Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Author interview - Helen Scheuerer

If you've ever glanced sideways at my blog in passing, you probably know how much I love YA fantasy. Spoiler alert - it's a lot. I was lucky enough to recently receive an ARC of just such a book -  Heart of Mist - from author Helen Scheuerer a few weeks back, but had to wait until by final exam was done before I'd let myself started. Go sensible me! It's a good thing too, because the book would have distracted the hell out of me while I was trying to study. Seriously, it's so good! It's the kind of book where you can stop thinking about the characters even after you've put it down. It's got absolutely everything I love in a book; far away lands, women who kick ass, sisterhood, friendship, magic and mystery. I'd better stop now, because otherwise I'll end up posting an entire, gushing review here! The review itself will be going up at the end of August when the book is released, so make sure you pop back and check it out, because it's awesome (the book, not the review)!

In the meantime though, Helen was kind enough to agree to an author Q&A ahead of the book's release. I absolutely love doing author interviews because, as someone who can barely write a shopping list without getting distracted, the process of taking a story from an idea in your head to a book that's ready to be released into the wild fascinates me. Having read, and loved (did I already mention how much I loved this book?) Heart of Mist, I had lots of questions about Helen's writing process, inspiration and characters. So here we go!

The Book

In a realm where toxic mist sweeps the lands and magic is forbidden, all Bleak wants is a cure for her power. 

Still grieving the death of her guardian and dangerously self-medicating with alcohol, Bleak is snatched from her home by the Commander of the King’s Army, and summoned to the capital.

But the king isn’t the only one interested in Bleak’s powers. The leader of an infamous society of warriors, the Valia Kindred, lays claim to her as well, and Bleak finds herself in the middle of a much bigger battle than she anticipated.

Heart of Mist is the gripping first book in The Oremere Chronicles, a fantasy series of epic proportions.


The Interview

1) Tell us how Heart of Mist made the journey from imagination to print.

Sure! About a year and a half ago I was in the middle of some pretty intense edits for a literary fiction novel I’d been working on since forever… I was reading a lot of YA fantasy as an escape, and began to play with the idea of writing my own.

It became a reality when myself and two of my Writer’s Edit besties, Claire and Kyra, signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). We were all working on big projects and supported each other as the month progressed. I can’t tell you how incredible it was to have that kind of support while writing…

I wrote the first draft of Heart of Mist within about 6 weeks, and spent the next year revising and editing it…

2) Who would be the fantasy cast for the movie version of the book?

Ohhhhh this is such a hard question… Recently someone asked me this question about Bleak specifically, and I mentioned the likes of Dakota Fanning and Shailene Woodley, but the more I think of it the more I think Bleak would have to be a young, unknown actress…

For Commander Swinton, I always pictured him looking quite similar to Luke Evans…Who I may or may not have a slight crush on.

Mikayla interlude: A fine choice I think we can all agree!
As for the rest… I don’t want to put too many ideas in people’s heads. One of the things I love about reading is that there’s room for your own imagination!

3) Did you have any location inspiration for the lands in Heart of Mist?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have done some travelling over the last few years, and have seen some gorgeous landscapes. There are definitely elements taken from my trips to the UK that have found their way into Heart of Mist…

However, for the more imaginative settings I created Pinterest boards with inspiring images from all over the world. It was a matter of creating moodboards and themes throughout these, and then using them as springboards for writing the settings.

4) You've built a huge world with loads of characters! How do you keep everything organised when you're writing?

I never thought I’d say this but… spreadsheets! I have spreadsheets for character references, plots, subplots, setting references and research that needs to be done.

It’s honestly been so useful having everything in one place, and being able to search for things. I tend to feel overwhelmed at times, and having things organised in this way really helps me feel more in control.

5) Do you have a writing process, or any writing rituals?

At the moment, my writing process is such a mess because I’m just juggling too many things. But if you caught me on a good day…

I’m all about routine. I love writing every day if I can manage it. Particularly since I started writing fantasy, I’ve found that writing every day is really important for staying immersed in the world you’ve created.

Before a writing session, I like to write a mini plan in dot points including the events that will happen in the chapter I’m working on, and/or how a certain character should be feeling. This helps me focus and actually get the words on the page.

6) Have any you found elements of people or events from your life have made their way into the book?

Hmmm… It’s not something I’ve thought a lot about to be honest. Heart of Mist takes place in a world that is so different from our own, I haven’t stopped to draw parallels between its cast or events to myself and my world…

That being said, I imagine people who know me well will probably be able to spot some things I myself am not even aware of.

7) It's great - and pretty rare! - to see a realistic depiction of addiction/self-medication in a YA fantasy book. What made you decide to delve into this?

I’ve been talking a fair bit about this lately and I’ve realised it wasn’t something I consciously decided to explore. Bleak’s character developed and her addiction/self-medication with alcohol was a massive part of that. From there, I did make the decision to delve deeper because I think it’s important that we don’t gloss over these experiences in YA fiction. Addiction isn’t an issue that’s exclusive to adults, and often it’s something that starts in younger teen years, so I thought it vital to explore it as an issue my protagonist was facing.

8) There's a lot of girl power in this book! Did you set out to write this, or did it happen organically as the characters came together?

For the longest time I tried to fit a particular mold as a writer, which sadly meant I wasn’t writing what made me happy. I had a bit of a “light bulb” moment nearly two years ago where I realised I should be writing what I enjoyed reading, and what I enjoyed reading was girl power YA fantasy.

Heart of Mist was basically my way of giving myself permission to go crazy with strong female characters kicking ass. So while the characters came to me organically, it was definitely a deliberate choice - Heart of Mist was going to empower me, and hopefully my readers as well!

9) If you were an Ashai, what would your power be?

Wow, you’re really hitting me with the hard questions today! To be honest, I think the Ashai abilities explored in The Oremere Chronicles so far are all more of a burden than a blessing!!!

However, if I had to pick one - I’d be a mind whisperer (only if I had control over it though!).

10) What are your plans for this series? There'd better be more books coming!

Haha, yes! There are two more books planned for The Oremere Chronicles. Book II will be released next year, and Book III in 2019.

For keen readers though, I’ve already released two free prequel stories, which you can find here. I’ll be releasing prequels in between each book, to make sure everyone still gets their Oremere fix!

11) Sum up Heart of Mist in ten words or less.

Girl power. Magical. Dark. Gritty. Raw. Empowering. Adventure. Possibility. Danger.

Get the Prequels!

If, like me, you're the impatient sort and want to get into this series before the first book is released on 31 August, you can get two free prequels from Helen's website. Don't forget to head back over to check out my review of Heart of Mist, which I'll be posting on 25 August. Happy reading!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Stacking the Shelves #3

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course e-books!

After neglecting both my bookshelf and my blog for the past few months, I'm back with brand new books! A combination of being ludicrously busy at work and needing to cram for final exams have meant the only things I've been reading for the last few weeks are analysis reports and textbooks. Rock and roll! Fortunately though, my exams are done and my assignments are in - now begins the nervous wait for my results in September - so I can get back to reading what I love.

Books bought
The Evaporation of Sofi Snow - Mary Weber

It's finally arrived! After the delivery date on Amazon being pushed back every time I raced home and was disappointed to find no bookmail, I resigned myself to a long wait to finally get my hands on a copy of this book. A check last week gave the estimated delivery date to be 1-2 months away. So imagine my surprise when I almost tripped over a parcel on Saturday morning, only to find this beauty inside! I absolutley adored Mary Weber's Storm Siren trilogy (you can read my five star rave reviews here, here and here), so anything and everything she writes, forever and always, is going straight to the top of my TBR.

Aurabel - Laura Dockrill 

A sort-of sequel to Lorali, this book sold me on two words; steampunk mermaids.

Books borrowed
A Darker Shade of Magic - V E Schwab
Nod - Adrian Barnes

I inevitably walk away from my book club each month with more than one book! Someone brings along four books for the rest of us to pick next month's read, but there's always more than one that I like the sound of. Nod, by Adrian Barnes, a dystopian story about 99% of the world suddenly losing the ability to sleep and the resulting collapse of civilisation was the official choice by 6 to 5, but I ended up borrowing the runner up, A Darker Shade of Magic, as well. The person choosing the books this week said it was the closest she's come to loving another series as much as Harry Potter. High praise indeed!

Books for review
Heart of Mist - Helen Scheuerer
Show Stopper - Hayley Barker

I received an ARC of Heart of Mist from Helen Scheuerer a few weeks back, but had to wait until by last exam was done before I'd let myself started. Go sensible me! It's a good thing too, because the book would have distracted the hell out of me while I was trying to study. Seriously, it's so good! It's the kind of book where you can stop thinking about the characters even after you've put it down. It's got absolutely everything I love in a book; far away lands, women who kick ass, sisterhood, friendship, magic and mystery. I'd better stop now, because otherwise I'll end up posting an entire, gushing review here! I'll be posting an author interview early next week and an actual, coherent review (promise!) in late August when the book is released, so if you stop by my blog be sure to check them out. 

I won an ARC of Showstopper from Scholastic to my surprise and arm-flailing excitement. Seriously, I've never won any bookish giveaways before. I have the worst luck with that sort of thing! I'm getting serious Caraval vibes from this one, so I can't wait to get started.

It's been a good week for books! What's been added to your bookshelves?

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sunday Street Team - The Disappearances

Sunday Street Team is the brainchild of the very lovely Nori over at Read Write Love, shining the spotlight on new releases by new authors. For the July edition, I review the debut YA novel of Emily Bain Murphy - The Disappearances. Thanks to co-organisers Nori and Aditi for letting me be part of this tour! I absolutely loved this book - but I'll save the gushing for the review a bit further down. First up, here's a little more about the book, the author, and a chance to win one of three copies (if you're based in the US - sorry my fellow Brits and international readers!)

What if the ordinary things in life suddenly…disappeared?

Aila Quinn’s mother, Juliet, has always been a mystery: vibrant yet guarded, she keeps her secrets beyond Aila’s reach. When Juliet dies, Aila and her younger brother Miles are sent to live in Sterling, a rural town far from home--and the place where Juliet grew up.

Sterling is a place with mysteries of its own. A place where the experiences that weave life together--scents of flowers and food, reflections from mirrors and lakes, even the ability to dream--vanish every seven years.

No one knows what caused these “Disappearances,” or what will slip away next. But Sterling always suspected that Juliet Quinn was somehow responsible--and Aila must bear the brunt of their blame while she follows the chain of literary clues her mother left behind.

As the next Disappearance nears, Aila begins to unravel the dual mystery of why the Disappearances happen and who her mother truly was. One thing is clear: Sterling isn’t going to hold on to anyone's secrets for long before it starts giving them up.

Preorder links
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Target

The Review

The Disappearances is an incredibly well-written and self-assured debut novel. The author's writing is wonderfully immersive; intriguing without being frustrating and serene without being boring. It's the perfect writing style for a slow-burn, character-focused mystery.

The book blurb is deceptive, and, in my opinion, sells the story short. The Disappearances themselves are not the story. The story is the effects of loss and grief of those left behind when something or someone suddenly disappears. What if you woke up one morning and someone or something that was an integral part of your life just ... wasn't there anymore? How do you cope, and what does it mean for the parts of you that remain? Part mystery, part contemprary YA, ultimately this is a story about life, love and loss, and the seemingly small shared experiences that connect us - the things that make us human.

After the death of her beloved mother, Aila and her troublemaker little brother Miles are sent away by their father when he's called to fight in WW2. The only person, it seems, who will take them, it their mother's childhood friend, Matilda, who takes the pair back to the mysterious town of Sterling where their mother grew up, and that is subject every seven years to a "Disppearance." Aila doesn't just have to battle her grief; she has to unravel the mysteries of Sterling and the Disappearances, all the while dealing with the hostility of the townspeople who resent her mother for escaping the cursed town, and deal with her emerging feelings for Matilda's son, Will.

At first, the Disappearances themselves seem a bit trivial, but they're all little things that make up life and human connection. First it's the sense of smell - the sense most closely linked to memory. Then it's reflections - the sense of physical self. Then it's the sight of the stars - the anchors of our place in the universe. Then goes music. Then the ability to hear the voice of the person you love. These losses are remedied - albeit temporarily - by magical enchantments, known as variants. At first, all of this is frustratingly vague. With first person pov, you're bound as a reader to what the character knows, whihc in this case isn't that much. This casually throwing around of "magic", for all intents and purposes, seemed a little contrived at first, but it became such an integral part of the world so quickly that, before I knew it, I had accepted it as easily as Aila. 

The mystery of Sterling (and its two sister towns also affected by the curse) gradually unravels to Aila, and the reader. The chapters are interspersed with interludes from a mystery man named Stefan, which shed more light (and raise more questions!) on the Disappearances, and build tension brilliantly. There's a real sense of impending danger from the character, and his intermitting presence injects creepy dread into the story. It's masterfully done, subtle and intriguing without feeling shoehorned in. In first person pov stories, the use of another character's pov every now and then can feel like "cheating" - like the author's written themselves into a corner and needs to convey information that their protagonist can't possibly know - but here, it works.

I didn't think a whole lot of Aila as a character as I was reading the book. It was only after I'd finished that I realised how good a job the author had done. Aila is sketched lightly enough that I as a reader could easily slip into her pov whenever I picked up the book, but shaded enough that I believed her emotions and motivations. She's sad without being self-pitying, determined without being callous, and resourceful witohut feeling the need to pat herself on the back every other page. Aila's relationship with her brother Miles was brilliantly written too. Sure, he's a pain in her ass, but both are struggling with grief in their own ways; they pull away from each other even as they're bound by something only the two of them can truly understand. The other supporting characters were a mixed bag, although I loved Aila's new besties; Beas (although I never got straight in my head how I should be pronouncing her name. Beas like peas? Bess?) and George. I could have done without the pretty blonde mean-girl, Eliza. I'm not a huge fan of girl on girl hate, and their animosity - played out over boys, of course - was a bit cliche. She was redeemed a bit towards the end, but the "mean girl comes good in the end" bit was the icing on the cliche cake. Will was a pretty good love interest, if a little bland. I was relieved their relationship came across as genuine - unbelievable instalove is another of my pet peeves (and woe betide any book that uses a magical bond to try and convince me its characters are in love!) - and touchingly sweet. The reveals of how they feel about each other was wonderfully done and tragically poignant, lending another layer of human misery to the effects of the Disappearances.

As Aila and her friends delve deeper into the mystery of the curse plaguing their town, they begin to dig into the works of Shakespeare, which seem to hold both an allusion to the Disappearances themselves and the key to creating the variant to combat it. I loved the references to the works Shakespeare - many overt and some discreet - even if the revelation about his role in the curse was a bit silly. With such a big set up, it's a bit of a stretch to believe that a stranger could just walk into town and solve a mystery it's finest minds had been working on for years, but, honestly, who would thiknk to check the works of Shakespeare for clues!? The twist in the tale and the key to the Disappearnaces is set up so well so early on, that it doesn't feel like the author has just waved a get out of jail free card around at the end. Everything is earned, and everything is believable.

The 1940s setting of the story was a bit wasted (it was only due to the occasional references to an onging war and the date that reminded me every now and then that this story wasn't set in the present day), and the pace was a bit too slow for me at times. The end was a bit of a letdown. It makes sense given the slow-burn story and gently flowing writing style that the climax wouldn't be explosive, but I was hoping for more drama anyway. The Disappearances misses out on the full five stars because the little nitpicks I had throughout the book, but it's a gripping, beautiful story by an incredibly talented author.


The Author

Emily Bain Murphy grew up in Indiana, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and has also called California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts home.

She loves books, Japanese karaoke, exploring new cities, and anything with Nutella. Her debut YA fantasy, THE DISAPPEARANCES, will be published by HMH Books for Young Readers and Pushkin Press in July 2017.

Murphy is represented by Peter Knapp at Park Literary & Media. She currently lives in St. Louis with her family and is at work on her second novel.

Author links
Twitter | Instagram | Website

The Giveaway

The Prize: 3 Copies of The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
Open to US residents only

a Rafflecopter giveaway