Review

Review: The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co #2) by Jonathan Stroud

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I first encountered this series at the beginning of the year, the first book being The Screaming Staircase and absolutely loved it. There was no question about whether to request the second book from Netgalley or not, regardless of my ridiculous pile of books to review! And luckily, The Whispering Skull definitely lived up to my expectations.

Set six months after the previous book, The Whispering Skull leaps straight into the action: Lockwood & Co have had a run of successful jobs and things are looking up. More and more clients are approaching them for help and for once they don’t feel like they have to compete with other agencies. That’s until a strange and powerful Source is stolen, and Lockwood, Lucy and George are back in competition with the other agencies, as well as in a race against time, to retrieve it. As before, some scenes were actually genuinely creepy and gave me the chills – but combined with the wonderful sense of humour that I’ve come to expect.

A fast-paced read, the writing just flows off the page – although that may be something to do with the intended younger audience – and the exciting moments just keep coming. I felt that the story was perhaps less atmospheric than The Screaming Staircase, but much of the atmosphere of the first book was created by setting up the story and the changes from the world as we know it.

The publisher describes this book as aimed at ‘middle grade’ readers, but as someone in my twenties I have to say I absolutely LOVE this series. It’s a fabulous mix of ghost novel and detective story, with characters you’ll just love. Lockwood is still an enigma, very much a Sherlock type character, and I can imagine him being a bit of a heart-breaker when he gets older. Lucy is the witty and occasionally sarcastic narrator, with George as the brains but also the comic relief. Were I actually within the age range for this book, I can definitely say that the idea of these teens running their own agencies and living alone, without adults, would be a high point!

If you’re looking for something a little bit creepy, but don’t feel quite ready to delve into some serious horror novels, I would definitely recommend giving Lockwood & Co a try.

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Review

Review: Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen (Samantha Sutton #2) by Jordan Jacobs

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

A book about archaeologists? Boudicca? Set in Cambridge?

I’m sold.

This tale about a young girl who dreams of being an archaeologist one day is written by an archaeologist, and it shows. A fast-paced and thrilling adventure, packed full of historical and archaeological references, I loved this one! I only wish it had been around when I was Samantha’s age. The use of illustrations was a brilliant idea – at the beginning of every chapter we see a page of Samantha’s beloved notebook, which also provides information for those perhaps unsure of the period of history that the book covered, or unfamiliar with the city of Cambridge. For example, one page was a timeline of British history (complete with mini illustrations!) whilst another was a map of Cambridge, with all the colleges marked. Readers should not be put off by Samantha’s young age (she is twelve), in fact I think it makes her all the more interesting. Such determination and ambition at  that age makes for a great character, plus she’s naive enough to not completely understand and work things out right away, which leaves room for the reader to make their own judgements.

One thing I really loved were all the little references, nods to the amazing field that is archaeology (not at all biased here). The Pitt-Rivers twins: Augustus Pitt Rivers was a nineteenth century archaeologist, and his collection founded the basis of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, which also happens to be my favourite museum EVER (seriously, it’s amazing, it’s basically just a giant warehouse PACKED with amazing objects). The references to ancient burial places like Cairn and Barrows. Ned and Graham Aubrey, who I’m guessing were named after John Aubrey, discoverer of Avebury and an early archaeologist/antiquarian. Mostly things you wouldn’t know unless you’d studied archaeology yourself, which make for some wonderful little ‘in-jokes’ almost.

Of course, there were a few things I had to question – for example Samantha becomes coxswain of a Cambridge college rowing team, and I’m pretty sure you’d have to be a member of the college for that. And the ease at which items from the British Museum were borrowed. But these all made for some fun adventures, so are really just me nit-picking!

There may also be an issue with terminology, as Jacobs tends to use the proper archaeological terminology which may confuse those not familiar with it, although it was hard to judge as someone who is familiar – so it would be interesting to see a review from someone who doesn’t know anything about archaeology.

I’ve always been fascinated by the early history of Britain (as you can probably guess by my degree choice), and wrote a paper on Boudicca’s rebellion in my second year, so this was a subject close to my heart. Combine that with archaeologists and you pretty much get my perfect story. Overall, a fantastically fun adventure, that should appeal to anyone with an interest in archaeology or history, regardless of age!

Author Interview, Blog Tour

Blog Tour + Author Interview: Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen by Jordan Jacobs

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen by Jordan Jacobs, a middle-grade/young adult book about a young girl with a passion for archaeology.

If you know me, you’ll know that I studied archaeology and ancient history at university, and my ambition is to one day be a museum curator. So how could I turn down the chance to read a book about a young archaeologist, written by an archaeologist?

For the blog tour I have an interview with the author, Jordan Jacobs, and I’ll be posting my review of the book tomorrow. So let’s begin!

Interview

Rinn: I studied archaeology myself, and I LOVED all the little references hidden in the book, like the Pitt-Rivers twins and the Aubreys. Will this be a running theme through the rest of the books?

Jordan: I’m so pleased you caught those!  Yes, there are a lot of little “easter eggs” in Warrior Queen for those who have some background in archaeology. There were some in the first book, too, just as there will be in the third.  I had some fun with that, especially with finding archaeological terms that also work as names (Cairn, Barrows….)

Rinn: I spotted those too! I thought it was so clever. What inspired you to start writing fiction about archaeology and archaeologists?

Jordan: I wanted to write books that I would’ve loved to read as a kid.  I was initially drawn to the adventure aspects of archaeology, but feel strongly that my books should have a scientific component as well, so that young readers could get a sense of how the discipline actually works and why it is important.

Rinn: I loved the book at my age now, but I wish there’d been something like it when I was Samantha’s age too! Is Samantha influenced by your younger self at all? I love her enthusiasm and passion for archaeology.

Jordan: Oh, definitely.  But while my earliest impressions of archaeology leaned more towards the adventure side of things, Sam’s interest lies firmly in the science–which she has some real knowledge of, thanks to her archaeologist uncle.

Rinn: So far, Samantha’s travels have taken her to the Peruvian Andes and Cambridge. Where do you think she’ll go next?

Jordan: I know precisely where she’s headed… but I’m not telling!  I’ll just say that it’s somewhere very different from the first two settings, and involves an aspect of archaeology that Samantha has never encountered before.

Rinn: Experimental archaeology? GIS? Thermoluminescence dating? *throws around random terms* What periods of history or particular locations would you love to write about next?

Jordan: Well, next up is Samantha Sutton Book 3.  But historical fiction is something I’d love to attempt.  I’ve always been fascinated by contact stories: the first English delegations to the Mughal court, Esteban’s arrival at Zuni… these incredible moments in human history where two vastly different worldviews encounter one another and are forever changed.

Rinn: Those are also moments I don’t know much about, so I’d definitely be interested in reading more about them. How did you go about researching for the books? Were they already time periods/locations you’d researched previously or perhaps dug at?

Jordan: All the books are set in places where I’ve worked, studied, or spent a significant amount of time. As an undergraduate, I lived in the Peruvian Andes for a summer-long project. I did my graduate archaeology work at Cambridge, so I know the area well. This made research much much easier, because much of it I’d done years before–and for course credit!

Rinn: I can tell you all about Silchester if you ever feel like writing about it, haha! That’s where I worked throughout university. What is your usual writing process? Do you like to stick to a schedule?

Jordan: With a toddler at home and a full-time job, I don’t have the luxury of a schedule. But I happily write whenever I can (a glance at my clock tells me that it’s 5:30am right now. Yikes!).

Rinn: Eek, that’s dedication! Well thank you very much for taking some time to answer these questions. If you were given a time machine, where and when would you go and why?

Jordan: I’d love a glimpse of Plantagenet England.  I’m sort of a Richard the Lionheart groupie–though I don’t think we’d have similar views on anything–and it would be interesting to see how things functioned in his time.  But I’m also a fan of Back to the Future, and would know to be extremely cautious (rift in the space time continuum and all that).  I might just stick my head out for a second or two.  I don’t think I’d linger long.

Rinn: This is more of a personal question, as someone who is going on to study museum studies and heritage. I see that you have worked at many museums and for many heritage organisations – what advice would you give to someone interested in that field?

Jordan: Network. Request informational interviews.  It’s the kind of work that draws passionate people, and it’s important that employers can sense your commitment to the field.

Rinn: Thank you so much for that advice! And finally, which historical figures would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Jordan: Ada Lovelace, Howard Carter, Gustav Mahler, and Boudica (before her troubles began). I’d make burgers.

About the Author

Jordan Jacobs

The author with Richard I.

Jordan Jacobs has loved archaeology for as long as he can remember. His childhood passion for mummies, castles and Indiana Jones led to his participation in his first excavation, at age 13, in California’s Sierra Nevada. After completing a high school archaeology program in the American Southwest, he followed his passion through his education at Stanford, Oxford, and Cambridge. Since then, Jordan’s work for the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History and UNESCO Headquarters in Paris has focused on policy and the protection of archaeological sites in the developing world.

Jordan’s research and travel opportunities have taken him to almost fifty countries– from Cambodia’s ancient palaces, to Tunisia’s Roman citadels, to Guatemala’s Mayan heartland and the voodoo villages of Benin.
Jordan now works as Head of Cultural Policy at UC Berkeley’s Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.

Thank you so much to Jordan for letting me interview him, and to the publisher/Netgalley for a copy of the book.

Are you a fan of archaeology or books based around historical events? Give Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen a try!

Author Interview

Author Interview: Katherine Roberts

I’m so happy to say that I have a very special treat for you today, my dear readers: an interview with Katherine Roberts!

   

When I was younger, I was absolutely in love with a series called The Echorium Sequence. I still have the books, and have lost count of how many times I re-read them over the years. So you can imagine how excited I was when I emailed Katherine for an interview, and she agreed.

The fourth book in her Pendragon Legacy, Grail of Stars, is due out in October 2013.

Interview

Rinn: Hello Katherine! Firstly, let me say thank you so much for letting me interview you. One of your earlier series, The Echorium Sequence, really fascinated me as a child; it’s really exciting to have this chance.

Katherine: Glad you enjoyed the Echorium Sequence! The first book Song Quest was my debut novel and also won the Branford Boase Award, so that trilogy will always be special to me.


Song Quest was also re-released in 2012, with a beautiful new cover.

Rinn: Can you tell us a little bit about your current series, the Pendragon Legacy?

Katherine: It’s a traditional four-book fantasy series for younger readers about King Arthur’s daughter, Rhianna Pendragon, who arrives on the scene after Mordred kills Arthur at the end of the legends.

Rhianna has grown up on the magical isle of Avalon, and has no idea she is heir to the throne of Camelot until Merlin brings Arthur’s body through the enchanted mists from the battlefield. Shocked to hear that her cousin Mordred killed her father and is plotting to seize the throne, she sets out at once to find the four magical Lights – the Sword of Light (Excalibur), the Lance of Truth, the Crown of Dreams, and the Grail of Stars – which have the power to restore Arthur’s soul to his body.

Soon after they leave Avalon, Merlin is ambushed by Morgan Le Fay, and his druid-spirit ends up trapped in the body of a falcon (a real merlin). Fortunately, Rhianna has the magical support of her Avalonian friend Prince Elphin, and when they reach Camelot they are joined by her maid Arianrhod and a brave young squire called Cai. Together, the four friends battle dragons and Mordred’s bloodbeards to save Camelot.

Rinn: Which of the characters in the series is your favourite, and why?

Katherine: They’re all so different, it’s hard to choose. Rhianna is a warrior princess, but she is not allowed to blood her Excalibur if she wants to take the Sword to Avalon. Elphin is gentle and kind, and works magic to help his friends even when it hurts him. Arianrhod has been mistreated by her old mistress Morgan Le Fay so is rather timid, but comes into her own on Rhianna’s final quest for the Grail. Cai is a bit hopeless at first – the sort of squire who is always spilling things and falling off his pony – but he learns fast, and ends up fighting dragons. So they’re all heroes (and heroines)!

If I have to pick just one, then I think Elphin has to be my favourite, because who can resist a violet-eyed fairy prince?

Rinn: The Pendragon Legacy, is based around Arthurian legend. Why did you decide to write a series using mythology, and why Arthurian legend in particular?

Katherine: I’ve always been fascinated by the Arthurian legends, especially the powerful women. I very much enjoyed Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, an adult fantasy novel that retells the Arthurian legend from the point of view of the women, and wanted to do something similar for young readers. That’s why I created a daughter for Arthur, rather than the more obvious son.

Rinn: Did you do a lot of research for the series, or was it something you already had a lot of previous knowledge about?

Katherine: I knew most of the popular Arthurian stories already, from my previous reading. I did do some historical research to get the background right, though not much of this found its way into the books. Since they’re for younger readers, I wanted to give them a fantasy feel and keep the story moving, without getting bogged down by too many historical details. Most of what we know about King Arthur is legend rather than history, anyway. If he did exist, he was probably a sixth century war-lord and not a king. He might have had a real daughter, but if so we don’t know anything about her. That’s what makes writing about Rhianna such fun, because I can make it all up!

Rinn: You say you grew up in the South-west (me too!), an area that has much to do with the myth of King Arthur. Did any local landscapes influence your writing?

Katherine: Yes, I used to play in the caves under Tintagel as a child, where Arthur was supposedly born. I’ve also climbed Glastonbury Tor (which some people think is the ancient Avalon), and visited most of the places where Camelot might have stood, trying to imagine a great castle there. I also lived on the Welsh border for a while – explaining Rhianna’s quest to “Dragonland” in the third book.


Some lovely artwork of characters from the Pendragon Legacy.

Rinn: Your Seven Fabulous Wonders series also incorporates ancient myths. Is this something that has always interested you?

Katherine: A lot of fantasy is based on myths and legends, so I suppose they must fascinate me. But I prefer to invent my own plots and create my own characters using the myths and legends as background, rather than retell the old stories as some authors do. The Seven Fabulous Wonders books are a mixture of history, myth and magic, but they are much more history-based than my Pendragon series, which might be why they appeal to boys.

Rinn: All your books so far are predominantly within the middle grade/young adult range. Do you think you would ever write something for older audiences?

Katherine: Well, I started out writing short stories for adults, and also wrote fiction for women’s magazines under another name. But my first novel (Song Quest) was published on a children’s list, so after it won the Branford Boase it made sense to go down that route for a while. I think the effect of the award has worn off now, however, so there’s a high probability I will publish adult fiction in future, as well as more children’s books for as long as publishers continue to want them.

Of my published books so far, I Am the Great Horse is probably the most mature, being enjoyed by all generations – I couldn’t persuade Chicken House publish an “adult” edition of that one, but the ebook is available to everyone!

Rinn: I note that one of your favourite books is Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (same as mine!), what other novels have really drawn you in?

Katherine: Too many to count… I enjoy fantasy and science fiction that transports me to another world, and used to be a great fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider books as a teenager. But it doesn’t have to be fantasy – any book where I can get totally wrapped up in the characters and the storyline works for me. The last book I read that really drew me in was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Rinn: On your website, you say that you did a degree in Mathematics. How did you end up becoming a writer?

Katherine: I think I’ve always been a writer – not professionally at first, but I’ve always enjoyed creating stories, starting with telling my little brother bedtime stories when he was four (I was eight). I did a Maths degree because my teachers said it would be more useful than English… and they were right in a way, since I now need it to understand my royalty statements and do my accounts!

Rinn: All writers have times when they struggle – what do you do to get around writer’s block?

Katherine: Before I was published, I never had writer’s block. These days, I get blocked whenever I start thinking “will this book ever sell enough copies to pay the mortgage?” or “why is everyone else getting six-figure deals / hitting the best seller lists / getting their books promoted in the shops?” I don’t know how you get around that, apart from burying your head in the sand and staying away from the internet completely, which is more or less impossible these days. But I find most blocks occur at the business end of writing, not in the actual stories themselves.

Rinn: Do you use the online community for feedback for your books, and if so, do you let it influence your work?

Katherine: It’s impossible to avoid seeing reviews, so I’d be lying if I said these don’t affect my work. But I’ve learned only to take notice when several people (who should be the book’s ideal readers) are saying the same things. Negative reviews are bound to happen sometimes, usually when someone gets hold of the book who wouldn’t normally read that genre. Generally it’s good to get feedback, though, even if it’s negative – better than silence!

Rinn: What do you do when you are not writing?

Katherine: This might sound sad, but I’m pretty much always writing – or at least doing some kind of writing-related activity such as a blog post, interviews like this one, keeping accounts, research, reading other people’s books, publishing my backlist as ebooks, creating book trailers, keeping up with social media, etc. There’s so much more to do now than there used to be, it’s difficult to find time to actually write the books! Other than that, I try to exercise every day – I cycle, and I enjoy skiing in the winter. I used to have a part-time job riding racehorses, though I’ve not done that for a while. I do all the usual DIY, gardening, cooking stuff… but mostly, I write. It’s my career, so it’s important to me.

Rinn: What are you currently reading?

Katherine: I have three books on the go at the moment – Celia Rees’ The Fool’s Girl, Julia Golding’s Young Knights of the Round Table (which I couldn’t resist starting, since I’m doing an Arthurian event with Julia at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival in September), and on my Kindle I’m reading Alison Morton’s Inceptio – a brilliant alternative history debut set in 21st Century Rome.

Rinn: And finally, one more question… who would attend your fantasy dinner party?

Katherine: Prince Elphin, of course, to play his magic harp – so probably Rhianna would gatecrash, too. I’d have her father King Arthur, Merlin, Luke Skywalker (I’d give his dad a miss), the beautiful Fallen Star from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Gandalf the Grey (who would have to sit next to Merlin), Galadriel from the Lord of the Rings, Killashandra Ree from Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer, and you of course… just let me know who you would like to sit next to!

Thank you so much to Katherine for letting me interview her! (and inviting me to dinner – I can just imagine dinner conversation with Gandalf…)

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