eternal rest. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about.

To find out more about Leo Hunt:

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Individually we are unique, together we are a thunderclap!

This week I had some news. I would say it was amazing news, if I wasn't absolutely crapping myself about it. But it is amazing news and I want to share it.

I will be at YALC this year on ONE OF THE PANELS!!!!!

Why the heck are they inviting you? I hear you screaming at the page. Well, it's  because I won this! 
This lovely award which I won at the beginning of the year has made all the difference. These awards were put together by author, Andy Robb. Publishers, authors and PR agents voted on them and the winners were chosen from the votes they cast. 

Six winners of the 2015 UKYA Blogger Awards have been exclusively invited to take part on two panels all about blogging. 
There are two panels on Sunday the 19th July.
The first panel from 12.30 till 1.15pm will be Book Blogging for Beginners, featuring Laura from Sister Spooky, Andrew from Pewter Wolf and Michelle from Tales of Yesterday.
The second panel from 1.30pm to 2.15pm will be Taking Your Blog To The Next Level and will feature Jim from YAYeahYeah and Lucy from The Queen of Contemporary and myself. 

Finally we are being recognised and rewarded for our efforts as book bloggers and that is all we have ever asked for. Being a book blogger is an important part of book publicity these days, whether people agree with it or not. With the ever decreasing space for reviews in newspapers and magazines, it is becoming more and more difficult for authors to get the word out their about their books. That's one way in which we can help.  We provide an invaluable service for free, all because we are passionate about books. Individually we are unique, together we are a thunderclap! We spread the word, via Twitter, blogs and Youtube, like Chinese Whispers. We all know that the minority view us negatively, but that is their choice - we can't please everyone. For the minority who hate us,as Taylor Swift likes to tell  us - let the hater hate - think of the majority that love us and are glad we exist. 
I'm proud to be a book blogger. It isn't an easy task and I've lost count of how many times I've wanted to give up. Just when I get to the point where I'm ready to quit, something draws me back in. I was meant to do this. I was meant to share my passion about books!
So let us represent you. Let us go there and tell everyone  what is so good about book blogging. Let's celebrate what a bloody good job we do.
If you are going to YALC on the Sunday, come and join us. We will be extremely happy to be see you!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

American Journey - Massachusetts

Today brings us to the end of our journey through Massachusetts, a little shorter than planned, but a state I hope to revisit one day soon.
I thought I would give you a quick summary of the posts from the week, which will be added to the blog page specifically designed for special blog weeks.

Guest posts


Extra Posts

Thanks for joining me on this journey. I hope to be back soon with another trip through another state of America.