Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 in reflection

We were spared by the Mayan prophecy, so today is officially the last of 2012! It's been a varied year for me, in both life and blogging.

In terms of the blog, there are many things that I'm grateful to have accomplished, and certainly wouldn't have thought possible when the year began. There is also much I would have done differently and plan to take advantage of in 2013.

Stand-out moments

More readers I'm so grateful for everyone who has joined my blog over the past year. When all this began, I didn't think I'd have even 30 readers! I hope you stick around because I have a few things up my sleeve for 2013.

Guest posts and interviews I've been fortunate enough to have been in contact with some wonderful authors, publishers, PR companies and so forth, and I can't wait to do this some more in 2013. A notable post is my interview with author Trilby Kent, who wrote what has become one of my favourite novels.

Talking to EL James I never thought I'd have the chance to talk to a best-selling author, much less the one behind this year's biggest release! Watch what happened here.

Published by Company It was a big moment when I was asked to contribute a piece for Company magazine's iPhone app. To have been recognised for something like this gives me a little more faith in my writing abilities.

Changes for the New Year

Reading 2012 hasn't been my best year for reading. Many factors contributed, like exams and work commitments. But it seems as though I'm coming out of this lull and will have more luck in 2013. One of the first challenges I'm setting myself is to read the entire Harry Potter series. I can't wait!

Networking I have been awful at networking this year. I haven't visited many blogs, posted much on Twitter, and have rarely conversed with fellow book lovers on sites such as Goodreads and Book Blogs. Look for a more active and sociable Sophie in 2013!

Events I want to attend more events in the new year. I might not be able to make it to New York for 2013's Book Expo America, but I aim to attend the London Book Fair and Oxford Literary Festival. Perhaps I might even finally meet up with some fellow bloggers?


Happy New Year, everybody! What are your own goals for 2013?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He's never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him...if Harry can survive the encounter. Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. (via Goodreads)

It feels great to have finally read The Philosopher's Stone! Though I thought they were good, I wasn't completely spellbound by the films and hadn't watched all eight until they were shown on the movie channels. But, having then done so and felt their appeal grow on me, I decided it was time to at least attempt to read the books.

Sometimes when a book is well-loved by such a wide audience, it can be daunting delving into its pages for the first time because of such expectancy. Thankfully, though, I enjoyed The Philosopher's Stone. Rowling has done an amazing job of creating a hidden world of whimsical magic, I wished for it to be real. I thought, must I live in the Muggle world? Why couldn't I get a letter inviting me to study at Hogwarts? On my next trip to London, should I go searching for Platform 9 and 3/4 at King's Cross Station? And it seems unfair that I can't get an owl to deliver my mail!

The book is also very British, which I loved. Even though Hogwarts is an establishment like no other, I was still brought back to my own school days with that beginning-of-year uncertainty, teachers that both encouraged and intimidated, and students who were prefects, head boys and girls, good friends and aggravating classmates, and, of course, those uniforms.

However, one thing lost on me was some of the excitement, having seen the film quite recently and remembering the outcome of certain events. Though as with any adaptation, many parts of the book had been changed or left out completely, which meant that some suspense still lingered.

I plan on reading the next couple of books in the series, at the very least, which I'm eager to do as soon as possible. If things go well, this'll probably all result in a partial addiction (I already want take the train into London and go on a Potter tour!)

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, 24 December 2012

Special holiday price: Extraordinary Rendition by Paul Batista

If you're looking for an exciting new read for your Kindle or Nook, and like to delve into the world of legal thrillers, this might interest you.

As part of a special promotion, Extraordinary Rendition by Paul Batista is now $1.99 until 7th January! It's also just £1.64 for Kindle owners in the UK.

Buy now at:
Barnes and Noble

You can find an extract from the novel, which I posted in October, here. The blurb is below:
 When Ali Hussein—suspected terrorist and alleged banker for Al Qaeda—is finally transported from Gitmo to the US mainland to stand trial, many are stunned when Byron Carlos Johnson, pre-eminent lawyer and the son of a high-profile diplomat, volunteers as counsel. On principle, Johnson thought he was merely defending a man unjustly captured through Rendition and water-boarded illegally. But Johnson soon learns that there is much more at stake than one man’s civil rights.

Hussein’s intimate knowledge of key financial transactions could lead to the capture of—or the unabated funding of—the world’s most dangerous terror cells. This makes Hussein the target of corrupt US intelligence forces on one side, and ruthless international terrorists on the other. And, it puts Byron Carlos Johnson squarely in the crosshairs of both.

Pulled irresistibly by forces he can and cannot see, Johnson enters a lethal maze of espionage, manipulation, legal traps and murder. And when his life, his love, and his acclaimed principles are on the line, Johnson may have one gambit left that can save them all; a play that even his confidants could not have anticipated. He must become the hunter among hunters in the deadliest game.

Written by no-holds-barred-attorney Paul Batista, Extraordinary Rendition excels not only as an action thriller, but as a sophisticated legal procedural as well; tearing the curtains away from the nation’s most controversial issues.

Provocative. Smart. Heart-pounding. A legal thriller of the highest order.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Review: Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

In this seductive, wistful masterpiece, Truman Capote created a woman whose name has entered the American idiom and whose style is a part of the literary landscape. Holly Golightly knows that nothing bad can ever happen to you at Tiffany's; her poignancy, wit, and naïveté continue to charm. (via Goodreads)

Breakfast at Tiffany's has been one of my favourite films for years, so I thought it was about time that I read the short story it's based on.

Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed; Capote is truly a beautiful writer. I loved that Holly, the protagonist, is seen directly through the eyes of an unnamed narrator (he's called various things by Holly – Fred, Buster, Cookie, etc – but never his real name). You can sense this man's obsession with each encounter, and the internal battles he faces just trying to keep himself from thinking too much about her.

He is completely bewitched by Holly's life, as I felt myself becoming on each page. Holly is such a complex character with many contradictions, and such a naïve and romantic way of seeing herself and those around her. 

All this is brought to life with Capote's evocative, almost poetic writing style. At various intervals, I had to stop and note down the page numbers of various sentences and passages that I thought were particularly effectual. Here's one:
"The morning light seemed refracted through her: as she pulled the bed covers up to my chin she gleamed like a transparent child."
It feels like it's been such a long time since I've found a story that has captured my interest as much as Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's different to the film in various ways (for example, the book is set in Manhattan during the 2nd World War, while the film is early 1960's), but this is nothing surprising.

Truly a glamorous and entertaining read.

Rating: 4 / 5

Friday, 21 December 2012

Visiting Professor Tolkien's final resting place

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

It's been a big couple of weeks in Middle Earth for me. Not only did I see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and re-read the novel, but I also visited the final resting place of J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife, Edith.

It didn't occur to me until recently to find out where he was buried. I knew that he lived and worked in Oxford, which is a mere 45 minute drive from my home on a good day, but I never thought of visiting him. When I looked it up on Google, I was surprised to find that he's buried in a cemetery owned by the Oxfordshire County Council in the city's north – somewhere I can access very easily.

So, Sunday I finally visited Professor Tolkien and Mrs Tolkien with a couple of friends who I managed to drag along with me. There, in Wolvercote Cemetery, we soon found the pair; mingling and blending in amongst all the other departed.

Indeed, there is nothing especially remarkable about their grave. It isn't the biggest, flashiest grave in the cemetery, nor is it hidden inside a special chamber. The only indication that there would be anything different about the good couple's grave is the signposting that guides well-wishers to their site. But when you do come across it, you recognise someone special now rests there from all the trinkets, mementos, letters, and drawings that decorate the little patch of garden above their heads.

It says so much about the values of Professor Tolkien and his family. He saw himself as a regular person, who was accepting of others, and a deep romantic. It's impossible not to admire.

What's more, is that I felt like I was visiting someone I had known personally because of the fact that he is buried in such a normal place. We shared the cemetery with many coming to pay respects to their mothers, fathers, sisters, uncles, husbands, wives, and so forth.

This has only accelerated my love for Professor Tolkien's work, and my admiration of his remarkable life. If only all heroes were this wonderful to meet!

A return to Middle Earth form with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [spoiler free]

Last week, I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey twice in three days (2D & 3D). I was interested to see if there would be any cinematic continuity, for example would it still feel like a Lord of the Rings franchise film? Would there be an obvious link, or could I see it becoming another version of the Star Wars prequel debacle? And not to mention that I've missed the glory days Peter Jackson's version of Middle Earth! Will the first Hobbit instalment be swiping all the Academy Awards like its predecessors?

My first screening was in 2D on opening day, and it blew me away. Or, more specifically, back to 2004 where The Return of the King left off. Watching The Hobbit in 2D is most definitely the best way to go if you're nostalgic for The Lord of the Rings, and want the same experience. This was exactly what I wanted. I left the cinema in a daze, feeling as though I had been brought back to a time which I've always craved to visit again. It was magnificent, and I didn't want to leave.

Some familiar characters return, for example Frodo (Elijah Wood) and an older Bilbo (Ian Holm), and there's Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving). We even see familiar places: Weathertop, Rivendell, and the Shire are just some. The new faces are also delightful; the dwarves are very well-interpreted, and I loved the unscheduled appearance by Radagast the Brown (a previously unseen Tolkien creation played excellently by Sylvester McCoy).

My only casting complaint is that of Martin Freeman, who plays the younger Bilbo. Though he can pull off the lighter, whimsical side of Bilbo's personality, I wasn't convinced by his portrayal of more serious moments. Maybe Freeman will grow on me.

And then there's 3D, which provides a completely different viewing experience. For a start, Jackson decided that he would film The Hobbit at a frame rate of 48 frames-per-second, instead of the more conventional 24fps. What this means is that because more detail is captured on film, what you see on screen is super-HD quality: you can spot every vain, every spark. You can even decipher each dwarf's face during a chaotic fight scene.

However, while this was impressive, I didn't appreciate it. I found it, at times, gimmicky and distracting. Sometimes I even felt like I was watching a video game (a common complaint, it seems, made by viewers). I certainly didn't feel as awe-struck and nostalgic as I did the first time around. Of course, opinions will be different for each individual. But as I'm a person who wears glasses already, I find it annoying having to put another pair on top of those I'm already wearing! Perhaps that's something I should've taken into account before choosing 3D. Also, I wonder if this seemingly controversial mode of high frame-rate shooting will hinder The Hobbit's chances of full Oscar glory? We'll have to see this awards season.

Otherwise, I loved this first instalment. It steers away from Tolkien's original novel at times, as film adaptations generally do, but I found myself rather accepting of this. The screenwriters have done such a good job and it's obvious that they put in a lot of heart, respect, and research into their reworkings.

Also, if you haven't done so in a while, I'd highly recommend watching The Fellowship of the Ring before going to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – there are some charming little nods between the two which are too good to pass by.

Welcome back, Middle Earth!

Have you seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? What did you think?

Friday, 7 December 2012

Review: Alight: the Peril by K.C. Neal [Pyxis book 2]

Spoiler alert!
Don't read this review unless you've read Pyxis (book one)!

When Corinne learns who the second Guardian is, she must find a way to make peace with the last person in the world she wants to deal with. As she struggles, her nemesis unleashes an otherworldly evil, and a mysterious illness strikes Corinne’s friends. Faltering under the weight of her destiny, Corinne escapes to the dream world. There, she meets Zane, an Australian guy with a hot accent and a revelation that binds them together and alters the path of Corinne’s life. She throws herself into fighting for everything she loves, but just as she’s certain she will prevail, she’s robbed of what she needs most. (via Goodreads)

It's been over a year since I read the first Pyxis book, The Discovery, which was easily one of my favourite reads of 2011. The cliffhanger had me waiting with bated breath for Alight – what was going to happen to Corinne, Mason, and Angeline now? And who would this other guardian be? My expectations were high.

Unfortunately, Alight has that middle-syndrome; where the novel acts as a bridge to the beginning and end of a series, causing the plot to slow down (something Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins also suffers from). Not a lot of big, interesting things happen.

Because of this, the book dragged. There seemed to be a lot of waiting around when I expected more action. I also wanted more character descriptions – it's been so long since I read The Discovery that I'd forgotten what Corinne and her friends looked like.

Even so, there was enough content to keep me interested in the Pyxis series. The description of events is very clear; from the movement between different realms to the connection between members of the union. I also appreciated the appearance of the Aussie character, Zane, and the intrigue he provided.

A lot of questions certainly have arisen from Alight. It's not the perfect novel, but I still can't wait to find out answers to all these questions I have!

Rating: 3 / 5

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Find me in Company Magazine's Weekly Edit!

Company magazine have featured me in the latest issue of their weekly iPhone app, the Company Weekly Edit!

You can download the app for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to read my piece here.

Each issue costs 69p so make sure you download issue 9 (published today). It doesn't matter if you live outside of the UK – you can read it from anywhere in the world (this screenshot came from my amazing cousin Jaclyn in Australia!)

Now I can finally say I have something published! Thank you so much, Company!!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Free book for Kindle – Baby by Katherine Hole

To celebrate its release, author Katherine Hole is offering her debut novel, Baby, as a free Kindle download on December 5th, 6th, and 13th.

Here's the blurb:
For fans of YA fiction comes a dark love story with a gritty, urban twist. 

Charlie Knight is like any other teenager, until the day he meets the beautiful, mysterious Ava and falls under her spell. With her sexy voice, mesmerizing eyes and radiant smile, Ava is the girl of Charlie's dreams, and he will do anything to have her. Soon, his obsession leads him into a dark and terrifying world where nothing is what it seems and only the strong survive . . . 

Deeply seductive and irresistibly compelling, Baby is a dark love story with a shocking twist that will leave you breathless!

Download it at or

Friday, 30 November 2012

Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel [audio book]

Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe. (via Goodreads)

As I mentioned in my last post, I originally started reading Life of Pi on paperback before switching to audio book. The audio book is narrated by Jeff Woodman and is just under 11 hours in length.

I definitely wouldn't have gotten through Life of Pi had I simply been reading it. The story is very slow and full of, what I considered to be, unnecessary detail. For example, Pi illustrates piece-by-piece how to cull several different kinds of animals aboard a lifeboat. I understand that his experience was extremely difficult, but I don't need to know everything. I wanted more scenes that had my pulse racing, not cringing with distaste.

There's also a lot about religion and philosophy, and because of this the beginning of the novel felt rather like a lesson which I couldn't fully appreciate. Again, whilst I'm aware that you need to know some background information to understand the survival part of the story, it just felt like too much.

But it's impossible to deny the amount of emotion that encompasses Life of Pi, and I put a lot of that down to the flawless, suitably animated narration delivered by Woodman. For me, he made the pages come to life in a way that I wouldn't have detected without his voice.

As for the characters, they're wonderfully developed. I particularly loved the tiger whose power I could almost feel and beauty I could almost see.

Altogether, Life of Pi is a good story of courage and survival with some interesting insights and heartbreaking emotion. Whilst I didn't enjoy it half as much as I wished to, I'm still eager to see the film adaptation when it comes out in December.

Rating: 3 / 5

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Audio books vs. the budget

I’ve realised that the reason I don’t enjoy certain books is because of the way I’m reading them.

For example, at the moment I’m reading Life of Pi which I originally started on paperback – a paperback I’ve had since at least 2005 but have only just began. I’m determined to finish it, not only because I’ve abandoned so many books lately but also because I have this new rule where I’ll refuse to allow myself to see any film adaptation unless I’ve read the book first.

Then I began to struggle reading Life of Pi, just like I have with so many others. For some reason, this year I’ve found it difficult to finish books in a timely manner if I’m not completely overcome by them. It can take a month to complete a title, unlike previously when I could read any book within a week. What’s all that about?

And then it hits me. Audio books.

I should be listening Life of Pi on audio book! Yes, that will work – someone can read the book to me instead. It’ll be more enjoyable hearing the words expressed. And perhaps by listening to particular audio books instead of purely reading, there’ll be many more titles to enjoy.

This is a massive possibility, but unfortunately I can't explore that option as much as I would like. Why? The answer is simply: price.

Thankfully, I managed to acquire Life of Pi for no cost by taking out this 30 day free trial. Though '30 day free trial' is very deceptive because it lets you think that you can download as many audio books as you would like, free, for the entire month. Actually, all a 30 day trial gives you is a single credit to claim a single audio book. After that, you have to pay £8 a month to receive another one audio book. This is a reasonable price if you consider how much they cost without a subscription (some as much as £25), but what if you’re listening to a series and you desperately want the next copy before the end of the month? Then you’d either need to transfer to print, pay to have your subscription upgraded, or fork out the full retail price. We are in a recession, you know!

Another option is the library. Now, I don’t know about everyone else’s library, but the audio books my local has on stock are terrible. It’s not the titles that are the problem, but the format: they are mostly cassette tapes… cassette tapes! In 2012! I don’t even own a cassette player anymore. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

And let's not forget those cheap-as-chips audio books. In other words, audio books that have been poorly narrated and are priced accordingly. But who wants to hear The Lord of the Rings spoken by someone who sounds as if they've just swallowed helium while riding a bicycle? Exactly.

If quality audio books were made cheaper, or if libraries were funded to stay up-to-date with technology, there would be many more people exploring the literary world. I understand that narrators have to be hired to talk in a booth for hours, but is the price really justified?

What do you think? Do you know of a more affordable place to download audio books?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

"She was inside the wonderful garden and she could come through the door under the ivy at any time and she felt as if she had found a world of her own."

After the death of her parents in India, sullen and self-absorbed Mary Lennox is sent to live on her uncle's estate on the Yorkshire moors. Exploring the grounds, Mary discovers a walled garden, locked up, abandoned, and in ruins; and in a distant room in the house she finds a cousin she never knew existed-Colin, an invalid, ignored by his father and expecting to die. Mary and Dickon, the housemaid's spirited brother, befriend Colin, and set about restoring the garden, which opens up a world of magic, reconciling the children to the world of life.

Originally published in 1911, The Secret Garden, an extraordinary novel that has influenced writers such as Eliot and Lawrence, highlights the transforming powers of love, joy, and nature, and of mystical faith and positive thinking.) (via Goodreads)

The Secret Garden seems to be a favourite book of many. While I have never previously read it, I saw the film adaptation as a child and fell in love. So it's about time I finally sat down and got to reading!

Although it is without a doubt a charming tale with a great narrative and subtle moral focus, I just couldn't get into it. I don't know if it's because I've seen the onscreen version several times over the last few years and knew what to expect (though that's not been a problem I've experienced with other novels) or if the story didn't move fast enough, but there was something holding the pleasure back. It's very hard to pin-point exactly why I struggled.

There's so much to love about The Secret Garden, like the beautiful focus on kindness and nature, and seeing the character's personalities flourish with the seasons. I'm going to try and read it again at a later date and see if I enjoy it more (perhaps the book isn't to blame? It might have something to do with a reading lull.) But, for now, I might just pop on the DVD.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, 29 October 2012

Guest post: Quirky audio books lampoon social issues, by Adele Park

A very warm welcome to Adele Park, who's here to write about her very original Quirky Audio Book series.

I have a quirky sense of humor.  So much so that I lather the quirk on every audio book I produce.  Writing on the fringes has its benefits:  no one expects me to be normal.  I see it as an opportunity to unleash a litany of snarky comments on social issues.  The sell lines for both my audio books put a fine point on this: When radio and polygamy collideJitters - A Quirky Little Audio Book and When marijuana and reality TV collideYikes! Another Quirky Audio Book. Those who aren't amused by stuff like pot and polygamy might want to look elsewhere.

Being free to roam about the cabin of craziness has led to the genesis of some pretty wacky characters.  I like to place them in a secluded spot called Navel and see what happens.
Navel is more of a state of mind than a physical location.  It is a cosmic portal which opens to those in need, starting with Joseph Stratton, the kindly polygamist who founded Navel in 1957.  Stratton, along with a gaggle of pubescent wives, was fleeing his religious brethren in Salt Lake City when he stumbled into the wild orange groves of Pitt County.

Jitters and Yikes! both feature full casts of actors who advance the plot using first person narratives.  Most of the characters are supreme narcissists who give lopsided accounts of what is happening.  It's up to the listener to decide what is true.

Having wandered off the literary reserve, I also take advantage of the chance to experiment with different forms of narration.  From a writing perspective, narration is a convenient way to string together an array of random ideas.  In the Quirky Audio Book Series, it also serves as the voice for the town of Navel.

In Jitters - A Quirky Little Audio Book, the story centers on a shock jock named Nancy Neptune who unwittingly finds herself working at a radio station in Navel.  In keeping with the radio theme, Jitters is narrated through a series of newscasts.  Yikes! Another Quirky Audio Book offers a more conventional form of narration through a succession of pieces called Examine Our Navel.  The protagonist in Yikes! is a marijuana enthusiast named Blue McKenna.

Using satire, I explore issues ranging from gay rights to freedom of religion.  By exploiting the absurd, I try to illustrate the effect certain attitudes and acts of discrimination have on society.  But mostly, I'm just going for the grins and giggles.

You can find out more about Adele, including where to buy the audio books, at the Yikes! website and on her blog.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Halloween: An eerie classic by Mark Twain

{photo credit}

Since Halloween is upon us, I thought I'd share one of my favourite spooky stories A Ghost Story by Mark Twain.

I love this tale for many reasons, but especially because of the sharp and unexpected ending. You're in for a treat... and maybe a trick (tada)!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Filmmaking with the Raindance Film Festival

On September 15th I attended the Saturday Film School in London, hosted by Raindance Film Festival. I'd been planning on going for a year, ever since I found a discount off the price via Groupon (£39 instead of £119; a pretty sweet deal!)

During the day, there were four different tutorials. The first was about screenwriting, which is something I've been interested in for a short while. I love watching films and thinking about how someone has created a scene on paper, and then how an actor and director might interpret it.

The tutors were excellent, well established industry people, and had some fantastic tips. The main speaker was Elliot Grove, who is the founder of Raindance. He first told us some of his personal history: growing up in a Canadian Amish family who tried to make him believe that talking pictures were the devil (!), how that led to him falling in love with film, his decision to move to the UK, and then founding the festival.

After that, Elliot talked us through the basics of screenwriting. Here are some interesting bits I wrote down:
  • Writers love to procrastinate (definitely me!)
  • Screenplays should be very easy to read. If your screenplay is complicated, you're doing something wrong.
  • The best way to learn is to read as many scripts as you can get your hands on.
  • Copying directly from one screenplay is called plagiarism, but copying from two is called good research (not sure how far this is true, but it made me chuckle!)
After the screenwriting session there was a short break, during which I was bribed into forking out £50 for Raindance membership! Okay, so I wasn't exactly bribed. They just made an announcement that instead of the usual price of £1000, membership was put down to £50. Then, the rascals threw in a massive messenger bag (I'm a sucker for bags), and a data CD with about 50 screenplays on it! They also included a production paperwork data CD, but I didn't have much interest in that. Still, since the whole thing was worth nearly £1,100 altogether, how could I turn it down? Exactly.

So even though everything was pretty interesting and entertaining, my favourite part of the day was when director Patrick Tucker took the stage to give us a tutorial on acting and directing. I don't really have any ambition to do either, but it's intriguing to see how these are put together. Patrick's energy was also very infectious; he led the tutorial with a massive amount of humour while still teaching us useful insights. Many times he asked for volunteers to come up on stage to aid various demonstrations (but I will admit that I ducked down in my seat each time so I wouldn't get chosen!)

Other subjects were covered, for example how to break into the industry, and the legal aspects of filmmaking. We were also shown a few short films which were intended to demonstrate just how easy it can be to make one ourselves – as long as you have access to a camera (even just on a mobile phone), you can make a film that people will enjoy.

If you want to learn more about the Saturday Film School, including future dates and timetables, click here. I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in filmmaking – the course makes it sound so simple! Well, simpler than you would normally be led to believe. I enjoyed it so much that I'm thinking of going back for a second dose!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

An excerpt from Extraordinary Rendition by Paul Batista

It's my pleasure to present an excerpt from Extraordinary Rendition, a high-octane legal thriller written by attorney and television personality, Paul Batista. It's currently available for purchase at Barnes and Noble,, and for pre-order on

First, here's the blurb:

When Ali Hussein—suspected terrorist and alleged banker for Al Qaeda—is finally transported from Gitmo to the US mainland to stand trial, many are stunned when Byron Carlos Johnson, pre-eminent lawyer and the son of a high-profile diplomat, volunteers as counsel. On principle, Johnson thought he was merely defending a man unjustly captured through Rendition and water-boarded illegally. But Johnson soon learns that there is much more at stake than one man’s civil rights.

Hussein’s intimate knowledge of key financial transactions could lead to the capture of—or the unabated funding of—the world’s most dangerous terror cells. This makes Hussein the target of corrupt US intelligence forces on one side, and ruthless international terrorists on the other. And, it puts Byron Carlos Johnson squarely in the crosshairs of both.

Pulled irresistibly by forces he can and cannot see, Johnson enters a lethal maze of espionage, manipulation, legal traps and murder. And when his life, his love, and his acclaimed principles are on the line, Johnson may have one gambit left that can save them all; a play that even his confidants could not have anticipated. He must become the hunter among hunters in the deadliest game.

Written by no-holds-barred-attorney Paul Batista, Extraordinary Rendition excels not only as an action thriller, but as a sophisticated legal procedural as well; tearing the curtains away from the nation’s most controversial issues.

Provocative. Smart. Heart-pounding. A legal thriller of the highest order. 

Like what you've read so far?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Just checking in

I've finally finished the job! Woohoo! Though things aren't showing signs of slowing down just yet – September was much more eventful than I thought it would be. Plus, my university creative writing module has just started, and I'm going to spend this weekend getting myself completely settled into that. So, it looks like I won't have much time to read until next week at the earliest (though I'm sure I'll fit it in somewhere!)

I'm hoping that, once I've got into a routine, I'll have much more time to blog. I may even have time to start accepting books to review again! Needless to say, I'm looking forward to getting back into the regular ol' swing of things around here.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Review: 666 Park Avenue by Gabriella Pierce

What if your mother-in-law turned out to be an evil, cold-blooded witch . . . literally?

Ever since fabulously wealthy Malcolm Doran walked into her life and swept her off her feet, fledgling architect Jane Boyle has been living a fairy tale. When he proposes with a stunning diamond to seal the deal, Jane can't believe her incredible luck and decides to leave her Paris-based job to make a new start with Malcolm in New York.

But when Malcolm introduces Jane to the esteemed Doran clan, one of Manhattan's most feared and revered families, Jane's fairy tale takes a darker turn. Soon everything she thought she knew about the world—and herself—is upended. Now Jane must struggle with newfound magical abilities and the threat of those who will stop at nothing to get them. (via Goodreads)

I wanted to read 666 Park Avenue because I'd heard that a TV series based on the book was being made, and Terry O’Quinn from Lost had been cast as one of the characters. Plus, these days, I’m all for reading the book before seeing the on-screen adaptation. But that’s just not going to be possible with this one for the moment. I'm not even halfway through!

It's the composition that lets 666 down the most. The actual storyline is pretty good, which is probably why it got picked up to be a television series, but the way it's told is very much lacking. I get the sense that the Pierce was aiming for some witty, semi fairy-tale feel, but she has disappointingly missed the mark.

At 40% through the book, I should care enough for the characters to move on, but I don’t. It’s taking too long and the writing style is just frustrating. I might try to read more of 666 Park Avenue when I’m in a more patient mood, but I’m sick of waiting for the story to pick up pace and evolve. Perhaps the TV series will encourage me to have another go?

Rating: None, as reading wasn’t completed.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Michael Palin and Karl Pilkington talk books!

If you've seen Karl Pilkington's hilarious travel programme, An Idiot Abroad, you might remember when he went to Egypt and stayed in the same hotel Michael Palin visited several years beforehand.

Now you can watch the two of them, briefly, as they meet for the first time to discuss their new book releases. Expect two different men, one common subject, and a lot of inimitable personality!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Paris in photographs

I thought I'd share some photos from my four-day trip to Paris last month, seeing as I'm short on time at the moment and can't give you guys a full recap. A lot of these are photos that I have previously posted on Instagram (you can find me as @SoapyCheese if you're on there), with a few regular shots in between. Hope you enjoy!

The Hotel De Lille where I stayed, about a two minute walk from Museé d'Orsay. I would only recommend this place if you want to experience something along the lines of Fawlty Towers!

Up ahead in this photo is the café I ate at my first evening in Paris. Oh, and they seem to love Smart Cars there; I saw so many!

The hotel wasn't all bad. In fact, the room was pretty nice. The bathroom had these beautiful Parisian windows which opened up all the way, and a great view.

A very gorgeous Parisian building right by the Eiffel Tower.

Authentic French Lavender garden, also by the Eiffel Tower.

No caption needed!

I wanted to go up, but the queue for the elevators was at least two hundred yards long (and no way was I taking the stairs)!

A classic Renault car. I think Marion Cotillard's character in the film A Good Year might have driven one of these?

I found these street stalls walking by the river Seine from Musée d'Orsay to the Latin Quarter.

They sold everything from souvenirs and posters to used French literature.

I managed to find a bunch of vintage French Elle magazines, and bought two for 10 Euros – one from the 1940s (left) and another from the 1950s (right)!

Also on my walk to the Latin Quarter, I stumbled upon the Pont Des Arts; a bridge covered in padlocks. The idea is that a couple will attach a padlock to the bridge, perhaps write a little something on it, then throw the key into the Seine. A romantic symbol of love perfect for Paris!

A quiet corner of the Latin Quarter.

The famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop.

A message from the owner, George Whitman, upon his retirement in 2004.

An American busker singing about Paris in the Latin Quarter. He was pretty good!

Notre Dame, and more street stalls.

On my last day, I was sat next to a lovely Australian couple in a café. They ordered snails, so were obviously feeling much braver than me! Also, check out that massive beer!

Heading home on the Eurostar. I can't wait to see Paris again!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Slow September

For the next two to four weeks, I'm going to be working full time and so won't have a lot of spare moments for reading or blogging. Yup, it certainly sucks, but I'll be back in force by the time this is over (and I can't wait!)

In the meantime, if you're an author, publisher, or even another blogger and are interested in producing a guest post for my blog, now's definitely the right time to get in touch. Email me at:, telling me a little bit about yourself and what you have to offer.

See you soon!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Review: Elemental Gelade by Mayumi Azuma [manga]

During a routine raid, sky-pirate Coud Van Giruet discovers a most unusual bounty: Ren, an "Edel Raid," is a living weapon that interacts with a human to become the ultimate fighting machine. But Van Giruet soon realizes that Ren is even more prized than he first thought. When she is captured by an evil man who sells Edel Raids on the black market, Coud and the agents of Arc Aile join forces to rescue Ren! (via Goodreads)

There's always a certain amount of 'strange' guaranteed when you read manga. Plots are either exaggerated in some way (which can, sometimes, mean more awesome), and/or feature offbeat fantasy worlds.

Elemental Gelade is a unique sci-fi story, but I didn't find it that great. I don't know if this is just my problem, but sometimes I find manga difficult to follow because of jumps in time or location that aren't pointed out very clearly. Could this be an issue with translation? I don't know, maybe other manga readers can tell me if they've had similar problems. All I know is, Elemental Gelade presented me with an unforgivable amount of barriers. I couldn't even figure out whether the people who try to bribe the sky-pirates have good or bad intentions. Not to mention, the ending is very strange (even for a manga).

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Friday, 31 August 2012

According to P.G. Wodehouse, saga writing has always been addictive!

It's fair to say that authors have been creating some mesmerising worlds – so mesmerising that they find themselves unable to pull away and end up writing several novels about the same characters and/or settings.

But this isn't anything new. Just ask the comedic master himself, P.G. Wodehouse. I recently purchased a copy of Blandings Castle, and had to share the beginning of the preface – there will be many authors that will chuckle at these words of truth!

Monday, 27 August 2012

A little on Paris

Ah, Paris in August. Good, because the weather is lovely if you like it to be hot and sunny. Bad, if you don't like to be overwhelmed by tourists and want to experience the city's truth.

I visited because, as mentioned in my previous blog post, I wanted to become inspired. While I do believe that happened, it probably didn't to the extent that could've been. It was just the wrong time of year (most Parisians leave the city in the summer, and tourists choose this time to flock). Although, knowing that I wasn't the only stranger had made me feel more secure.

I've also learned that if you really want to see Paris, and blend in as much as possible, you must not only visit out of tourist season but speak conversational French at least. And since I hate being identified as a tourist, when I go back I need to ensure that my vocabulary goes beyond "je ne parle pas Français", "Pouvez-vous parler Anglais", and "À bientôt"!

But, even so, I managed to really enjoy myself and become more aquainted with the city, which is something that I now know I needed to do, because I intend to visit every year or two from now on.

Anyway, stay tuned! A larger recap of my trip will follow soon.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

See you later, England. Bonjour, Paris!

After six years, I'm finally visiting Paris again! My last visit wasn't great, but that had nothing to do with the city and everything to do with some of the company. So, as I'm going by myself, I'm looking forward to doing it my way this time.

I'll be there for four days in total – from Monday afternoon until Thursday night – travelling by Eurostar from London. Usually I like to stay in hostels when I'm travelling, but this time I've opted for a hotel.

I have long admired Starry Night Over the Rhone
by Vincent Van Gogh and can't wait to finally visit it.
I've already seen most of the sights, so I won't be focusing much on them. Of course, I'll definitely be going to the Eiffel Tower (no trip to Paris is complete without setting eyes on that icon), and visiting the Musée d'Orsay (a must for fans of impressionist and post-impressionist art, like me) but other than that my main objective is to just wander the streets, soak up the atmosphere, and become inspired.

I've travelled to many cities around the globe in my lifetime, but I can honestly say that Paris is definitely the most beautiful. To many, Paris is the cultural centre of the world, which would make sense as it's inspired all kinds of artists, and I'm hoping that it'll help me develop the intestinal fortitude to become more creative myself. For ages now I've been meaning to start writing my own fiction, but outside of classes I haven't been able to bring myself to do anything. And, seeing as I blame it on the monotony of everyday life for taking the cojones out of me, I'm praying Paris puts it back.

So, I'm expecting to take hundreds of photos, sit in a lot of cafés, maybe read a book, make some notes, and perhaps start building a story.

But I must make sure I experience Paris for real.

You know, even though it's tourist season and apparently most Parisians are in the south of France but, hey, I'm sure I'll manage.

À bientôt!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Review: Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha's Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House. In the days following the end of the Second World War, the world seems to offer itself up, and the two women are on the cusp of their 'real lives': Helena is off to Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is heading for a reunion with her own young husband, Hughes, about to return from the war.

Soon the gilt begins to crack. Helena's husband is not the man he seemed to be, and Hughes has returned from the war distant, his inner light curtained over. On the brink of the 1960s, back at Tiger House, Nick and Helena--with their children, Daisy and Ed--try to recapture that sense of possibility. But when Daisy and Ed discover the victim of a brutal murder, the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. The members of the family spin out of their prescribed orbits, secrets come to light, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same.

Brilliantly told from five points of view, with a magical elegance and suspenseful dark longing, Tigers in Red Weather is an unforgettable debut novel from a writer of extraordinary insight and accomplishment. (via Goodreads)

It's rare to find a novel that is so complex yet so easy to follow, but Tigers in Red Weather is definitely one of them.

It documents the lives of a family over three decades during the mid-twentieth century, focusing on six individual members. Five of them have a section of the book dedicated to their own point of view, so you get to witness how significant events are seen through one person's eyes as opposed to another.

Although the jumps from character to character are well choreographed, it can still be a little confusing at the beginning. There are also jumps in time – one chapter you can be in 1967, the next in 1945, and then perhaps in 1958. But once you get your bearings, it becomes very easy to enjoy. It also helps that the narrator makes pop culture references that are relevant to each iconic decade, which is marvellous because you get a real feel for the time periods.

I just thoroughly enjoyed this book. Though I knew there was a murder involved, it was still much darker and more diverse than I expected it to be. I loved the mystery, the suspense, and the undeniable glamour. The characters are complex and intriguing, and you end up caring for a lot of them. It's fantastic to see their personalities and relationships evolve as the years move on, as well.

Tigers in Red Weather is a novel that is going to stick in my mind for a long time. If you're looking for a well-written, glamorous summer read with a vintage feel, wonderful characters, and a plot to die for (pun intended!), I wholeheartedly recommend this.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Guest post: Writing Crashing Eden, by Michael Sussman

It's a pleasure to welcome author Michael Sussman, who's here to share how he wrote his young adult fantasy novel, Crashing Eden.

My first novel, Crashing Eden, tells the story of Joss Kazdan, a 17-year-old juvenile delinquent who is depressed and guilt-ridden following the loss of his younger brother. After suffering a concussion, he awakens to a beautiful sound that no one else can hear. He becomes convinced that it’s the primordial vibration of the universe, and by attuning himself to it he experiences ecstasy and feels at one with the cosmos. Things get even stranger when friends of his are able to construct a device that produces this same Edenic consciousness. I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll just say that what starts out so promising, soon leads to generational conflict and cataclysmic destruction that threatens the very survival of humanity!

You may wonder: How did I come to write such a strange novel? I believe the story emerged from the convergence of the following three strands of my life.

1. Adolescence was a painful and confusing time for me, when my struggles with depression first began. I experienced mood swings, became increasingly introverted, socially isolated, and had to contend with deep feelings of guilt, self-hatred, and suppressed rage. These experiences were influential in my later becoming a psychologist, helping others to cope with the ravages of depression.

2. During my later teens, I developed a passionate interest in Eastern mysticism. I read books by mystics and gurus, started to meditate, and even joined a cult called Divine Light Mission. In my quest to transcend mundane existence, I also lived for a while in a commune located—I kid you not—in Paradise, Nova Scotia.

One night, I suffered a concussion in a car crash in which I was a passenger and was lucky to survive. Like my protagonist in Crashing Eden, I spent the days following the concussion in what I can only call a state of grace, filled with deep feelings of gratitude and joy.

3. Throughout my life I’ve been interested in world mythology. I’m especially intrigued by the widespread myths suggesting that humans have degenerated from an ancient state of grace, symbolized by Paradise or the Golden Age.

To sum up, I believe that my history of depression and experience as a psychotherapist allowed me to get inside the head of my adolescent protagonist and find his voice. My fascination with mysticism and my personal experience of grace led me to conceive of a transcendent state to which my protagonist aspires. And my familiarity with the Golden Age myths provided a framework for the story.

From there, I used my imagination to envision how the God of the Old Testament might react to an impudent gang of teenagers who discover a way to crash the Gates of Eden. That’s when the story gets really interesting!

To purchase a copy of Crashing Eden, you can visit:
Barnes & Noble:

Keep up-to-date with Michael:

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Review: Switched by Amanda Hocking

Wendy Everly knew she was different the day her mother tried to kill her and accused her of having been switched at birth. Although certain she’s not the monster her mother claimed she is she does feel that she doesn’t quite fit in

The new girl in High School, she’s bored and frustrated by her small town life and then there’s the secret that she can’t tell anyone. Her mysterious ability she can influence people’s decisions, without knowing how, or why…

When the intense and darkly handsome newcomer Finn suddenly turns up at her bedroom window one night her world is turned upside down. He holds the key to her past, the answers to her strange powers and is the doorway to a place she never imagined could exist.

Förening, the home of the Trylle. Everything begins to make sense to Wendy. Among the Trylle, she is not just different, but special. But what marks her out as chosen for greatness in this world also places her in grave danger. 

With everything around her changing, Finn is the only person she can trust. But dark forces are conspiring not only to separate them, but to see the downfall everything that Wendy cares about. The fate of Förening rests in Wendy’s hands, and the decisions she and Finn make could change all their lives forever… (via Goodreads)

After reading The Hunger Games, I had such an intense good-read-hangover that I couldn't start another book for a while! And when I did, all I wanted to read was another young adult trilogy, which is why I decided to download Switched. Once just a self-published novel, Switched grew in popularity and is now distributed by a major publishing house. They've even gone so far as to make two different versions – one cover for young people, and one for adults.

Unfortunately, though, I fail to see why this has become such a popular book. I expected something spectacular and well written, but it isn't either one.

Wendy, the main character, has very little personality. She's dull and robotic, which is a very big problem considering she is not only the protagonist, but also the narrator. I felt no romantic connection between her and her apparent love interest, Finn, who just seemed more like an advisor and a babysitter. Wendy's people are also some weird version of a troll, which the author has renamed Trylle, and made them into baby stealing, money hungry supernatural beings.

Switched was just an all-around disappointing read for me. I would definitely recommend looking at other self-published or titles published by smaller publishing houses first, before considering this (Pyxis by KC Neal and Shelby and Shauna Kitt by PHC Marchesi get honourable mentions).

Rating: 2 / 5

Monday, 30 July 2012

It's official! Peter Jackson confirms The Hobbit films will be a trilogy!

Though the on-screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece The Hobbit was originally shot as two films, director Peter Jackson confirmed today that he will turn the double epic into a trilogy.

He writes:
We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance. The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth.

So, without further ado and on behalf of New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wingnut Films, and the entire cast and crew of The Hobbit films, I’d like to announce that two films will become three.

It has been an unexpected journey indeed, and in the words of Professor Tolkien himself, 'a tale that grew in the telling.' 
You can read the entire message on his Facebook page.

Jackson is on record saying that although every major scene from the book has already been shot (shooting wrapped a couple of months ago), he's been interested in adding scenes that would depict additional notes on Middle Earth, written by Tolkien, at the end of the third Lord of the Rings volume, The Return of the King.

So, at least some of the actors will have to come back and shoot extra scenes to cater the third instalment.

From Entertainment Weekly:
As for where that material might come from, Jackson and his co-writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, are already drawing on sources beyond The Hobbit book itself — in particular, some 125 pages of additional notes Tolkien wrote at the end of Return of the King that expanded the world of The Hobbit, which Jackson has the rights to use. As Tolkien purists know, they’ve also taken a few extra liberties, inventing a couple of totally new characters, like Evangeline Lilly’s Elf warrior Tauriel. But Jackson has not yet revealed — and is perhaps still trying to work out — exactly what shape the story would take if, in fact, The Hobbit became a trilogy. 
What do you think? Are you excited about this news, or are you concerned that the films are going to take a few more liberties than are necessary? It does make a person wonder how much footage they actually shot. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was obviously three films because of the three volumes Tolkien wrote, but The Hobbit is just one book (and is much shorter than any of the three LOTR volumes at that). Perhaps, this way, The Hobbit films will be more true to the detail of the book?

Well, we can only wait and see.

The first instalment of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, is scheduled to be released worldwide on December 14th, followed by the second, There and Back Again, next Christmas. The third release is being aimed for the summer of 2014.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins [Hunger Games Trilogy, book 3]

Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But she's still not safe. A Revolution is unfolding, and everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans - everyone except Katniss.

And yet she must play the most vital part in the final battle. Katniss must become their Mockingjay - the symbol of rebellion - no matter what the personal cost. (via Goodreads)

Spoiler alert! 
Don't read this review unless you've read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire!

Even though I haven't really been able to place just how much I liked or loved this series (weird, I know), I'm really sad that it's over! I've definitely got a post-series-reading hangover on my hands. So, though dystopian isn't usually my cup of tea, it's fair to say that I've thoroughly enjoyed reading The Hunger Games.

Mockingjay is probably my favourite of all three. The intensity, while already high in the other two books, skyrockets. Situations become more unexpected, sometimes more unsettling, but ultimately satisfying. And though I still thought there were parts that dragged out, these were fewer and further between.

The basis of this book involves the full-scale war that erupted in the wake of Catching Fire's epic conclusion. What I've observed from reading it is that although it's a science-fiction/fantasy novel, the turmoil, losses, and emotion that Katniss endures are all very real themes that can be found in our world today. I couldn't help but draw parallels to situations in dangerous, corrupt countries such as Iraq, Syria, and even North Korea. And it makes sense because, to a certain degree, this is what Collins hoped to emulate. Here's what she has said in a Q&A session:
I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss's story came to me. One night I'm sitting there flipping around and on one channel there's a group of young people competing for, I don't know, money maybe? And on the next there's a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.
She goes onto to say that her father, who served in the US military, thought it important to teach his children the different aspects of war: wasn't enough to visit a battlefield; we needed to know why the battle occurred, how it played out, and the concequences.
Indeed, there are many concequences for Katniss and those around her in Mockingjay. Some will warm your heart, some will break it, and some will probably leave appreciating your own life more. I know it did with me.

A very emotional end to a unique, well-rounded, and addictive series. My only wish now is for more!

Rating: 4.5 / 5