The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross + exclusive Q&A with author Leife Shallcross

Release Date: May 2018
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Hachette, Australia)

“I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both. I am the Beast. The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time. My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded. My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again. And now I might lose her forever.”

Firstly, we would like to give our special thanks to Hachette Publishers: Date A Book Team for an Advanced Review Copy we received at their exclusive Blogger Nighte and to author Leife Shallcross for being part of our personal read along journey and taking part in our exclusive blog interview. Such an exciting experience as we engaged in a read along with 2 amazing bloggers “Sydney Editor 1” and “Tien’s Blurb” who are also dear friends of ours and the author, Leife Shallcross herself! (Now a dear friend to us all) A lot of fun as we communicated spoiler free updates to each other and Leife sharing her writing experience and inspirations with us as we read along.

Our Thoughts
This was so beautifully written, I felt like I was reading a classical, melodic, fairytale with all the feels that really came to life in my mind!!! An amazing story that developed beautifully, fantastically well-defined characters, the author did such a great job in reimagining the tale that’s old as time and really took us deep into the heart of the beast. This is a story no one has heard before and a must read now. Beautiful writing and language, amazing characters you grow to love and a beast who I just want to hug!  Oh.. the love.. the feels.. for a first time in a very long time, I found this to be a book I needed to take a moment of silence for right at the end, it was that beautiful.
– Annie

This book is so beautifully written, you’ll feel the magic, the intricate storytelling, the love, all the feels that you can expect from a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I love that it’s set around about the 17th-century era, the restraint, the language and politeness all add to the charming storytelling. I love the characters, my fav has to be Marie. I’m also totally in love the Beast too as you’ll see everything from his perspective! This is a wonderful, magical and a timeless book and retelling. I only wish it came in hard copy as I feel I would be re-reading this book anytime I need to escape reality. There are so many parts that hit me right in the heart.
– NJ

Exclusive Q&A with author Leife Shallcross

What is the title of your debut novel and what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always loved fairy tales (I use them a lot in my writing), and I particularly love Beauty and the Beast because the two protagonists actually get to spend time falling in love. But one of the big story problems for me was always the question of how you make a romantic hero out of a man who has done something so awful that someone was compelled to put him under a curse for 100 years. So I wanted to explore that. I also wanted to create a fairy tale world I could just sink into and lose myself. My novel is The Beast’s Heart, and will be published by Hodder & Stoughton (Hachette) in May 2018. It’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast from the Beast’s perspective.

What sort of research goes into writing a book like this and how did you come up with the characters for your story? Were you reading other books or going online to search how one may dress at a particular time?
I did a fair bit of research into the historical details. There were so many little bits and pieces that I had to tweak to make them accurate! For example, in France in the 17th Century, people were usually married on the steps of the church, rather than inside at the altar (I didn’t know that before I started!) I did a lot of my research online, but obviously this means I had to be a bit careful about using reliable sources. Contemporary paintings are a great resource for things like food, clothes and table settings, but I had to bear in mind these were usually painted to hang in the houses of the rich and convey a sense of their wealth. I used original sources where I could (like church registers for names – it’s surprising how many are available on the net). My characters are mostly the ones you find in the usual B&B fairy tale, but I have tried to give them their own personalities, motivations and story arcs. I’ve added a few extra ones of my own devising, though!

If your book became a film adaptation, who would you cast to play your characters?
Such a tricky question! Perhaps Aidan Turner for the Beast. Or Theo James. And maybe Maisie Williams or Lily Collins for my heroine. I think you’d need someone very striking to play the Fairy. Perhaps Tilda Swinton or Eva Green?

Are you a reader yourself? What is your favourite genre and your favourite book?
Of course! I read a lot of fantasy and sci fi, and predictably I particularly love fairy tale retellings. I subscribe to the belief that before you can be a good writer, you have to be a devoted reader. But how am I supposed to choose a favourite book???? Argh! All time favourites include Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne-Jones, Beauty, by Robin McKinley and Red As Blood by Tanith Lee. Recent faves are Uprooted by Naomi Novik and the Shades of Magic series by V E Schwab. I could go on forever…

If you had the chance to create a soundtrack for “The Beast’s Heart” what would the track list look like?
Here’s a few:
-Green, by Alex Lloyd
-1000 Oceans, by Tori Amos
-Heartlines, by Florence & the Machine
-Photograph, by Ed Sheeran
-If Time is All I Have, by James Blunt.

During your writing journey, what was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Find your writing community (and it can’t just be any old writing community, it has to be the right one. Your writing community. Your tribe. People who are going to get what you’re trying to write.) Writing can be a very lonely business, and it’s not just about being a good writer. You have to know about the industry and how to be professional about your craft. I’ve learned so much invaluable stuff from the wonderful, generous people in my writing community (the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild). I don’t think I’d be here today without them.

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Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

To simply call this a fairytale retelling would do this story an injustice.. This is a uniquely, magical story in its own right…

This would be one of the best books I have read this year… A story of mystery, identity, magical betrayal and intrigue.. A story of one crown – two women: Mina, whose heart is made of glass.. Lynet, who is made of snow.. both brought to life by a magician the kingdom is taught to fear..

A step-mother/step-daughter relationship based in a kingdom in need of only one queen. At sixteen years of age, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees their king for the first time, Mina makes it her mission to win the king’s heart through her beauty to become queen and finally know what love is. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother to Lynet, who at aged fifteen, is the  splitting image of her late mother but one day Lynet discovers why… A magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order but rather than filling the shoes of her late mother, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. What started as a bond between step-mother and step-daughter may soon become a fight to the death for the crown…

 I gave this book a standing ovation. This story takes you into a whole new world of twists, turns and mystery whicht left me gaping, page turning and confused as to which character had my allegiance. This story had fantastic world building and was mildly paced so it allowed me to immerse myself into this new world as well as the character development but the suspensful plot got the heart pumping and captivated me to the very end!!! Such an amazing story and I highly recommend this to fans of fairytale retellings (although I find this book is more than that) and fans of YA Fantasy Fiction… This is on the shelf as one of the best of 2017!!!

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me a Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie

Heart of Mist by Helen Scheuerer

The first installment of “The Oremere Chronicles” this is a gripping fantasy series of epic proportions!!!

Heart of Mist is a dark and interesting tale set in a realm where toxic mist sweeps the lands and magic is forbidden, all Bleak wants is a cure for her power. Still grieving the death of her guardian and dangerously self-medicating with alcohol, Bleak is snatched from her home by the Commander of the King’s Army, and summoned to the capital. But the king isn’t the only one interested in Bleak’s powers.
The leader of an infamous society of warriors, the Valia Kindred, lays claim to her as well, and Bleak finds herself in the middle of a much bigger battle than she anticipated.

I found this lived up to its initial pitch – it really was an interesting and dark tale of a woman’s lonely journey through self-destruction, loss but finally owning her own destiny. An intense story that is action packed but doesn’t flow too quickly for the reader. There’s a great balance between an intense story line, well defined characters and action in a world of fantasy fiction. I am not a fan of e-books so this took me awhile to read but I really made an effort to read this as I found the premise to be very promising and the concept of the main character, Bleak’s, forbidden magic captivated me. Imagine having a power so forbidden because you’re in a realm where magic is forbidden and the only way to manage your day to day activity is through drowning your power with alcohol. I really enjoyed this book now I will find a hardcopy and re-read it!!! This is very well written and the world building was so well done it doesn’t bore you. If anything, it held my attention.

Many thanks to author, Helen Scheuerer for giving me an Advanced Review E-Copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie

My Side of the Diamond by Sally Gardner

Release Date: October 2017
Publisher: Allen and Unwin Publishers

An interesting book that I flew through in a matter of hours.

What starts off with character profiling and world building, I thought this would be a crime/thriller – a case of ‘who done it’? – however, it sends you on a rollercoaster ride to something completely different.

The book is told in various perspectives however it focuses on Jazmin Little who has been shunned ever since her best friend Becky disappeared – however, Becky didn’t just disappear – she jumped off a tall building and seemingly never reached the ground!!! Like she simply vanished into thin air!! Since Becky’s disappearance, the question remains – did Jazmin have something to do with her friend’s disappearance? Or was it more to do with Icarus? an infamous character you get to know as you read the book.

A short book approx. 215 pages, It had a futuristic Frankenstien vibe to this story. The characters’ voices were projected quite well throughout the story though some of the dialogue got a little annoying – I guess teenagers communicate a little differently these days. As the story goes on, I found myself turning the page wanting to know what happens next and where all of this “mess” was coming from. I can definitely see a sequel coming out of this one. I liked the plot and how we get to know each character by the page – the story isn’t an info dump, it progresses and the plot thickens at each turn. I recommend this to fans of YA Sci-Fi and Thrillers.

Special thanks to Allen dnd Unwin Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

How would you react if your father asked you to become a ghost bride? Would you agree if it meant a future of prosperity

This would have to be listed as one of my favourite reads for 2017!!!

Though ruled by British overlords in Colonial Malaya, the Chinese Malayans hold ancient customs, values and superstitions close to heart. Set in the sleepy port town of Malacca, this takes us back to the 1880’s and follows the story of Li Lan, our female protagonist and the daughter of a genteel yet bankrupt family with few prospects. Li Lan receives an unusual proposal from a wealthy and influential family – the Lims – who propose she become a ghost bride for their late and only son who recently died under mysterious circumstances. An ancient custom, becoming a ghost bride was said to placate a restless spirit and guarantee prosperity for the bride – but what happens when this restless spirit starts to haunt the potential ghost bride? What happens when rather than following regular protocols to rid a restless spirit from the human world, Li Lan embarks on a journey that leads her to a peculiar supernatural cross over.

Exploring old Malayan folklore, superstitions and intertwining of Malaysian culture with true historical events – this haunting, dark yet fascinating tale kept me turning the page to the very end! I was captivated from the first chapter and I strongly recommend this to fans of Frances Watts’ “The Peony Lantern”

Many thanks to Allen and Unwin Publishers who gave a copy to me as a prize for a competition I won.

This is one great book!!!

-Annie

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can’t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck. The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them. Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything but she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. On a random day, Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate and her first crush. It wasn’t enough Jonah pick pockets her, he also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love

This book was interesting. I feel the author has grown since her first novel as like everything else, practice and experience makes perfect. This was a great mix of serious and quirky! The author did very well in writing a novel that confused me in the beginning (lol but in a good way) as I wasn’t sure whether this was a Contemporary YA novel or a Fantasy YA novel but turns out it’s a funky, quirky, contemporary novel that has a uniquely clever way of telling an important story. At the end of reading this novel I read the reviews and it was it was interesting to see how one particular reader interpreted the ‘fantasy element’ as potentially the protagonist’s overactive imagination – I guess I will have to let you as the reader decide. The way the story was told made me feel the author had very important issues she really wanted to raise awareness about but through a story that did not making the reader feel so overwhelmed or heavy hearted in the end. The pace of this book was stable from beginning to end – it wasn’t full action packed or info dumped, it just travelled along nicely but as you continue reading the deep, important issues arise. Issues such as mental illness, facing your fears and even self-harm are covered in this book which, in this day in age I felt to be very important for teens to read. The author really did well in using metaphors to describe these facets which made it all so real, even gave me a better understanding as I know people who suffer anxiety and depression – it painted a clearer picture. I have to say I did enjoy this book, I found it to be a clever story with funny dialogue but a frightening storyline. I believe this is more suitable to older teens and adults.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for sending me an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.

Due for release: end of August 2017
-Annie

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness + Exclusive Q&A with Patrick Ness

At 12:07am, A monster shows up.. As they do..

A monster that is wild, ancient.. different.. not one you would expect..

Connor O’Mally is the central focus of this monster and he wants the most dangerous thing of all.. Connor’s truth.

Author Patrick Ness has released a few epic novels – titles you may recall: ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go” and “Release” however “A Monster Calls” is the first of his novels to hit the box office!!!

Thoughts on the book:
I flew through this book in a matter of days, it was an amazing story one I believe is suitable for all ages. It has a strong element of truth to the storyline with the added magical twist that makes it work so very well. I found it very fast paced and enjoyable. What was also very notable was the words of wisdom that is intertwined with this fantastical story – the truth will always set you free no matter how bad you believe the truth is. I highly recommend readers of all ages to pick this one up before watching the movie.

Thoughts on the movie:
Patrick Ness not only wrote the book “A Monster Calls” he also wrote the screen play for the movie adaptation. I had the pleasure of attending a private screening courtesy of Walker Books Publishers and I have to say, having often felt the deflation of watching a film adaptation that goes against a favourite book, I found the movie did the book justice. It’s a family movie that has everything – a visual feast, humour.. even a tear jerker – though I must admit, some scenes may be scary for younger viewers. The cast all delivered their parts extremely well – I was engrossed in the film from start to finish.

“A Monster Calls” kicks off in cinemas around Australia on 27 July 2017. For a sneak peek of this awesome movie, here’s the trailer!!

Special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of “A Monster Calls” and for inviting me to a private screening of the movie adaptation.

Exclusive Q&A with Patrick Ness:

How did you feel when you found out that the book was going to be turned into a film?
Well, it was great, but I am always skeptical. I’m skeptical about everything, even my books – I never believe they’re going to exist until they do, with a film even more so. So much had to be in place that was completely out of my hands. I was optimistic: there were really great creative partners, who knew what they were doing and really wanted to make this happen. But I thought, movies don’t happen to people like me! So I didn’t ever count my chickens – I’m still not counting my chickens!

You have written several screenplays. What did you find interesting about adapting your own book into a screenplay? How different a writing experience was it?
I’d been very protective of the material right the way through so I held off from selling it for a very long time. Then I thought I’d actually like to write the screenplay because I thought I knew how the story works and how it could be changed. You don’t always know that something’s going to work; you just hope.

I’ll always consider myself a novelist because in a novel, for good or ill, all the choices are yours. You’re in charge of it and it’s one hundred per cent an expression of you. That’s a great freedom and a great responsibility and a great challenge – the tyranny of all that choice! It’s hard, but really rewarding, and I love it.

Screenplays, on the other hand, are kind of like puzzles: a movie at best if a long short story, so how do you take the essence of your story and communicate everything in it in a shorter space? That kind of creative challenge can spur you on. I’ve always found limitations can be a great spurt to creativity.

What needed to change in the story? How did you feel about altering things from the book? Was there a strand from the book that you wanted to be emphasized in the film?
The bullies get emphasized in the film because they’re Conor’s connection to the outside world and, given Conor’s world is so interior (he’s always in his home, or his grandmother’s house, or in the tales), it’s important to have this visual link to the outside world in his film. We need to know what the outside looks like, and how the world regards him, and how small his world has shrunk.

There were some changed Director J.A. Bayona wanted – the director always brings things. He was very interested in the idea of legacy and what a parent leaves behind. So he had the idea that Conor loves drawing because his mother is an artist, and this works perfectly visually because it links right into the tales, which erupt from his drawings. It comes together just gorgeously at the end. Throughout the whole film there’s been a locked room in Conor’s grandmother’s house. At the end we discover that the grandmother has been making it into a room for Conor and it’s full of all his artworks and all his mother’s old drawing pads. The final shot shows him opening one up and finding a drawing of the monster on his mother’s shoulder, so she has clearly seen the monster herself, probably when she lost her father. So the monster had come for her as well and they share that. It’s a beautiful addition.

Were you involved in the casting process for the film? What do the individual actors bring to your characters?
Casting is half desperate desire and half chance. You make lists of actors you want and they’re just ridiculous because, if you were to get them all, the salaries alone would be $300 million. Liam Neeson is so perfect for the role it’s almost slightly obvious, but we thought, let’s try him anyway. And he turned out to love the book, and he’s a truly lovely man so getting him involved felt like a bit of a blessing.

As for Sigourney Weaver, I don’t think we thought she’d be available, but then Bayona called me one day and said, “We’ve got Sigourney Weaver,” and I thought, whoa! And she’s perfect – she is physically perfect and her manner is perfect.

Bayona and the producer Belén Atienza suggested Felicity Jones and got her before The Theory of Everything – before she was too busy! So that was a great bit of timing. I once talked to a director who said casting is important but, in some ways, if you get good people, the film will sort of shape itself to fit them. But still, how amazing to get Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver for a film that didn’t have a huge budget! And among all the kids who were auditioned, Lewis MacDougall just stood out. He’s auditioned for three things in his life and he’s got all three, so that says it all really.

Did you spend much time on set? What did you enjoy most about the film-making process?
I was involved in the process all the way through. The director, J.A. Bayona, and the producer, Belén Atienza, were very generous and very collaborative. There were lots of script meetings in Barcelona where we’d talk and talk about scripts, scenes and order. We hashed it out until we were all happy. I was on set about ten or twelves times. It was a fairly lengthy shoot because they had a juvenile lead, so could only shoot a certain amount of hours a day. Throughout the whole process they would send me scenes. They would always ask me about additions to the dialogue – every single line of dialogue they were thinking of adding in. Sometimes actors suggest things on set, and some of it’s just fantastic and needs to be woven in.

The first two weeks were spent with Liam Neeson in a suit doing motion capture for the CGI monster. Because the monster is created using CGI, they had a big model of the monster’s head on set to give Lewis something to act to. And the final tale, which is set in a graveyard, was filmed in an abandoned hospital-studio on the outskirts of Barcelona, with a huge construction of a graveyard. It looked half impressive and half not there, but then in the film it looks amazing.

A Monster Calls is a very emotional novel. How difficult was it to translate into motion onto the screen?
I think we’re a good match, me and Bayona (Director J.A. Bayona). He’s very outwardly emotional and passionate, like a lot of directors are, and I’m very reserved (which doesn’t mean unemotional, just privately emotional). So I thought between us we could probably get to a really good central point which neither of us could get to on our own. I would always want to make sure the emotion is really true. I want ugly crying, not pretty crying. I don’t want any easy outs (not that Bayona would have gone for easy outs), and he probably instinctively distrusts lack of expression in emotion. So, together, we find the right path that most people are going to fall into.

In a movie it’s the performances that are going to do it, and all the actors understood that it’s not a movie about grief, but about sadness and anger. 

Both film and illustration are activities that transform a writer’s words into images. What do you feel about that visual process?
I’m not an artist, and I’m not a film director, so I felt a huge curiosity about how Jim Kay, the book’s illustrator, and Bayona would respond to my work. Jim is so talented! Some of the stuff he drew I could never have thought of and some of the stuff Bayona shot I could ever have thought of. That’s what you wish for – somebody who knows different things than you know and brings those to the work. The important thing for me always is to keep learning. I never want to be complacent – that’s why I wanted to do the screenplay myself. Even if I failed I wanted at least to try.

-Annie