Letters from Mars (Blog)

Music Monday: Music I Missed

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I used to blog about music a wee bit on here, but I’ve realised I haven’t done if for, wow, over a year.

One of the great things about YouTube is that, if you use it enough for listening to music, it starts to suggest things you’ve never heard before.

I got into heavy metal in about 1985, or perhaps early 1986 (it was a long time ago now…). By that time, what was being called NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) had been going for quite some time. It started in 1979 (well, the name was coined then; some of the bands had been around for a few years) as a little bit of a reaction against punk. It had the same energy as punk, and some of the same attitude, but it put a higher value on musical talent and melody, and it grew as an underground musical movement, without any real coverage from mainstream media, with news of bands being spread by word-of-mouth and hand-produced fanzines.

Well, because I didn’t start listening to it until 1985-86, I missed a lot of bands that didn’t break out of those underground scenes and were essentially gone by the mid-80s. Which brings me back to now and YouTube. I’ve been exploring around, clicking from band to band, exploring the music I didn’t get a chance to experience the first time around.

There’s an awful lot of it, and I don’t have space to talk about it all here, but here are a few highlights I’ve come across.

Tokyo Blade

Tokyo Blade were a band who really should have made it. They had the talent and their music had enough potential. There were certainly similarities with Iron Maiden in the guitars and vocals (although Iron Maiden had a more complex, full sound). But they, like a lot of bands, went through far too many line-up changes and didn’t kick on as they should have done.

Nonetheless, they put out some good stuff and are, in fact, after disbanding several times, still around.

Here’s one of their songs, “If Heaven is Hell”:

Virtue

Virtue were formed in 1981, right when NWOBHM was at its height, but they didn’t actually release anything until their single, “We Stand to Fight”, in 1985. This was unfortunate because, to be honest, if they had released it three years earlier they might have had more success. But by 1985, the genre had shaken itself out a little bit. Iron Maiden had already released their first five albums and were a global phenomenon. Ozzy Osbourne had released Bark at the Moon and Diary of a Madman. Dio had put out Holy Diver and The Last in Line. Def Leppard, Accept, Queensryche, Warlock, and so on were all becoming big.

Even if you don’t know who these bands are, what I’m saying is that the major bands were already becoming superstars and releasing what would later be acknowledged to be the best albums in the genre. Virtue’s single felt just a few years too late.

Nonetheless, this is a classic bit of early NWOBHM that just happened to not appear early enough.

Praying Mantis

To be honest, I think I was vaguely aware of Praying Mantis, but I don’t think I ever actually listened to anything they put out. Which is a shame, because I think I would have liked them, and they were putting out good music. They were on the slightly ‘softer’ end of the heavy metal of the time – more AOR influenced, perhaps.

Praying Mantis had a reasonable amount of success and, although they broke up for a while, are now back together and playing again.

This is “Children of the Earth” from their first album.

Randy

For this last band, we’re going really obscure. This is a Danish band called (rather unfortunately) Randy. They only put out a few songs, and their best work came out as the two sides of their single, “Shadows are Falling / The Beast”. So, I’m going to put both here, because I really can’t decide which I prefer.

Here is “Shadows are Falling”:

And here is “The Beast”:

There are a lot of other great bands from the same era that I didn’t catch the first time around and which didn’t make it big, bands like Overdrive, Crucifixion, Excalibur, Mendes Prey, Cloven Hoof and so on. You can hear a bunch on this playlist (the playlist includes a couple of bands that were relatively successful, too):

Enjoy!

New Middle Grade Books for 2016: April – September

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Time for a bunch more great-looking middle grade books coming out this year. I blogged books coming out from January to April and from January to June. Now it’s time to look at books coming out from April to September. (Yeah, the dates overlap, because I don’t always know about books far ahead of time.)

All of these books are by new voices in middle grade, debut authors in other words.

Here we go again!

Treasure at Lure Lake, by Shari L. Schwarz

Published: April 12th, 2016.

An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the clues to unearth both, even it means hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. Bryce must work with his bickering brother, Jack, or they may never see the light of day again!

This one is already out, so no need to delay. Get it now!

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Artifacts, by Pete Catalano

Published: May 17th, 2016

Jax and his friends have been planning the summer of a lifetime at Camp Runamuck. However, when one of them is facing summer at a school desk for failing English, they watch those plans crash and burn!

At the last moment they’re given a way out. An extra credit assignment to find several fake artifacts for a fairy tale display their teacher is presenting at the local library. But soon they realize that they’re searching for one real artifact that can rewrite fairytales. Now they’re in a race against actual fairytale villains to get their hands on it first.

Imagine The Goonies meets Peter Pan.

This one has also been out for a while so you should have no trouble finding it!

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers

Published: July 5th, 2016

This is already out in the U.K. I know that, because I’m reading it right now, and very good it is too! Those of you in the U.S. have to wait a few more days. :D

Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.

When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Sticks & Stones, by Abby Cooper

Published: July 12th, 2016

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about.

Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Last Cherry Blossom, by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Rat Prince, by Bridget Hodder

Published: August 23rd, 2016

The dashing Prince of the Rats–who’s in love with Cinderella–is changed into her coachman by the Fairy Godmother on the night of the big ball. And he’s about to turn the legend (and the evening) upside down on his way to a most unexpected happy ending!

I don’t often enjoy fairytale retellings, but this one looks like enormous fun. Can’t wait.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Howard Wallace, P.I., by Casey Lyall

Published: September 6th, 2016

Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee, by Erin Petti

Published: September 6th, 2016

Eleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop.

That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Poppy Mayberry, The Monday, by Jennie K. Brown

Published: September 13th, 2016

What if your teacher could read your mind just because she was born on a Thursday? Or the kid next to you in class could turn back the clock just because he was a ‘Wednesday”? In the quirky town of Nova, all of this is normal, but one thing is not—Poppy Mayberry. As an almost-eleven-year-old Monday, she should be able to pass notes in class or brush her dog, Pickle, without lifting a finger. But her Monday telekinesis still has some kinks, and that plate of spaghetti she’s passing may just end up on someone’s head. And if that’s not hard enough, practically perfect Ellie Preston is out to get her, and Principal Wible wants to send her to remedial summer school to work on her powers! It’s enough to make a girl want to disappear…if only she were a Friday.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes, by Wade Albert White

Published: September 13th, 2016

A thrilling debut novel where fantasy and science fiction meet, dragons aren’t as innocent as they look, and nothing is quite what it seems.

Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes–or face the horrible consequences.

Packed with action, humor, and endless heart, this debut novel marks the first volume in an irresistible and original fantasy series.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

That’s all I’ve got for now. I will probably do one more of these round-ups for the end part of 2016. But check on the books from this list and the previous ones. There’s great stuff there.

The Dinosaur Hunters: Out Now

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Today, my new novella, THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS, was published. I’ve been really looking forward to sharing this with you. For me, this story was just pure fun. I wanted to throw everything I love about science fiction adventures into my story: strange, alien civilisations and technology, spies, mysteries, deadly peril, adventure, and, of course, dinosaurs. Who wouldn’t want write a book like that?

THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS is set in the same world as SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB but it takes place a year earlier, and it’s entirely a stand-alone novella.

Buy now: Amazon | Kobo | Nook | Smashwords (all formats)

Here’s the blurb:

Mystery, murder, and adventure on Mars…

Mars in 1815 is a world of wonders, from the hanging ballrooms of Tharsis City to the air forests of Patagonian Mars, and from the ice caves of Noachis Terra to the Great Wall of Cyclopia, beyond which dinosaurs still roam.

Sixteen-year-old Harriet George has never had the chance for an adventure. Now her older sister is determined to marry her off. Harriet can’t think of anything worse.

Meanwhile, her brother-in-law, Bertrand, has a problem. He’s never been much of a police inspector. As far as Harriet knows, Bertrand has never caught a criminal in his life. But now the famous jewel thief, the Glass Phantom, has come to Mars, and Bertrand has been given the job of tracking him down. If he fails, Bertrand will lose his job and the whole family will be ruined.

Harriet will not let that happen.

So she comes up with a plan: she will capture the Glass Phantom herself. Even if that mean that she and Bertrand have to follow the thief’s intended victim, the Countess von Krakendorff, on a dinosaur hunt in the perilous Martian wilderness. But there is far more going on in this expedition than mere robbery, and the dinosaurs are not the greatest danger.

If Harriet cannot solve the mystery, her family won’t just be ruined. She and Bertrand may not make it out of the wilderness alive.

Buy now: Amazon | Kobo | Nook | Smashwords (all formats)

Or you can read the opening right here.

The Emperor of Mars Cover

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The cover for my second novel, THE EMPEROR OF MARS, kind of snuck its way out into the world last week without telling me. So, it’s time to officially give it its freedom here.

Without further waffle, here it is in its full glory:

The cover art is by Jeremy Holmes, just like for book 1. I think it’s great.

THE EMPEROR OF MARS is out on January 10th, 2017.

You can pre-order it now: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble | Book Depository (International)

Add on Goodreads

New Novella: The Dinosaur Hunters

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Hey folks. Exciting news for me! I have a new novella coming out on June 16th, 2016. It’s called THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS, and it’s set in the same world as SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS, but it takes place a year before SECRETS and is a completely standalone novella.

Ever wondered where the dinosaurs were in SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB? Want to find out more about Regency Mars? Can’t bear to wait for THE EMPEROR OF MARS to come out? Wondering what all the fuss is about? Here’s your chance to find out!

You can pre-order THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS now from Amazon, or buy it from most ebook stores or my website on June 16th.

Pre-order: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia

Or: Add on Goodreads

If you have a review blog or site and you’d like a review copy, please send me a message!

Here’s the blurb!

Mystery, murder, and adventure on Mars…

Mars in 1815 is a world of wonders, from the hanging ballrooms of Tharsis City to the air forests of Patagonian Mars, and from the ice caves of Noachis Terra to the Great Wall of Cyclopia, beyond which dinosaurs still roam.

Sixteen-year-old Harriet George has never had the chance for an adventure. Now her older sister is determined to marry her off. Harriet can’t think of anything worse.

Meanwhile, her brother-in-law, Bertrand, has a problem. He’s never been much of a police inspector. As far as Harriet knows, Bertrand has never caught a criminal in his life. But now the famous jewel thief, the Glass Phantom, has come to Mars, and Bertrand has been given the job of tracking him down. If he fails, Bertrand will lose his job and the whole family will be ruined.

Harriet will not let that happen.

So she comes up with a plan: she will capture the Glass Phantom herself. Even if that mean that she and Bertrand have to follow the thief’s intended victim, the Countess von Krakendorff, on a dinosaur hunt in the perilous Martian wilderness. But there is far more going on in this expedition than mere robbery, and the dinosaurs are not the greatest danger.

If Harriet cannot solve the mystery, her family won’t just be ruined. She and Bertrand may not make it out of the wilderness alive.

The Dinosaur Hunters is a thrilling adventure set in the world of Secrets of the Dragon Tomb.

Pre-order: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia

Or read the opening:

The Dinosaur Hunters

Mars, 1815

Harriet George had been dressed as a boy for the last week, and she still wasn’t sure her brother-in-law had noticed.

“The thing is, Harry old thing,” the Honorable Bertrand Simpson said as he hunched morosely over his twelfth cup of tea that morning, “disguises are such dashed confusing things. Can’t tell if a chap is a chap or, you know, another chap.” He stirred his tea listlessly.

It had never been entirely clear to Harriet how her brother-in-law had managed to work his way up to the post of Inspector in the Tharsis City Police Service. As far as Harriet could tell, Bertrand had never solved a single case in his entire life.

Unfortunately, Harriet suspected that she wasn’t the only one who had figured that out. It was the only reason she could think of as to why Bertrand had been given the job of capturing the Glass Phantom. The Glass Phantom had evaded police forces in France, Austria, Britain, and Chinese Mars. He’d helped himself to the Crown of Charlemagne from under the nose of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard and had stolen the Orlov Diamond from the Imperial Scepter of Catherine the Great. No one with an ounce of common sense would risk their career tracking down such a notorious and difficult-to-catch jewel thief.

Which was why Bertrand, who wouldn’t have recognized an ounce of common sense if it had fallen into his morning tea, had leapt on the offer like a piranha-mouse on a stray muffin.

Bertrand came from a good family – his father was the fifth Baron Heatherstone – but his family’s estates on Earth had long ago been sold off to pay their debts. Bertrand’s father had brought the family to Mars to seek his fortune on a new world, but it hadn’t made any difference, and Bertrand scarcely had a penny to his name. In his position, he should have married a young lady with a good dowry. Instead, he’d married Harriet’s older sister, Amy. If it hadn’t been for Bertrand’s job, Harriet was certain they would have starved within the year.

And then, five years ago, Harriet and Amy’s parents had died, and Amy and Bertrand had taken Harriet in. She knew it had been hard for them, and she knew they’d given up a great deal for her. She owed them everything.

When Bertrand failed to catch the Glass Phantom, he would lose his job and it would be an absolute disaster for them all.

Harriet would not allow that to happen.

“You know, the Glass Phantom might not actually be in disguise,” Harriet said, trying to cheer her brother-in-law up. “I mean, why would he?”

Bertrand groaned. “That makes it even worse. If he’s not in disguise, how am I going to tell who he’s not disguising himself as?”

Which, Harriet thought, summed up rather neatly why her brother-in-law never actually caught anyone.

Enjoying it? Pre-order now: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia

I’ll post more of the opening closer to the publication date

Don’t forget that if have a review blog or site, you can ask me for a review copy. Please send me a message!

Book Review: Masks and Shadows, by Stephanie Burgis

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The year is 1779, the place is the Eszterháza Palace in Hungary. The famous castrato singer Carlo Morelli is travelling to the palace as a guest of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, but he is not the only one. He’s accompanied by a famous alchemist, Ignaz Von Born, and a man he suspects to be a spy. Already arrived at the palace is the recently widowed Charlotte von Steinbeck visiting her younger sister, Sophie.

But there are plots brewing at the palace. The Habsburg Emperor and Empress are about to visit, and there are forces at work who will stop at nothing to assassinate them. There is blackmail, alchemy, and betrayal, and not everyone is who they seem to be.

Masks and Shadows is a historical fantasy set in an unusual location with characters who are quite unique. If you’ve read Stephanie Burgis’s previous middle grade books, you’ll know she has a knack for convincing, lively, three dimensional characters with complex motivations, and in this, her first adult novel, she has been able to create some of the most interesting characters you’re likely to read in a fantasy novel, from the castrato singer, Carlo Morelli, playing a role he no longer believes in to Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper young widow who is forced to confront the scandalous fact that her younger sister, Sophie, is the very public mistress of Prince Esterházy. Then there are the members of the prince’s opera company who are unwillingly caught up in the plots and Sophie’s husband, a member of the prince’s guard, unsuccessfully trying not to regret the deal he made that allows his own wife to be the prince’s mistress.

Add to those the real historical characters in the book: Prince Esterházy and his wife, the princess forced to live in the palace alongside the prince’s mistress, the composer Joseph Haydn, and a host of others and you have a setting that is rich and highly believable.

This is an enormously well-researched book, full of colour and atmosphere, but it’s not one of those books where the author feels the need to pile all the research on you. The story is fast-moving, touching, tense and enormously involving. You will genuinely believe you are in the Esterháza Palace along with these wonderful and conflicted characters, and the story won’t let you go until you reach the desperate finale.

This book draws heavily on opera and the opera company contracted to Prince Esterházy. I am not a fan of opera (to say the least) and know pretty much nothing about eighteenth century Hungary but everything about the story thread of the company trying to put on a performance of Haydn’s new opera for the visiting royals while being unwittingly caught up in the various plots and under threat of disapproval from the unforgiving prince caught me up and enthralled me.

Masks and Shadows is the kind of book that utterly absorbs you and drags you through the conflicting emotions and dilemmas of its rich cast of characters.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes fantasy, historical fiction or romance.

A brilliant and unusual book.

5 Stars

Buy Now: Indiebound | Wordery (International) | Barnes and Noble | Amazon US | Amazon UK

My Writing / Editing Process

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I’m in the middle of revising my second book, THE EMPEROR OF MARS, which is the sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB. Because this is my second time through the process of getting an editorial letter and having to work to it, I’m starting to get a pretty good idea of what my writing and editing process is like.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my first drafts have:

  • Too many words
  • Too many characters
  • Too many plot strands
  • Too much detail and worldbuilding
  • Too much description

Basically, I put in far too much of everything in my first drafts. And I’ve decided I’m okay with this.

Yeah, it makes the editing process difficult. Right now I’m having to unpick a whole bunch of interweaving plot and character strands, remove some of them, and reweave it all into a tighter book.

This is often not easy. I work pretty hard to make everything depend on everything else, and then I have to take huge chunks out, and it all has to still work.

But that’s how I work, apparently. I think in complicated stories. I write too much in a book. That’s just the way my mind works.

And I need an editor. Readers don’t think much about editors. (I don’t when I’m reading a book.) But I would be terrible at this without an editor.

I don’t actually need an editor to tell me *what* to do. I generally know what I need to do. But I need an editor to tell me that I *have* to do it.

I’ve just read a self-published book (I won’t tell you which one) which sounded interesting. And it was interesting. But it needed an editor. It needed to have someone who could tell the author that what they had written wasn’t good enough, that they could do better (and I genuinely believe they could do better), and they’d better get on with *doing better* before they hit “publish”.

My writing process is likely to stay the same for a while, I think, with me writing much too much and then having to cut great chunks of it, but that works for me, so that’s the way I’m going to keep doing it.

Wish me luck.

(By the way, THE EMPEROR OF MARS will be published on January 10th, 2017. Put the date in your diary. You’re going to want to book the week off. ;) )

A Quicky…

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A lovely review for SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. It’s wonderful when a reviewer really gets your book.

Readers might as well check all disbelief at the door and just embrace this look at a nineteenth-century British Mars that has solid hints of steampunk and features dangers aplenty to excite a kid hooked on spy tales. Such a kid is twelve-year-old Edward, who has been waiting his whole life for something like what he reads in Thrilling Martian Tales. Adventure comes in a rush, as a kidnapping, a much-desired water abacus, a metal assassin, and a mysterious cousin who may be a good guy, bad guy, or just bumbling fool all fall into Edward’s lap (and into the lap of his gender-defying little sister who aids him more than he’ll ever admit). Indeed, it quickly becomes clear that to save their family, Edward will need the skills of his more clever younger sister, his more socially graceful older sister, and his more adept cousin, even if he wishes he could be a solo hero like in the stories. The dialogue is snappy, and the characterization is historically plausible while still giving room for the characters to react to being on another planet. Science fiction meets classic adventure tales in this quirky novel, and it’s a real treat to know that it’s the first in an intended series. Fans of Reeve’s Larklight (BCCB 2/07) will embrace the premise, and readers will happily return for the next entry to see what happens next on Mars.

April Spisak, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

New Middle Grade Books for 2016: January – June

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A little while back, I blogged about new middle grade novels coming out at the beginning of 2016 by debut authors. Because you can never get enough middle grade, here’s the next batch of awesome, exciting, brilliant books that are due to hit the stores in the next few months (and one that’s out already but didn’t get included in the last roundup).

So, here we go:

Lizzie and the Lost Baby, by Cheryl Blackford

Published: January 12th, 2016.

Cheryl Blackford’s debut novel is set in England during World War II and told from the dual perspectives of ten-year-old Lizzie, a homesick girl evacuated from bomb-blitzed Hull to the remote Yorkshire valley, and Elijah, a local gypsy boy. When Lizzie discovers an abandoned baby, her dangerous friendship with Elijah is put to the test. Will Lizzie be able to find the baby’s parents? And if she does, can she and Elijah remain friends in a world clouded by prejudice and fear?

I lived for a few years in Yorkshire, and a wonderful setting for a book it is. This book is out already, so don’t hang around. Go get it right now!

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Maypop Kidnapping, by C.M. Surrisi

Publication: March 1st, 2016

In the coastal village of Maiden Rock, Maine, Quinnie Boyd’s teacher has disappeared. Quinnie thinks it’s a kidnapping case, but her mom, the town sheriff, just thinks the teacher has left town. Still, Quinnie’s going to follow her instincts that something’s wrong.

Her investigation takes her through a damp and smelly marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine’s messiest places. She even gets help from her glamorous new neighbor, Mariella. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they encounter a cast of unlikely characters. And if Quinnie’s hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger…

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, by Robin Yardi

Published: March 1st, 2016

Life is confusing for Mateo Martinez. He and Johnny Ramirez don’t hang out anymore, even though they used to be best friends. He and his new friend Ashwin try to act like brave, old-time knights, but it only gets them in trouble. And last night, two skunks stole Mateo’s old trike.

Wait—two skunks stole his trike?

Mateo is too big for that rusty kid toy. He has a cool, shiny new bike anyway. But Mateo also has a neighborhood to protect. And he’s about to begin a big, stinky quest to catch the thieves in the middle of the night!

As Mateo protects his neighborhood, he also learns a few things about growing up and letting go.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Eye of Midnight, by Andrew Brumbach

Published: March 8th, 2016

I’ve been particularly looking forward to this one.

On a stormy May day in 1929, William and Maxine arrive on the doorstep of Battersea Manor to spend the summer with a grandfather they barely remember. Soon after they settle in, Grandpa receives a cryptic telegram and promptly whisks the cousins off to New York City so that he can meet an unknown courier and collect a very important package. Before he can do so, however, Grandpa vanishes without a trace.

When the cousins stumble upon Nura, a tenacious girl from Turkey, she promises to help them track down the parcel and rescue Grandpa. But with cold-blooded gangsters and a secret society of assassins all clamoring for the same mysterious object, the children soon find themselves in a desperate struggle just to escape the city’s dark streets alive.

This book has been described as a cross between Indiana Jones and the The DaVinci Code.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Lost Celt, by A.E. Conran

Published: March 15th, 2016

Written in the voice of Mikey, a fourth-grader who believes that eating crunchy things will get your neurons to fire, The Lost Celt follows Mikey’s adventures after a chance encounter with what he thinks is a time-traveling Celtic warrior.

With the help of his best friend Kyler, and clues from his military history book, Mikey tracks down the stranger, and in the process learns about the power and obligations of friendship.

Full of heart, The Lost Celt throws a gentle light on some of the issues facing our veterans and their families, but it’s the humor and infectious camaraderie throughout this book that makes it so memorable.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society, by Janet Sumner Thompson

Published: April 1st, 2016

When her best friend’s house is threatened with foreclosure, young Annie Jenkins is full of ideas to save the home: selling her appendix on eBay, winning the lottery, facing down the bankers … anything to keep Jason from moving. But Jason’s out-of-work dad blows up at the smallest things, and he’s not very happy with Annie’s interventions, which always seem to get them into more trouble.

But when Annie tracks a lost treasure to Jason’s backyard, she’s sure the booty will be enough to save Jason’s family. Pirate treasure in the Midwest seems far-fetched, even to Annie, but it could be the answer to all their problems. Now all she has to do is convince Jason. As the two hunt for answers and the pressure gets to Jason and his family, Annie discovers that the best-laid plans aren’t always enough and there are worse things than moving away.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Author Website

Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters

Published: April 5th, 2016

Definitely a candidate for the most awesome book title of the month.

Xander Miyamoto would rather do almost anything than listen to his sixth grade teacher, Mr. Stedman, drone on about weather disasters happening around the globe. If Xander could do stuff he’s good at instead, like draw comics and create computer programs, he might not be counting the minutes until the dismissal bell.

When spring break begins at last, Xander plans to spend it playing computer games with his best friend, Peyton. But little does either boy realise that they are about to be thrust into the biggest adventure of their lives — a journey wilder than any Xander has ever imagined, full of weird monsters even worse than Lovey. To win at this deadly serious game they will have to rely on their wits, courage, faith, and especially, each other. Maybe Xander should have listened to Mr Stedman about the weather after all…

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The BFF Bucket List, by Dee Romito

Published: May 3rd, 2016

Ella and Skyler have been best friends since kindergarten — so close that people smoosh their names together like they’re the same person: EllaandSkyler. SkylerandElla.

But Ella notices the little ways she and Skyler have been slowly drifting apart. And she’s determined to fix things with a fun project she’s sure will bring them closer together — The BFF Bucket List. Skyler is totally on board.

The girls must complete each task on the list together: things like facing their fears, hosting a fancy dinner party, and the biggest of them all — speaking actual words to their respective crushes before the end of summer. But as new friends, epic opportunities, and super-cute boys enter the picture, the challenges on the list aren’t the only ones they face.

And with each girl hiding a big secret that could threaten their entire friendship, will the list — and their BFF status — go bust?

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Distance to Home, by Jenn Bishop

Published: June 28th, 2016

I love this cover!

Last summer, Quinnen was the star pitcher of her baseball team, the Panthers. They’re headed for the championship, and her loudest supporter at every game was her best friend and older sister, Haley.

This summer, everything is different. Haley’s death, at the end of last summer, has left Quinnen and her parents reeling. Without Haley in the stands, Quinnen doesn’t want to play baseball. It seems like nothing can fill the Haley-sized hole in her world. The one glimmer of happiness comes from the Bandits, the local minor-league baseball team. For the first time, Quinnen and her family are hosting one of the players for the season. Without Haley, Quinnen’s not sure it will be any fun, but soon she befriends a few players. With their help, can she make peace with the past and return to the pitcher’s mound?

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

That’s all for this edition. What a fantastic variety of new books. Don’t they look awesome? Don’t forget to pre-order them or ask your local library to do so.

Good reading!

Interview, interviews, interviews!

- 0 comments - Interviews

Well, it’s been just over a week since SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB was published, so I reckon it’s time for another blog entry. I think I completely exhausted us all by blogging for ten days in a row leading up to publication. I don’t know how those of you who blog every single day manage it…

ANYWAY, I’ve been doing a few interviews around the webs about writing, my book, and stuff, and because I know you all want to hear my every at-length utterance (ahem), here’s links to them.

But before that, in case you missed it, I have an author newsletter. You can sign up to it here or read the last edition here.

On with the interviews!

Casey Lyall Interviewed me on Kick-Butt KidLit

Your book sounds like an epic adventure. Where did the idea for SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB come from?

Man, I wish I had a cool answer for this, where it all came flashing into my brain like accidentally sticking my finger into a live socket (been there, done that, don’t recommend it), but that’s not how books tend to come to me. I always have hundreds of ideas bouncing around in my brain, like a swarm of slightly sticky bees, and sometimes they bump into each other and stick together to become, er, a super-giant bee or something (I think this analogy is falling to bits here. Unlike the super-bees which are definitely stuck together).

Basically, ideas coalesce until a story starts to shape itself. Some bits get added, others get shaved off or reshaped, until I can see a story. SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB came from dozens of places, like old pulp science fiction and Jane Austen and this illustration I saw from the nineteenth century which showed Napoleon’s armies invading Britain using hot air balloons and looking at Google Mars and Indiana Jones movies and so many other things.

Keep reading the interview

Vincent Ripley interviewed me over at Mr. Ripley’s Enchanted books

What tips can you share in writing a believable world/background?

Detail. The key is, you need to know how everything works, even if you don’t put it in the book. In fact, as the writer you should know many, many times more than you put in your book. It has to be there in your head. You need to know the whole of your world. Then you can write the story within it.

Read more of the interview

Emily Mah interviewed me over on Black Gate

This was a video interview, which I can’t bear to watch because I hate seeing and listening to myself. You can go watch it, though.

We talked about SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, writing as a career (things like supporting yourself as a writer) and various other stuff.

I had a beard during the interview. Beards are good for your health.

Watch the interview

Melanie Conklin interviewed me (and other debut authors) on Kidliterati

This was an “inside scoop” interview, where each of us gave some exclusive peeks at our books.

Read the inside scoop

Jana interviewed me (and other debut authors) on That Artsy Reader Girl

Four of us debut authors did brief interviews about our books.

Read the interview