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.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Where the Rock Splits and Sky by Philip Webb

Leaning against the doorpost of the smithy, I pretend it is a normal day. For the thousandth time in the last hour, I wonder whether I should say goodbye to Luis or just slip away.
The boardwalk outside is as bright as the forge – it always is – under the light of a sun that sits on the horizon and refuses to set.
Were farewells ever easier at night all those years ago, when there was proper darkness? Before the Zone.
Before the Visitors came to this world and stopped it dead on its axis. 
Published by Chicken House in March 2014
Pages – 266
Summary
The moon has been split, and the Visitors have Earth in their alien grip. But the captive planet? That's not her problem. Megan just wants to track down her missing dad...
********
Reviewed by Jill Atkins
When a publisher like Barry Cunningham writes an introduction like, ‘This is an astounding book. Just read it… And did I say brilliant? Extraordinary and like nothing else I’ve ever read’, I expect something exceptional!
I wasn’t disappointed. In this cross between a western and post-apocalyptic novel, Megan has to face danger after danger, but she is not alone. Her friend, Luis, leaves his forge to follow her into the Zone where no one is safe and the Visitors, aliens formed inside the bodies of captured humans, ride in posses with deadly intent. The third character who joins Megan and Luis is a girl called Kelly, who is the only person left alive in her town. 
The three characters leap off the page: Megan showing tenacity and determination mixed with impetuosity; Luis reliable and more level-headed; and Kelly, rather a caricature of a Texan cowgirl who gets herself and the others into all kinds of scrapes. Each character is easily identifiable through their very distinctive voices.
I loved the wild imagination and humour of the author as he builds the picture of the Zone, but I was equally taken in and moved by Megan’s thoughts and feelings as she shows her desperate need to find her father. 
There is never a dull moment and the reader is carried along in a fast-paced plot to an extraordinary climax and ending. I would totally recommend it! 
This is Philip Webb’s second children’s book for Chicken House. I look forward to his next one!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Literary Agent, Catherine Clarke Tells All

As part of the Year of the Rat blog tour, I am pleased to welcome Clare’s agent, Catherine Clarke, from Felicity Brown Associates, on to the blog, to talk about why she chose to represent this book.
Catherine Clarke
How do you go about sorting through the vast amount of manuscripts you must get sent? What stands out for you?
What stands out is the quality of the writing, most of all—the sense from the first page that you are in the hands of somebody who knows their craft and can lead you through their story with confidence. If it has that effect on me, and the author can sustain it with good structure and pace and characters, then it is likely to have the same effect on others. We receive thousands of submissions, as most agencies do, and we have somebody in the office managing that flow. She knows the tastes of each of the agents and will make sure we see any submission that looks interesting. (We also have a network of freelance readers.) I sometimes ask editors what they are looking for and often they reply: ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’ That also applies to agents!
What was it about The Year of the Rat that really stood out for you? Did you know you had something special?
I first met Clare at a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) event in London several years ago. I was on a panel with other agents and editors, and she came up to me afterwards and said she was writing a book called The Year of the Rat. I liked the title immediately—it was both direct and intriguing—and so when she sent me some early chapters, I remembered it and prioritised it. We corresponded over the next few years—Clare was brilliant at keeping me up to date with her progress now and again, but not swamping me with emails! We agreed that the story of Pearl grieving for her mother and resenting her new baby sister was inherently strong, but it needed more depth and complexity. So when Clare got in touch at the beginning of 2013, when she was taking the Bath Spa MA in Creative Writing, and said she had finished the novel, I was agog to see how she had tackled that. I read it quickly, and loved it. It was such a thrill to see how she had solved the question of Pearl’s relationship with her mother without resorting to flashback. It was a stroke of genius, and she carries it off with such skill. I knew this was a standout book, and that it was ready to go to publishers.
Will you feedback on manuscripts to the author to make it more ‘publisher-friendly’?
If I think a debut book has great potential and I like enough about it to pursue it, then I will meet the author and talk through my thoughts with them. Sometimes the book is brilliantly written — you know the author is an outstanding writer—but for whatever reason it isn’t a strong proposition as a debut for publishers. So in a couple of cases—Meg Rosoff and later Jenny Downham—I suggested gently that they think about writing a new book with a clear and simple premise. They could always go back to the first later if they wanted to. They were both a little taken aback, understandably, but they both rose to the challenge, and How I Live Now and Before I Die became their first published novels, and established them both internationally from the outset.
 How do you go about ‘selling’ a book to publishers? What was it about The Year of the Rat that got publishers in such a frenzy that it resulted in a ‘bidding-war’?
I like to trail a book with editors when I amplanning to submit it—letting them know in conversations at parties or in meetings or over the phone that there is something special in the offing, giving them a hint of what kind of book it is, that I really like it. Sometimes I do that at a book fair, such as Bologna, and send the book out afterwards, to avoid the crush of manuscripts landing in inboxes in the days before the fair. In the case of The Year of the Rat, in fact it all happened a month or so before the Bologna Book Fair. I think lots of people connected at an emotional level with Clare’s book: as mothers, daughters, fathers, siblings, friends. And although the book begins with a funeral, it ends with acceptance and a kind of happiness. And it is brilliantly funny too…a winning combination!
What are your favourite parts about your job?
I like its sociability, how connecting with people all over the world in such a great industry is at the core of bringing writers to readers. I love the thrill of getting up early and reading an outstanding novel from an unpublished writer, or a new novel by one of my authors whose hard work anddiscipline and imagination and command of language have been channeled intosomething wonderful. And I love converting my own enthusiasm for it into finding publishers who are the best match for the author.
And finally, what is your favourite moment or character in The Year of the Rat, and why?
I like Pearl’s mother, with all her faults and passions and her wry wisdom. And I like her grandmother (and her dog) who despite first appearances turns out to be so right about what Pearl needs. I like the moment when Pearl realizes her mother is gone forever, because although it is sad it is also a moment of change and hope. Perhaps I am influenced by the fact that I am writing this on Mother’s Day!
yearoftherat_hardback MOST RECENT
The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss is published on April 24th 2014 by Simon and Schuster. To find out more about Clare:

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Rooftoppers
On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating
in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.
It was the only living thing for miles. Just the baby, and
some dining-room chairs, and the tip of a ship disappearing
into the ocean. There had been music in the dining hall, and
it was music so loud and so good that nobody had noticed
the water flooding in over the carpet. The violins went on
sawing for some time after the screaming had begun.
Sometimes the shriek of a passenger would duet with a high
C.
The baby was found wrapped for warmth in the musical
score of a Beethoven symphony. It had drifted almost a mile
from the ship, and was the last to be res- cued. The man who
lifted it into the rescue boat was a fellow passenger, and a
scholar. It is a scholar's job to notice things. He noticed that it was a girl, with
hair the colour of lightning, and the smile of a shy
person.
240 pages in paperback
Published March 2013 by Faber & Faber
Summary from publishers
Everyone tells Sophie she was orphaned in a shipwreck. But Sophie is convinced her mother also survived. When no one believes her, Sophie sets out to prove them wrong. On the run from the authorities, Sophie finds Matteo and the other rooftoppers - children who live in the
sky. In a race across the rooftops of Paris, will they help her find her mother, before it's too late?
A story about pursuing your dreams and never ignoring a possible.
*******
By the time this goes out, I would expect Katherine Rundell to have at least won one more award for her second novel. I won’t list them – but they are well-deserved.
As you can see from the lovely cover, it involves Paris and rooftops – though these come relatively late to the story. The chief joy of the book isn’t the adventure story – though that is great fun, nor is it the wonderful language (of which more later) but the central relationship of Charles and Sophie. 
Eccentric, engaging and rather touching, you would have to be a bit of a meany not love this odd sort-of parent-child bonding. It is a delight – and the language and its humour are so much a part of it. There’s something of the lightness and spirit of ‘I Capture the Castle’ or even ‘Cold Comfort Farm’, with a generous pinch of P. G. Wodehouse to boot. A delicious mixture, which stops Sophie’s central quest to find her mother ever becoming mawkish or sentimental.
It’s not difficult to read but there is definitely no talking down to younger readers. It is suitable for anyone reasonably confident –especially if they are prepared to look up the odd unfamiliar word. 
As a writer, I was impressed how Ms Rundell held her nerve right to the very end. It has the feel of a future classic – and though there is no obvious magic in it, it is enchanting. You will probably enjoy this if you like a family story with adventure and heart – and you are not expecting either violence or romance.
Recommended.

Monday, 7 April 2014

THE BIG BREAK WITH SHEILA AGNEW

Kicking off the Evie Brooks blog tour, I am pleased to welcome debut author, Sheila Agnew onto the blog, to talk about her journey to publication.
SheilaAgnew
Firstly, can I thank you for joining me today on my blog.
My pleasure. I’m delighted to join you.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a writer?
Back in 2002, I was working as a lawyer, mainly in the area of international litigation, with a large law firm in London. It wasn’t a bad life but it wasn’t my life. By the end of four years, instead of getting the Fear on a Sunday night, I started getting it on a Thursday. I think that the Fear feeling is a fear of self-betrayal. I abandoned my legal career to write my first novel, a literary effort. I failed to get it published and I started back in law again at the bottom, in New York this time. I fell into the world of family and divorce law. My job involved writing hundreds of legal briefs about unhappy families and advocating on behalf of those families in court. I definitely didn’t realize it at the time but it was one of the best things that could have happened for my writing career because I logged way more than 10,000 hours of writing practice. Ultimately, I made partner but my writing dream never really went away. To the deep concern and bewilderment of those who care about me, I resigned my partnership to have another shot at a writing career. I threw everything I had at it. This time around, I got a publishing contract. I’d say that my journey has been long, bumpy and never dull. 
Your debut novel, ‘Evie Brooks: Marooned in Manhattan is about to be published in the UK. How does that make you feel?
Relieved and thrilled. 
I saw that you already have a second book in development with Evie in New York; where else do plan to set other books in the series? 
I wrote the second Evie Brooks book in late 2012/early 2013. It is due to be published in September, 2014. It is also set in New York. In books 3 and 4, Evie has plans to travel to Australia, and to Dingle, which is an isolated and stunningly beautiful fishing village on the most western point of Ireland. I wrote most of the first book in Dingle so it seems fitting that I bring Evie home, at least for a little while. 
The cover is amazing. Did you have any say in the development of it?
Thank you. I love the cover too and I’m very grateful to the talented illustrators at The O’Brien Press. No, I didn’t have much input into it, which is lucky because I have dubious visual talent as anyone could discern from my wardrobe. However, when I first received the draft cover, it featured a cat. Since the main animal character in the book is a dog, and because I’m a huge dog lover, I asked if the cat could be replaced with a dog. As you can see, they made that change.  
Was it easy to find an agent?
When I wrote my first novel in 2002, I didn’t succeed in finding an agent at all. With Evie, I found an agent with my very first query letter. 
How many times did you have to edit your book before the agent was happy to send it off to publishers?
Once.
What was your first reaction when you found out that your book was to be published?
Last year I wrote an article, Keeping Rabbits, about using humour to deal with the many rejections writers have to face. In it, I described my reaction to hearing the news that Evie had found a publishing home. Here it is:
I never cry when I get a rejection. My eyes don’t even water. They remain stubbornly dry all day. I find this mystifying. I’ve been known to tear up over late night reruns of Frasier. (Did you see the episode where Marty’s dog Eddie gets lost?) And I cried really hard when I got my first publishing contract (thank you The O’Brien Press!). It was the sort of crying where no sound at all comes out for the first two minutes and you appear to have swallowed an entire, potentially lethal, Guatemalan chilli.
How have you found working with the O’Brien Press team?
It has been a great experience. They are lovely people to work with. I’ve been very lucky in having a brilliant editor in Mary Webb. Her dedication is legendary. And I’m also delighted with the enthusiasm of the public relations team. 
On your blog you mentioned a dark YA novel you are working on. Can you tell us a bit more about it? 
I wrote my first YA novel last year. It is called, Before, We Were Aliens. Ten years in the future, in the wake of an economic collapse, an extreme right-wing political party in the U.S. blames cheap labour from South America. All Latinos are expelled from the country. Thirteen-year-old Alejandro Sanchez goes into hiding in New York, seeking to pass as ordinary Alex Saunders. He joins the resistance movement, the Underground. I suppose that the novel could be categorized as a darkly humorous, political thriller. Writing it was a very intense experience, like jumping out of an airplane with a dodgy parachute. 
I think that it is very important for writers to listen to their guts. In 2012, I wrote a children’s novel, called Children of the Seal. Although my agent at the time very kindly heaped lavish praise on it, and although I had a lot of fun writing it, I knew deep down in my gut that it was nothing special. It has to be rewritten in its entirety. But with the Evie books and with Before, We Were Aliens; I had a very strong, good feeling in my gut. My faith in Before, We Were Aliens can be shaken but it cannot be broken. Recently, I said to my twin sister, “if anything happens to me, like, if I get knocked down by a bus, please, please, please, get Before, We Were Aliens published.” And she promised. Thank you Claire! 
In all the different countries you have lived, which one was your favourite and helped your writing journey the most? 
While I was writing the first Evie book in Dingle in the west of Ireland, I worked at the local riding stables. One morning, the horse in front of mine, an enormous stallion, startled by a flapping plastic bag, reared up and lashed out. I will never forget the agony of the impact of his hoof. My leg swelled up to the size of an elephant’s leg and I wound up in hospital. The admitting nurse, a man with the appearance and attitude of a lead singer in a college band, glanced at my admittance form and snorted, “You are on your [bleep] Irish!”  I shrugged. Although I was mainly raised in Dublin, I was born in New York and I’ve never had a noticeably Irish accent. A few hours later, the nurse apologized, “You don’t sound or look Irish but you most definitely are Irish.” Yes, I am. The way I think is Irish. My sense of humour is Irish. Ireland is my favourite country and it has made the biggest contribution to my writing journey. 
Thank you Sheila for inspiring all unpublished authors with your writing journey.
EvieBrooksMaroonedinManhattenjpg
To find out more about Sheila Agnew:

Catch Sheila tomorrow on the next stop on her blog tour at Bookangel Booktopia.
Evie Brooks Blog Tour Banner high res

Friday, 4 April 2014

Dark Aemilia by Sally O’Reilly

Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady
A tale of sorcery and passion in seventeenth-century London—where witches haunt William Shakespeare and his dark lady, the playwright's muse and one true love .
But now I want to tell you my story. About Aemilia, the girl who wanted too much. Not seamed and scragged as I am now, but quick and shimmering and short of patience. Abut my dear son, whom I love too well. About my two husbands, and my one true love. And Dr Forman, that most lustful of physicians. The silk dress I wore, the first time I went to ask for his predictions. Yellow and gold, with a fine stiff ruff that crumpled in a breath of rain. How my skin was set dark against it; how the people stared when I rushed by.
Published by Myriad Editions in March 2014
Pages - 434
Goodreads Summary
The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth’s royal court. The Queen’s favourite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.
A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favour and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will—or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself.
********
Aemilia is a woman born out of her time and yet she is a woman for all seasons. She is beautiful and beguiling, sought after by men – but what happens when a woman gets older and her looks fade? The novel is pitted with hags and harridans, pox-faced doxies with powdered clown faces, like good Queen Bess herself. Aemilia knows she must use her looks while she can. 
But Aemilia is far, far more than her beauty. She is classically educated, quick-witted, intelligent, and fully self aware that she, as a woman, holds a precarious position in life, balanced on the whims of the men she is dependent on, and a life that can be struck out by plague, fate and God himself. Life is about bargaining – with landlords, publishers, lovers, and even the Devil. Rent for sex, a plague cure conjured up by magic, Eve’s apple for the Fall of Man. Aemilia understands this only too well.
From a modern perspective, Aemilia is a Feminist. She believes women are born equal to men but knows that they are blamed for Eve’s temptation (how does Adam get off so lightly?) and must therefore live a life of servitude, where hopes, dreams, passions and talents are quashed at every turn. Despite this, she becomes the first published female poet in England. 
O’Reilly blurs fact and fiction in a most believable way. Her atmospheric descriptions and realistic characterisation pull the reader deep into the story, puts us right there beside Aemilia, feeling what she feels – anger, hopelessness, fear, passion, overwhelming love for both her son and lover. (There is a wonderful scene when the dying Queen calls Aemilia to see her.)
The novel is set out like a Shakespeare play – the dramatis personae, the acts and scenes, the characters, the magic and mayhem, comedy and tragedy, love, hate, revenge, and a message that speaks of all time. Its language crackles with intensity and the words are so vivid and vibrant that they dance in your head long after you’ve put down the book. And Aemilia, the dark lady, lives on.
A fantastic novel that could make an amazing film…

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Squishy McFluff The Invisible Cat! By Pip Jones and Ella Okstad

Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat!
As Ava played out in the garden one day,
When the air was all foggy, the sky rather grey,
Something appeared (or rather, did not)
From among the wet leaves in the vegetable plot.
The marvellous creature was fluffy and tiny,
As cute as a button, with eyes big and shiny,
A tail that swished proudly, first this way, then that,
A fabulous, friendly, invisible cat!
Published by Faber and Faber in February 2014
Pages - 80
Summary From Faber and Faber
When Ava discovers an imaginary cat in the cabbage patch, she knows she's found a new best friend. Together, Ava and Squishy McFluff get up to all kinds of mischief...
********
Squishy McFluff is not only invisible, he's very very naughty. He gets paint on the carpet, felt-tip on the curtains and pepper and salt all over the table. Ava loves him, but Mum and Dad aren't quite so keen – especially when Squishy turns the bathroom into a muddy rainforest. But Mum's plans to send him packing don't work and it's left to Great Grandad Bill to convince Ava that Squishy must mend his ways.
The book is lots of fun and children will love hearing about Squishy's exploits. It's written in rhyme and contains three linked stories. Most of the double page spreads are illustrated with charming drawings in three muted colours: white and various shades of pink and grey-green. It's not quite a picture book because it's small in size and the illustrations are secondary to the text, but it's not quite a chapter book either so it's hard to categorize it precisely. But that won't deter children. The story is great – that's what matters – and it's the first in a series so there's plenty more fun to come…

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Secret Serendipity Seven with Tess Sharpe

To celebrate the recent publication of Far From You, I am pleased to welcome the debut author, Tess Sharpe onto the blog to tell us seven secrets!
Tess Sharpe c  Rowan O'Connell-Barger
1) For its entire first draft, FAR FROM YOU was titled “Dead-Girl-in-a-Field Book”—I am really bad at coming up with titles while writing. So I take a focal point or a name and just run with it until I have no alternative but to come up with something sensible.
2) I’ve done everything from build sets to directing, theatre-wise. Once upon a time, my life was spent on or around the stage. But chasing actors around is a lot like chasing toddlers. Teenagers are way more mature. 
3) I’ve baked and decorated thousands of cupcakes in a day—The bakery I used to work had monthly dollar cupcake days. On our best day, we sold around 4,000. I was very tired by the end of that day. Also totally covered in powder sugar from turning the mixer on too high.   
4) I once cut off a good chunk of my finger—Another baking mishap! The doctors managed to sew it back on, though.
5) When I was a teenager, I ran an online magazine—It was really fun, and we had a great readership and staff. Sometimes I miss it.
6) Like Sophie, I was a competitive swimmer—And had to stop due to illness. But since I spent all my free time writing, it all worked out.
7) My first kiss was in the middle of a rainy San Francisco street—I didn’t see it coming—I was totally in the middle of a sentence at the time. It was a very good first kiss, though! 
Far From You (1)
Far From You was published on the 27th March and is now available to buy.
To find out more about Tess Sharpe:
 
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