Your are using a very old web browser that is now coming to the end of its useful life. Although you should be able to read the content of this site, it won't function or display as properly and you won't be getting a good experience. Please upgrade your browser today so that you can properly enjoy this website and the rest of the internet.
I’ve always loved my local Waterstones and felt really lucky, too, in how supportive they’ve always been of my books. It’s an incredibly warm, welcoming environment in every way, and my family visits it at least once a week as readers, so of course it was the natural place to host my launch party for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart.
And OF COURSE I had to head straight in to town this afternoon to check it out in person!
I am in awe of the staff member who created this chalk art, replicating the front cover of the book so perfectly. And the way it felt for me to see it there, filling up that familiar blackboard over the counter in the shop I’ve been visiting with my family and loving ever since I first moved to Wales 7 years ago…
It felt amazing. It feels amazing.
I am really, really lucky to have such a wonderful local bookstore, and such a supportive one, too.
And naturally, I can never walk out of a bookshop without a new book for myself, too! I’ve been hearing wonderful things about Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch for ages, and just check out how gorgeous this cover is. How could I resist?
It’s 3 weeks and two days until the launch party. (We discussed the food for it today, and oh yes, there WILL be chocolate!)
It’s January 12th – which means it’s exactly one year to the day from the day that Patrick’s Secrets of the Dragon Tomb was published!
I can’t even count how many times I’ve read this book – and I loved it more and more every time. When I read the first draft, well before it sold or even found an agent, I knew immediately that it would be published. It was so sparky and funny and exciting and heartfelt. It was just wonderful! And I loved every new version more. The final, published version absolutely blew me away…and I wasn’t the only one!
Samphire’s swashbuckling tale is both a pitch-perfect pastiche of a Victorian serial and a well-rounded, three-dimensional story of a boy learning that the world is more complicated than he thought. Abundant humor, intricate worldbuilding details, and precisely timed slapstick and mayhem mesh as neatly as the gears and levers of the water abacus, producing a gorgeously articulated clockwork of a novel.
It’s a wonderful book, full of hilarious moments, exciting action adventure, wild pterodactyls, dangerous clockwork crabs, spies and mysteries and infuriating (in the best possible way) family members. I looooove practical, put-upon Edward and his family full of eccentric geniuses and social climbers.
I love this book!
And look – it has a brand-new cover lined up for its paperback edition:
Isn’t it cool?
The paperback edition won’t come out until July 18th, though, on the same date that Book Two – the wonderful The Emperor or Mars – will be published, carrying Edward and his sisters on even more fabulous adventures. (Sea serpents! Museum heists! And a very, very awesome girl thief!) So if you want to catch up in time to grab Emperor on its publication day, I vote for you to buy Secrets of the Dragon Tomb now, in celebration of its one-year birthday.
Alas, yesterday’s hot chocolate experiment was such a disaster, I’m not even going to report the fine details here (except to say: TEN CARDAMOM PODS IS DEFINITELY TOO MUCH)! On the upside, though, my 8-year-old has volunteered to join with me in the experimentation process, making his own search for a new favorite hot chocolate recipe – and I have to admit (with mingled pride and envy) that his own hot chocolate experiment yesterday was FAR better than mine! Still, we’re both planning to do some fine-tuning today with our next round of experiments when he gets back home from school.
(If you want some context for this quest for hot chocolate perfection, check out the blog entry I posted this weekend. I WILL come up with a perfect pair of new recipes, I swear it!)
And check out this fabulous piece from The Guardian that was forwarded to me by Joanna Murray! The writer, Felicity Cloake, rounds up lots of different hot chocolate recipes using various approaches, then offers her own favorite recipe. I don’t think it would work for me because of how little I personally like milk chocolate – but if you do like milk chocolate, you should definitely check it out! And I loved reading about all the different methods.
Of course, hot chocolate was never actually mentioned or drunk in the Kat books – I just like hot chocolate, so I thought Hot Chocolate Day would be a fun way to celebrate the boxed set. (And artist Sally Jane Thompson even drew a beautiful sketch of Kat drinking hot chocolate for the occasion!) But not entirely coincidentally, on October 24, 2014, just a few weeks after Hot Chocolate Day, as I was lying in bed in the dark waiting to fall asleep…I suddenly jerked upright, grabbed my laptop, and wrote the first 450 words of a new book – a book about a fierce dragon girl driven by her passion for chocolate (and a pot of enchanted hot chocolate that gets her into trouble in the first place!).
So. It seems like time to start work on a few new recipes!
My personal cooking goal over the next couple of weeks is to come up with one recipe that I really like for cardamom hot chocolate (something I’ve been curious about for a while) and one recipe I really like for chilli hot chocolate (my fiery dragon-heroine’s very favorite kind!). (I know how she made it in the novel, of course, but that was based on eighteenth-century chocolate-making methods, and I’m not working with all of the same ingredients, so I’ll have to make my own recipe a little different.)
Today, I made my first attempt at a cardamom hot chocolate, and it was really yummy – but I think it could be even better. And my public vow is to return to this blog within one week, maximum, to report on a version that I love.
(Today’s experiment #1: I poured a cup of milk into a small saucepan along with 6 bruised – i.e., cracked open – cardamom pods and a scattering of cinnamon. I turned the hob to the lowest heat possible and let it all simmer together for about ten minutes before adding in 6 squares of 70% dark chocolate and whisking it regularly for the next five minutes. It was really lovely! I love the heat that the cardamom gives to the flavor, and the combination of cardamom and cinnamon was really nice. BUT I also thought the flavors could be stronger. I’m going to be putting in more cardamom pods next time and more cinnamon and maybe letting the whole mixture simmer longer, too.)
Of course, this means I’ll have to make a lot of hot chocolate over the next several days.
What a pity, right? 😉
Happy chocolate-drinking to all! And I’d love to hear about any of your own favorite hot chocolate recipes.
By the end of a long holiday season, I’m always feeling jittery about how little writing I’ve been able to do, with multiple deadlines mounting in my head and frustration that I haven’t managed to do more. Why haven’t I somehow done more???
But here’s what I have written in 2016, as an annual record for myself to look back on, because it genuinely helps:
I wrote my Kat-all-grown-up-with-kids short-short story “Flying Magic”
I wrote another short-short story that’s currently out on submission
I wrote the last 23,000 words of my MG spies-and-fairies book (to be published in 2018) and then did a substantial rewrite of the full book before turning it in to my MG editors
I wrote the first 29,000 words (about the first 3/4) of my first adult novella, Snowspelled (which should be released sometime in 2017)
I wrote the opening to my next-next MG book (my grumpy-princess-and-giants-and-sisters-and-goblin-girls book)
So, all in all, I wrote just under 57,000 words on brand-new stories and also did major rewrites (including many thousands of new words) on three full books, along with various rounds of line edits, copyedits, etc, all of which took time and energy.
It’s certainly not a massive amount of wordage compared to many of the writers I know, but considering that my younger son isn’t in full-time school yet – so I only have 14 hours a week of writing time – I’m telling myself AS FIRMLY AS POSSIBLE that it’s not too bad. Whew.
(And I’m posting it publicly as part of my personal mission to teach myself to be proud of what I do get done rather than focusing nonstop on wishing that I’d done more.)
In the non-writing aspects of my life, I took my kids on my first solo weekend away with them and it went wonderfully; I had a great time taking my younger son on an overnight trip to London; and my older son and I went to his first-ever ballet in Cardiff and he called it one of the best days of his life. So those are the accomplishments I’m hanging onto there, at the end of a tough year!
What about you guys? I’d love to hear (either here or on Twitter or Facebook) about any of the things you’re most glad to have accomplished this year, no matter how large or small. Here’s to do-able goals and pride in our work!
And in the next few days, I’ll be sitting down to make my yearly list of Big Dreams, !!!WILD!!! Dreams (with extra capitalization and italics to emphasize the wild implausibility of them all!) and also Small, Do-Able Goals across the year. If you guys feel like sharing any of your own personal goals/dreams for 2017, I’d love to hear about them!
Our Christmas tree is still sparkling in the corner of our living room, five days later. It was a lovely, busy Christmas with the kids – and I got all three of my knitted gifts finished in time. Whew! 🙂 Now I’m knitting a scarf for myself with the lush, gorgeous cornflower-blue wool that Patrick got me for Christmas, which fills me with utter delight. (I only ever knit in the autumn and winter, but oh do I love knitting during those seasons! Total stress-relief – especially when the wool is this soft and rich and beautiful.)
Since the kids have been off school and we’ve been celebrating Christmas with the extended family, I’ve only managed to sneak-write little bits and pieces of my new novella (Snowspelled) at a rate of about 50 words a day – just enough to keep me in touch with the project (and slowly but surely move along the fun kissing scene I’d started just before the holidays). But this morning I woke up with a massive realization:
Eeee! And: eep! I have SO MUCH of my heart wrapped up in this book. I really hope you guys will like it!
It’s a strange feeling to have three novels come out within 10 months. I felt as if Masks and Shadows had only just come out when Congress of Secrets arrived at the beginning of November. (And hurrah, I was SO pleased to see both of them on this list of 7 Must-Read Historical Fiction Books of 2016!) Now I’m already excited and nervous about The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, my return to MG fantasy. It’s been a very, very lucky publishing year for me.
It’s been a lucky time for me as a reader, too. Just check out my Christmas book haul!
I’ve already started Game of Queens, and it is fabulous – the kind of rich, fascinating history book that makes ideas for new stories spark on almost every page.
I posted last week about my favorite MG books read in 2016, and I promised to do a followup post about my favorite adult reads. Of course, I always have less time than I expect over the kids’ school holidays…so this followup is a little late for holiday shopping. Sorry! However, if you (like me!) are a last-minute holiday shopper, or if you just want to look for more fun new books to read yourself, here’s a list of adult fantasy novels that I genuinely loved in 2016, along with snippets of the reviews that I wrote for them on Goodreads (and links to some of the longer reviews):
Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory
A fabulously fun steampunk adventure story with a great, sympathetic (and very diverse) cast of characters and a completely gripping narrative voice. Karen, the narrator, is just *awesome* – matter-of-fact, brave, loyal, funny, and far more impressive than she realizes – and I cheered for her arc of empowerment by the end. I also loved her sweet, fumbling romance, and Priya, her love interest, is truly wonderful too. (Read my full Goodreads review here for more details and discussion.)
Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver on the Road
A slow-paced but truly lovely fantasy novel, set in an alternate version of the 19th-century American west in which the Devil staked his own territory centuries earlier and the rest of the territorial borders have shifted around that. The heroine, Izzy, is a sixteen-year-old coming of age and coming into her own as the Devil’s Left Hand, traveling the roads of her boss’s territory with a mentor who has magical issues of his own. The alternate history setting is fascinating and well thought-out, the writing is absorbing, and the characters are wonderful. By the time I was halfway through reading this book, I’d already preordered Book 2, which is coming out next month – I can’t wait to read it!
Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to San Francisco’s glamorous local superheroine, Aveda Jupiter…who was once her best friend Annie long ago, before a rift between dimensions scattered random superpowers across the city. Annie grabbed onto her new superpower whole-heartedly and flung herself into the spotlight, renaming herself Aveda Jupiter and fighting demons on livestream to the delight of her internet fans; Evie panicked and hid as deeply in Annie’s shadow as she could. But when she has to take Annie/Aveda’s place at an event with the help of a magical glamour, she’s finally forced to recognize her own true strength in more ways than one….with the help of a very nerdy, very hot scientist, lots of great friends, AND her rebellious little sister.
This book was so funny and fun and so full of real heart, it filled me with pure delight throughout. It’s full of fun urban fantasy adventure, hot (AND sweet and funny) romance, intense female friendships and complex, important family relationships. Basically, it has everything I love most in a book! And it’s all done so well. (Read my full Goodreads review for even more raving. I LOVED THIS BOOK.)
Ilona Andrews’s Magic Binds
This turned out to be one of my very favorite books in the whole Kate Daniel series so far (which is, by far, my favorite-ever urban fantasy series – I didn’t click with Book 1, but when I started again with Book 3, I got hooked HARD). I love the combination of humor with real emotion, tension and adventure, and these characters all feel like old friends by now. I loved the mixture of madcap wedding planning moments along with genuinely heartwrenching issues, freaky magic and fun fantasy action. I adored all the different kinds of relationships between women in this book, including one I would never, ever have guessed at any earlier in this series – it came as a delicious surprise in this book. And most of all, I cannot wait for the next book!
What about you guys? What were your favorite f/sf reads in 2016? I’d love to hear about them either here, on Facebook or on Twitter. (You will not be surprised to hear that I am ALWAYS looking for new recommendations! 🙂 )
Every year, I tell myself that I’ll (somehow) get loads of writing done over the children’s school holidays. This year, I tell myself, I’ll definitely find a way!
And every year…
Quite. We’ll just leave it there, shall we? 😉 (…says the woman who’s managed a grand total of 430 words over the past 3 days…ah well.)
To comfort myself, though, I’m choosing today to post my yearly list of publications. (Because seriously, I need to remind myself today that it has been a productive year, even if the next few weeks won’t continue that trend!) So here they are:
Masks and Shadows – Opera, alchemy and romance in an 18th century Hungarian palace, published by Pyr Books
Congress of Secrets – Disguises, deceptions, dark alchemy and unexpected romance at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, published by Pyr Books
“Flying Magic” – my Kat-all-grown-up-with-kids-of-her-own short story, self-published as a free ebook and also free to read online
Now I’m 3/4 of the way through the first draft of my adult fantasy novella, Snowspelled, I should be getting an edit letter for my MG spies-and-fairies novel sometime in the next month, and I’ve just started writing the MG novel that will probably come after that. (Grumpy princesses, inconvenient giants, philosophical dragons, and complicated sister-relationships ahoy!)
So, OK. Even if I don’t manage to get too much written over the next 2-1/2 weeks while the kids are off school, things will probably Be Okay.
Now it’s time to dive back into frantic Christmas preparation (because that is a VERY pressing deadline right now).
PS: Have you seen the movie Moana yet? Go see Moana! It made me SO happy, and our whole family loved it so, so much. The boys and I have been listening to the soundtrack almost nonstop ever since, and I’m already plotting a second trip to the cinema to see it again. MOANA!
It’s our last week of work before the kids’ school holidays begin…and of course, we’re also frantically gift-shopping at this time of year! In case you are, too, it seemed like a good moment to start posting my totally subjective, personal lists of favorite books I read this year. (Also, I just like looking back on them!) So here is my first list – all MG novels I utterly adored, in no particular order:
Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own
When I asked for recommendations of books that were filled with real comfort and joy, Frances Hardinge & Terri Trimble both recommended this one, and they were absolutely right. In terms of voice, overall feel and sheer charm, this book felt like a contemporary MG version of I Capture the Castle. Totally enchanting, heartfelt, and full of warmth, with wonderful characters and such a fun story. I loved it!
(ETA: A reader on Facebook pointed out that this isn’t available in the US, so I wanted to let you guys know that you can get it from The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery.)
Ronald Smith, Hoodoo Hoodoo has one of the most fabulous narrative voices of any MG novel I’ve read in a long while. It is SO delicious and compelling, and I love the way the (creepy) magic is worked so seamlessly into the everyday life of the characters! This whole book is gorgeously creepy and magical.
Note: I really mean it about the creepy bit – I had to put it down at one point because I couldn’t read it at night! (I am a horror wimp) – but the characters are all SO wonderful, the story is so much fun and the magic feels so real, I HAD to go back to it afterward, no matter how much I knew it would scare me. (I just made sure to read the rest of it earlier in the day! 😉 )
Natasha Farrant, Time for Jas
An absolutely beautiful conclusion to one of my favorite-ever MG series. When I finished reading, I literally cried even though it wasn’t a sad ending – I was just so full of emotion! I loved this book SO MUCH. It’s funny – sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious! – and zany and fabulous, with one of my favorite-ever big, quirky literary families (who wouldn’t want to hang out with the Gadsbys? they’re so much fun!), but it’s also a book that really profoundly looks at the questions of why we make art and how creativity works. It’s a deeply compassionate look at complex, sometimes incredibly painful and yet still loving family dynamics, and what it’s like to be someone who doesn’t fit in to the norm, and and and…
Anne Nesbet, Cloud and Wallfish
This book is utterly BRILLIANT. It’s exhilaratingly smart and fun, a wild ride from the very beginning, when 11-year-old Noah is picked up from school in Virginia by his parents only to be told his name isn’t really Noah, he isn’t really 11 after all, and they’re heading to East Berlin (this is set in 1989, when the Wall was still up) IMMEDIATELY, using an all-new set of names and a made-up history he urgently has to memorize….oh, and that from now on, he can’t ask any questions, because SOMEONE will always be listening from the moment they arrive in East Berlin!
It’s a fascinating and enormously fun story full of secrets and codes and mysteries, the setting is incredibly rich…and oh, the emotional developments as Noah makes a true friend in one of his neighbors and is drawn into her own painful and mysterious story!
This was an utterly compulsive read from beginning to end, I enjoyed every moment of it, and again, the ending made me cry in a very, very good way.
Jewell Parker Rhodes, Bayou Magic
Beautiful magical realism full of rich family relationships, strong women and girls, and beautiful writing. It isn’t fast-paced, but it is luscious! I looooved dipping into it a bit at a time and I always came out of each reading session feeling better about the world.
Emma Carroll, Strange Star
Magical, creepy, and so beautifully written and immersive. I devoured it within less than 24 hours! As someone who’s always been fascinated by Mary Shelley, I personally loved the masterful way Carroll built real history into her drama (and played with echoes of Frankenstein, too!), but this book would be just as much fun for someone who’d never heard of the Shelleys in their life. The voices of the characters are utterly compelling, the story is exciting and scary, and even when I was most filled with dread, I could not stop reading.
Sheila Grau, Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions
This book is full of wacky, funny, gross-out fun AND an enormous amount of real heart, and I loved it. Runt Higgins is a non-morphing werewolf who was left as a baby at Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions for his own protection. Now – in hopes of finding his parents again – he’s trying out for the elite Junior Henchman training program, with the help of his wonderful group of friends, including Frankie, a Frankenstein-style created boy whose head pops off when he gets too upset, Syke the hamadryad who can swing from tree to tree, and the crowd of sweet, shuffling zombies for whom Runt’s become responsible. The characters are all fabulous and very funny.
It’s such a great mixture of fun and humor and genuinely creepy moments, and what carries it all through is Runt’s true sweetness, his unstoppable optimism and his deep love for his created family. I enjoyed every minute of this book SO MUCH.
Lucy Worsley, Eliza Rose
I absolutely devoured this book, a delicious historical novel set in Tudor England, with a fabulously sharp and spiky narrator who is the cousin (and rival) of Henry VIII’s ill-fated wife Katherine Howard. The truth is, I’m not sure exactly which genre to class it in, as it breaks some of the “rules” of children’s literature – it looks from the cover like an MG novel, and starts with Eliza at 12, but by the end of the book she’s 20 and has been dealing for years with the questions of how to operate in a licentious and brutal court. There aren’t any explicit sex scenes, but the issues discussed are certainly adult…as, of course, teenage girls were expected to be in that era.
It’s all incredibly addictive, smart and entertaining and perfectly handled. I loved that Worsley let her heroine be sharp and unlikeable at various points, with her pride getting in the way of her own good. I loved Eliza’s voice – and oh, I swooned over her romance! And the historical era is conveyed beautifully throughout. I was already a huge fan of Worsley’s historical nonfiction, and now I can’t wait to read her next novel too!
Thanks so much for the lovely feedback I’ve gotten for “Flying Magic” on Facebook, email and elsewhere! It really, really means a lot to me.
If you recall, “Flying Magic” was written on commission for the winner of the Con-or-Bust auction earlier this year…and now one more reader is going to get the chance to commission a new short-short story from me, selecting any character from any of my novels as the protagonist! Winner’s choice. 🙂