Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: October 2016

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Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

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Last month I read a total of fourteen books: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) by V.E. Schwab, The Sin Eater’s Daughter (The Sin Eater’s Daughter #1) by Melinda Salisbury,
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1) by George R.R. Martin, Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1) by Robin Hobb, Aristocrats: Britain’s Great Ruling Classes From 1066 To The Present by Lawrence James, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker’s Guide #1) by Douglas Adams, Goldenhand (The Old Kingdom #5) by Garth Nix, The Fireman by Joe Hill, Revenger by Alastair Reynolds, Nerve by Jeanne Ryan, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I have to say, October was a really great reading month. I managed quite a few books, and half of them were 5-star reads. I re-read two books this month: A Game of Thrones (which I have been meaning to re-read for about five years) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s really hard to pick a standout because so many were amazing: Goldenhand, Greatcoats, Americanah, This Savage Song… not to mention my first ever Robin Hobb novel, Assassin’s Apprentice. Basically I would say read them all!

 

Challenge progress:

  • I managed to defeat October’s villain, Jack O’Lantern, in the DC vs Marvel Challenge. Next month’s villain is Indigo, who I am not familiar with.
  • I have currently read 107 books towards my Goodreads goal. I’ve now hit the goal of 100, but I won’t raise it as I don’t want to pressure myself.

 

Currently reading:

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
How was October for you?

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Dragons and Jetpacks

Dragons & Jetpacks: Books of the Month, October 2016

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Dragons & Jetpacks is a science fiction and fantasy bookgroup, based on Goodreads. The group is open to all, all that is required is a Goodreads account. We read two books a month, one fantasy and one sci-fi – the second week of each month is when members make suggestions, and the third is used for voting. We’re always happy to meet fellow fans of the genres, so you’re more than welcome to join the group!

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hitchhikers

Goodreads

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

DJ_F
Traitor's Blade

Goodreads

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

And a horror special pick for Halloween!

fireman

Goodreads

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted… and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Have you read either of this month’s picks? What did you think?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: My Recap of BristolCon

Just under a month ago, I went to a fantasy and science fiction convention not far from where I live, called BristolCon – and for today’s Sci-Fi Month post, I want to share my experience with you! Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

 

BristolCon is a one day convention, organised by the Bristol Fantasy & SF Society, and held annually. It gives those living in the south-west a chance to attend the sort of events we normally miss out on. 2013 was the fifth con, and it has grown from an afternoon to a full day of panels, stalls and other exciting events over the years. You can view the programme here.

Guests this year included: Philip Reeve, Storm Constantine, Mark Buckingham, Sarah Ash, Paul Cornell, Janet Edwards, Jaine Fenn, David Gullen, Emma Newman, Ian Whates, Gareth L. Powell, David J. Rodger and many more. Several of the guests are actually taking part in Sci-Fi Month, which was particularly exciting!

I went to the con with two friends of mine from university, and we started off by browsing the dealers room. The stalls ranged from Forbidden Planet selling books (many of which were signed; I purchased Earth Girl by Janet Edwards and Queen of Nowhere by Jaine Fenn to be signed later on), Crafty Miss Kitty who sells some wonderful jewellery including many Doctor Who themed pieces, PQ Vintage Sci-Fi who had a massive collection of vintage and secondhand sci-fi classics and various other stalls selling sci-fi books, memorabilia, costumes and more. You can view the list of dealers here.

Then we thought we’d consult our programmes and work out which panels to attend. The first thing we knew we wanted to attend for sure were the book signings at 2pm (all authors at once!). I knew I wanted to get my books signed by Jaine Fenn and Janet Edwards, so I made a beeline straight for them. Sadly Janet was nowhere to be found, but I met Jaine and introduced myself, and she was lovely! It was nice to meet someone I’d been speaking to online, and put a face to the ‘voice’ – but I have this horrible shyness around people I admire and once I’d introduced myself I had a bit of a brain freeze… anyway, I just want to take this chance now to say thank you to Jaine for taking part in the event!

One of my friends had a couple of Philip Reeve‘s books, so she got them signed and they had a long chat! I’ve spotted several copies of his Mortal Engines in my local second-hand bookshop, and wish I’d picked at least one up to get signed, but never mind!

At 3pm we went to our first panel, one that immediately stood out to us by name,

because we are mature and responsible adults: ‘How To Poo In A Fantasy Universe and Other Grubby Goings On’. This was moderated by Dev Agarwal, and the panelists were Ben Galley, Myfanwy Rodman, Lor Graham and Max Edwards. It was a discussion on how, often in big fantasy epics, we never see or hear of our beloved protagonists going off to the toilet, or collecting food, or doing basic things like cleaning pots and pans after a meal. Frodo treks across Middle-earth and never once has to stop for a toilet break. Does Han have a bathroom aboard the Millennium Falcon? Does the Death Star even have plumbing? It was a really fun talk (and very true!) – although we did discuss series that do cover such events as well, like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. For example, Arya has to make sure she steps well away from the rest of the group to go to the toilet when she’s on the run disguised as a boy, and another rather spoilery moment much later on that I won’t reveal here (but one of the panelists did!). All I will say is that it involves a death, but since it’s a GRRM book that isn’t really a surprise…

Thank you Jaine!

5pm brought with it a talk on ‘Magic in Fantasy’, moderated by Jonathan Wright and featuring Anne Lyle, Storm Constantine, Snorri Kristjansson and Paul Cornell. It was a fantastic talk on fantasy and magic systems, how different authors show magic and which systems we thought were the best. One person suggested the system used in The Name of the Wind, where magic is known as sympathy and requires a sacrifice, and I completely agree!

Another brilliant talk followed, ‘Beyond Arthur’, which was a discussion on folktales and legends that often get ignored in fiction, moderated by Gaie Sebold and featuring Roz Clarke, Catherine Butler, Philip Reeve and Scott Lewis. They discussed many local legends, including variations on how the River Avon got its name (one being that a lady named Avona drowned herself in it after spurned love). It was at this point that I also bumped into Colin, who runs Clarion Publishing, and has been a major help for Sci-Fi Month – he is the one who put me in touch with so many of the authors taking part, so thank you so much Colin!

Our next plan was to head to the quiz (we love quizzes!) which wasn’t until 8.30pm, so we hung out in the bar for the next few hours and just chatted about the day. Whilst we were sat in there I finally spotted Janet Edwards, and managed to grab her just before she left! I explained that I was the one organising Sci-Fi Month, and she told me all about Nara’s interview and one particularly evil question that Nara posed for her! She was lovely and didn’t mind at all that I sort of grabbed her on her way out. And I got my book signed, yay!

And then finally, the quiz! Hosted by Nick WaIters (who has written some Doctor Who novels), it was really fun and a brilliant laugh – me and my two friends had our own team and we did SO badly (we got a grand total of 19 but actually were the losers only by 1 point…). There was an entire round on William Shatner. We know nothing about William Shatner. The round we did really well on? Cats on film. It was a picture round and we had to identify which films the cats were from – Jonesy from Alien, one of the Bond cats etc. We’d been laughing along with the team next to ours, who marked our quiz sheet (sure to draw more laughter), and it turned out one of the members was Ian Whates, who is taking part in Sci-Fi Month! Anyway I introduced myself and he was absolutely lovely. He was very impressed with our feline knowledge.

And that was the end of the con! We arrived back at my friend’s house just after 11pm, a brilliant day only slightly hampered by a constant migraine… And the next day, we went to Bristol Museum (we’re all archaeology graduates so of course) and bumped into Philip Reeve in the museum cafe, as you do (tea and cake were sorely needed). He even recognised us!

Here are my spoils from the weekend:

 

  • Nova by Samuel R. Delany and Limits by Larry Niven – from PQ Vintage Sci-Fi, they had so many amazing vintage and secondhand books for only 50p each so I had to grab a couple at least! We spent a lot of time stood at that stall…
  • The Alchemyst by Michael Scott – this was our freebie book in our goodie bags, and the author kind of makes me giggle because I’ve been watching a lot of The Office US lately (if you’ve not seen it, Michael Scott is the boss, the character played by Steve Carrell). But it does sound good, it’s about Nicholas Flamel!
  • Earth Girl by Janet Edwards – this one has been very highly praised, and Janet is even taking part in Sci-Fi Month. You can win a copy of this one over on Nara’s blog, and read an interview with Janet herself!
  • Queen of Nowhere and Consorts of Heaven by Jaine Fenn – I picked Queen of Nowhere up at the con, and got it signed (see above), but didn’t pick up Consorts of Heaven until the next day (at the £2 Book Shop, it is HEAVEN) so couldn’t get that one signed, sadly! I first encountered Jaine’s writing last year and was really impressed by it.
  • Doctor Who: Shada by Gareth Roberts and Douglas Adams – my other £2 Book Shop find, I’ve been wanting to read one of the Classic Who novels for a while and this seemed like a great one to start with.

I also picked up a copy of Dead Angels by Gunnar Roxen, a very friendly author who was at the con. It’s a short novella so I thought it would be a good way of checking out his work. I also got a little fabric owl (I have an owl collection that has mostly come from other people buying me owl stuff ever since I bought an owl bag and matching purse…), and you can see my con badge in the photo too!

And that’s pretty much it for my recap of BristolCon! I had a fantastic time and would love to go again – but I could do without the migraine next time…

Challenges, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Definitive Science Fiction Reads

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Today I want to share a challenge with you all: my definitive list of science fiction reads! They are books I feel every sci-fi fan should read at least once in their lifetime, and as well as creating a challenge for myself I hope that it can be challenge for some of you too. Although I already have a Top Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Challenge, I wanted to create one that reflected all different types of science fiction, including Young Adult. So it will actually be a mix of books I’ve loved, books I really feel I should read because they’re considered classics, and some titles that might often be overlooked, as well as some books that I’ve heard a lot of good things about.
 
If you’d like to join in, feel free! I’ll be keeping track of my progress too, on a separate postDon’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

‘Classic’ science fiction

Newer science fiction

Young Adult science fiction

What do you think of the challenge? Are you going to join in?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Common Concepts in Science Fiction

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Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.
 
There are some factors that just make a science fiction book. That’s not to say that all sci-fi novels have to contain all, or even any, of these points, but they’re often found within works of the genre. In the style of my very first Fantasy Friday post, I’m going to do a similar post with science fiction and talk about common concepts in the genre. You’re more than welcome to join in, if you make your own post there is an InLinks widget at the bottom where you can share your post URL.
 

 
Time travel is something that has always fascinated humankind. I know some people do not get along with it in books, but personally I love it. There are series like Doctor Who where it is one of the main elements, or books like All Our Yesterdays. It opens up so many possibilities: parts of history can appear in a futuristic novel, historical figures can be brought to life – or civilisations even further ahead in time can be imagined. There are so many elements of time travel – alternate timelines, the grandfather paradox, many elements that would take a great deal more space to discuss!

See also: Doctor Who, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, The Time Machine by H.G Wells, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Looper, Back to the Future, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

 
Space travel is another big factor, often hand-in-hand with time travel. What makes it so exciting is that it’s something we can already do – albeit on a smaller scale than appears in most science fiction – so events in many books could be ones we have yet to look forward to! In some cases spaceships are able to travel in hyperspace and reach destinations very quickly, but some works of science fiction show space travel in a different way. For example, in the Mass Effect game universe, the player can find objects called mass relays (shown above), which form an enormous network allowing interstellar travel. In the Hyperion Cantos series by Dan Simmons, there is a price to pay for space travel. Certain characters are able to travel through space at such a speed that it kills them – but they are resurrected on the other side. It’s every bit as painful as it sounds, much to the dismay of one particular character who has to make several journeys in a short period of time!
 
See also: the Mass Effect video game series, the Hyperion Cantos series by Dan Simmons, House of Suns by Alistair Reynolds, Firefly, Sunshine, Star TrekStar Wars – in fact there are so many different books, TV series, films and games I could mention!

 
Aliens appear in so many works of science fiction, in all shapes and sizes. Occasionally they are friendly and help the human race, but most of the time… well you really don’t want to cross them. The Alien franchise (well, some of it) is a fantastic example of hostile alien races terrorising humans. I think they’re so popular because, admit it, we love the idea of there being some other form of intelligent life out there. There have been so many UFO spottings, abduction reports and other alien eyewitnesses that just prove we are obsessed. I for one am both really excited and kind of absolutely terrified by the idea of extra-terrestrial life. On one hand, they could be like the turians from Mass Effect (I’m a big Garrus fan), but on the other hand they might just be something like the creatures from Alien. And I don’t fancy meeting a facehugger, thank you very much.

See also: the Alien film series, the Mass Effect video game series, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Doctor Who, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

 
This is one thing that makes me kind of sad when I read or watch sci-fi. I can’t remember ever seeing physical copies of books represented: characters always use ebooks or tablets to read or study. In fact it’s often some sort of multi-use device, for reading, communicating, studying and looking up information. I really hope that this is not our future; as much as I see the uses of an e-reader I would hate to live in a world without paperbacks.
 
See also: Acid by Emma Pass, the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Star Trek

 
It’s not just extraterrestrial life that fascinates us, but also artificial life. And like extraterrestrial life, it can be scary. In many examples, life created by humankind gets its own back on its creators – but in some cases, androids or cyborgs are seen as lesser citizens. One such example is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, also adapted into the film Blade Runner, where a bounty hunter has to dispose of several androids who have defied orders. As for YA fiction, there is Cinder by Marissa Meyer, where the eponymous character would be shunned from society were she to reveal her true status. In many cases, androids and cyborgs are indistinguishable from humans, which can be all the more dangerous. **Alien spoilers ahead** Think how shocked the crew of the Nostromo were when they discovered Ash was an android all along. **end spoilers** So maybe you should think about thanking that ATM next time it spits your cash out. Because one day, the machines might rebel against us!
 
See also: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Prometheus, Blade Runner, Artificial Intelligence

What concepts do you often see cropping up in science fiction? I can think of plenty more but have chosen only to cover a few. Which are your favourites?

Author Interview, Giveaway, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Author Interview with Jaine Fenn

For today’s Sci-Fi Month post, I have an interview with the very talented science fiction author, Jaine Fenn! I first came across her work when I won a copy of her short story collection, Downside Girls, through LibraryThing. I really enjoyed the stories as an introduction to her Hidden Empire series, and she was one of the first authors I thought to contact when I came up with the idea for Sci-Fi Month. At the end of the post, there is also a giveaway for a copy of Downside Girls, open internationally.

Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Interview

Rinn: I first encountered your work when I read your short story collection, Downside Girls. Do you plan on writing any more short story collections?

Jaine: I love short stories, and have written plenty of them. I like the idea of themed collections, and at some point I’ll gather up all my alternate history and fortean stories – although they aren’t SF as such – and then, as with Downside Girls, add a new story or two to complete the set.

Rinn: Did you have any particular inspiration for the Angels and the Sidhe (from Jaine’s Hidden Empire series)?

Jaine: The Angels – female flying assassins with implanted blades – come in part from two books I read at an impressionable age: William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the Miller/Sienkeiwicz graphic novel Elektra: Assassin. The concept was too cool not to use, though I added the bit about flying.

The Sidhe are more complex because the ‘real’ Sidhe are the Celtic fey folk, treacherous, otherworldly and rarely seen. The Sidhe in my stories are aliens who gave themselves this name when they encountered humanity. They did this with knowing irony. There’s a lot more to be said about that, but it’s a story for a later date.

Rinn: Which of the Hidden Empire books did you most enjoy writing?

Jaine: Now there’s a tricky question. I’ll always love Principles of Angels, because it was not just the first in the series, it was the first novel I wrote. And rewrote, over a number of years. The easiest book to write was Guardians of Paradise, partly because it brought together the stories started in Principles of Angels and Consorts of Heaven, and partly because it is a (sort of) romance, and I find romance easier to write than straight SF. In some ways Queen of Nowhere was great fun once I’d got into the main character’s head. But each book brought moments of elation and surprise, and I enjoyed them all, in different ways.

Rinn: The most recent Hidden Empire novel, Queen of Nowhere, was published this year. Do you plan to write more in this series?

Jaine: Oh yes. I’ve got plans for four more books, one of which I’ve started. Having said that, I’m not sure when they’ll see print. Queen of Nowhere ended one plot thread – or rather, changed the game – and I wanted to take a break from the series after it. As it turns out I’ve got caught up in a number of other projects, including a return to short-story writing. Watch this space, as they say. Well, watch www.jainefenn.com.

Rinn: Your series does not necessarily need to be read in order, and the books work as standalones. Which character did you most enjoy writing, and were there any you wanted to bring in the story purely because you enjoyed writing them?

Jaine: Another tricky but interesting question. As with novels, the characters you’ve spent the longest with will be the most special to you, so I like writing Taro (irritating to everyone else though he can be); Nual’s more challenging, and because of her unique worldview I’m sparing in writing from her viewpoint, but then she hasn’t reached her full potential yet. As every writer knows, characters tend to take on a life of their own: Bez, who played a relatively minor role in Guardians of Paradise, ended up getting her own book!

Rinn: Who or what are your influences as a writer?

Jaine: So many… Here’s a few: Manga, Iain M Banks, Ursula Le Guin, cyberpunk, Larry Niven, C.J. Cherryh, Philip K. Dick and Mary Gentle.

Rinn: What five science fiction novels would you recommend to my readers?

Jaine: It depends on whether they are SF aficionados or new to the genre. If I had to pick five relatively recent SF books I think everyone should read I’d go for: The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson; The Player of Games by Iain M Banks, Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson and The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.

Rinn: What do you like to spend your time doing, when you’re not writing?

Jaine: Reading, though my ‘to read’ pile only ever gets bigger, not smaller. I also enjoy walking in the countryside near my home in Hampshire, a hobby that fits in well with being a writer, as I use my walks to consider plot points or get to know my characters. I play the odd role-playing game, and in the summer I take part in historical re-enactment events. Like a lot of writers, I also have a part-time day-job; in my case I run a small charity.

Rinn: Do you get involved in the science fiction community online very much?

Jaine: Not as much as I’d like to, due to lack of time. I have a Facebook presence and I’m sporadically on Twitter as @JaineFenn, but there are loads of great blogs I’d like to check out.

Rinn: Where/when will your next appearances be – I know you appear at quite a few cons – like BristolCon this past October.

Jaine: I’ll be at Novacon, which will be the last of a number of cons in a very busy autumn. I’ll probably go to Picocon, a small one-day convention in London, and I’m still trying to work out whether I can get to Eastercon, as the logistics are a bit complicated for me this year. And then of course there’s the British Worldcon, LonCon, which I’m really looking forward to.

Thank you to Jaine for letting me interview her!

About Jaine

Jaine Fenn is a science fiction writer, hailing from the United Kingdom. She has written several short stories, and the Hidden Empire series of books, which can either be read as standalones or in order. A sci-fi fan since she was a young girl, she discovered the world of fiction through Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and began writing at a young age. She now also runs her own charity.

Jaine’s books include Principles of Angels, Consorts of Heaven, Guardians of Paradise, Bringer of Light, Queen of Nowhere and Downside Girls.

Jaine can be found on Goodreads and Twitter, and you can also visit her website.

Giveaway

Thank you to Clarion Publishing for providing this giveaway! Giveaway widget removed after migration to WordPress.