POEM – Absence makes the heart hurt harder

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Loss-leached to brittle sticks,
my bones want to crumble.
Instead, they drag my
sad-sagged body through
the motions of a pointless life…

My lips are tired of forming
words to tell the space where
you should be, of things that
would matter. If you were
here to know and care…

My bed is a huddled heap of pain,
crowded by the cold acre of space
where you used to sleep.
While I yearn for your warmth
to melt my frigid longing…

My soul is frozen shut –
locked in an ice-gripped vice.
While I wallow in slo-mo torpor,
drugged useless by need of you…

…because you are gone.

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Distant Worlds – Welcomes Sammy HK Smith!

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Distant Worlds – Welcomes Sammy HK Smith!

sjhigbee:

Author interviews vary widely – and this one is a gem:) So I thought I’d share it with you…

Originally posted on Sophie E Tallis:

This is the third post of a brand new blog series, as I dip my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews.

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’sMeet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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To kick off the Distant Worldsstrand, over the next few weeks I will be…

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Dragon’s Loyalty Award

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I am delighted to accept Charles French’s nomination for the wonderfully named Dragon’s Loyalty Award. Charles French’s Words Reading and Writing blog is subtitled ‘And exploration of writing and reading’ which nicely sums up his whole approach, so it’s not a surprise that he is rapidly growing in popularity with his series of readable and informative articles that he publishes. He is also has a delightfully friendly, inclusive approach which guarantees a dragonawardwarm welcome to any passing visitor. If you haven’t already dropped in, I recommend you do so.

Meanwhile I have this Dragon Loyalty Award, thanks to Charles. The rules are:-

* Display the award certificate on your website.

* Announce your win with a post, and link to whomever presented your award.

* Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.

* Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post.

* Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

So, my 15 nominees are:-

Mhairi Simpson – Crazy Creative

Lizzie Baldwin – My Little Book Blog

Sara Letourneau’s Official Website & Blog

Michael D. Griffiths – Yig Prime

Joanna Maciejewska – Melfka

Sophie E. Tallis

Leiah Cooper – So I Read This Book Today

From Couch to Moon

Anastasia – Read and Survive

Zeke Teflon – Rip-roaring reviews

D. Parker – yadadarcyyada

Ionia Martin – Readful Things Blog

Siamese Mayhem – Musings on YA novels and pop culture

Humanity’s Darker Side – A book review blog

Dr Suzanne Conboy-Hill

Seven Interesting Things About Me – hm… it’s debatable whether the facts below are remotely interesting, but I tried to dredge up details many of my online friends wouldn’t necessarily know about me.

1. I spent a chunk of my childhood in Zambia, and when living with my grandparents I first flew unaccompanied from England to visit my parents in Africa when I was 8.

2. As a left-hander, I turn the paper sideways and write from top to bottom, a strategy I adopted at school to avoid smudging my writing.

3. I’m a writing addict and if I go more than 3 days without putting keyboard to paper, I turn a tad unreasonable.

4. I was born on a Wednesday and so were both of my children and my granddaughter.

5. I am the ultimate monotasker – the multi-tasking skill women are supposed to be endowed with has completely by-passed me.

6. I’m an insomniac.

7. I visualise each of my books as colours when I’m writing them.

How to Quickly Tweet Your Way to Blog Traffic

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sjhigbee:

I have a Twitter account and a blog and have sort of fallen sideways into using them heavily because I enjoy the interaction. But I’m conscious that I probably don’t use either all that effectively… If anyone else has that nagging feeling, this very helpful post I came across on Chris The Story Reading Ape’s blogsite may help.

Originally posted on Reflections:

Use Twitter to Increase Blog TrafficA reader was perplexed.

He wrote,

Janice – don’t suppose you’ve written anything about using Twitter?   I can’t get my head around it at all!

Getting blog traffic from Twitter can be as fast as actually writing a Tweet, so dubbed due to the fast nature of the writing.

According to recent statistics, 302 million people actively use Twitter each month.  Clearly, that’s a huge market that bloggers can tap.  Getting Twitter users to your site is easy and quick.

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Review of Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Tchaikovsky’s fascinating insectile epic fantasy series Shadows of the Apt has made him a major name in Fantasy circles – and rightly so. See my review of Empire in Black and Gold here. So when I encountered a book with his name on the cover featuring a spacescape, it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it off the shelves. Would I enjoy it?

childrenoftimeThe last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal array of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

That’s the tweaked blurb – unusually because I felt the book jacket version was rather a vanilla description of the really intriguing conflict Tchaikovsky posits in this generational ship odyssey. For Kern’s plans go very awry and the species that actually becomes uplifted isn’t Kern’s monkeys, at all…

As coincidence would have it, I’ve only recently read another space opera adventure featuring a generational ship and humans whose lives span an extended time. In Tchaikovsky’s version, however, the method used to elongate the crew’s lives sufficiently is for them to go into deep storage, along with the colonists stacked in the cargo holds, to be roused when necessary to deal with various emergencies. So when the captain encounters the problem of Kern’s formidable defences, he finds himself staying awake far long than he intended.

There is such a welter of unintended consequences and accidental outcomes in this tale, that it would have only taken a slightly different approach and a major tweak to the writing to turn this into a Douglas Adams-type farce. The storyline and Tchaikovsky’s detailed, knowledgeable account of how the species acquired the necessary intelligence to form a planet-wide society had me utterly engrossed.

Because there was a dealbreaker embedded in this book. There are tracts of ‘tell’ throughout, where Tchaikovsky resorts to omniscient pov to relay chunks of the story. Could he have done it differently? Probably – and if the story had been less engrossing, less exciting and more predictable I may well have abandoned it. But the initial premise held me and the ingenious, witty plotting had me captivated such that I was more than willing to give him a free pass on his mode of delivery.

He also made me care about both the wretched humans trapped aboard a ship that is slowly falling apart under them and the interesting beings down on the planet struggling to adapt to an evolutionary tweak not intended for them. Did he bring the story to a suitably satisfying conclusion? Oh yes, he certainly did. I don’t know if this is a precursor to a series of books set on Kern’s World. But if it is, I’m going to snapping them up as they become available. Tchaikovsky has taken an established genre by the scruff of its neck and turned it around in coolly interesting ways in much the same way The Shadow of the Apt series flipped around epic Fantasy.

And the bonus? He is genuinely one of the nicest blokes it has been my pleasure to encounter at various cons…
10/10

…give yer soul a wee treat and watch this…

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sjhigbee:

I took Seumas’ advice and stopped to watch the video – it made me grin and left me with a lump in my throat at the thought of what those folks are going through right now. If you haven’t yet seen it, take a look – it’s worth it… Oppa!

Originally posted on Seumas Gallacher:

…the clip above has been doing the rounds again on Facebook, and I have to ‘fess up, it hits me right in the ‘feels’… there’s sum’thing uplifting about the whole ‘Zorba music’ thing… and I’m aware that the video was made a coupla years ago… but given the turbulence and relative hardship that many of the Greek populace has undergone in recent times, I find it a singularly positive watch… most of the man-in-the-street Greeks are not responsible for the economic mismanagement and political sleight-of-hand that has brought such despair to families all over that country… like many of yeez Lads and Lassies of Blog Land, I visited Greece many years ago, I danced Zorba’s dance and indulged the ouzo, and had a terrific time with the locals… I wish them well… enjoy the thing once more, and let yer spirit and soul soar as mine has done…

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POEM – AFRICAN NIGHTS

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Syrup-thick African nights stroked
my skin, bathing me in
womb-warm stickiness.
Pupil-black African skies sprinkled my way
with pearl-sweet shafts of affection.
Blood-rich African earth powdered
my feet with silk-soft smoothness,
pillowing my walk with unconditional
care…

So why am I stranded on this northern shore
skewered by winter’s blast?
How come I am cornered under
the stained-orange glare of a bleak
plane-streaked sky? Why are
worm-filled clods of cold mud caking my
feet?

What did I do so wrong to lose
my African nights?

africannights

My Top Ten Literary Villains

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Being a fan of lists and having recently covered my favourite heroines here and my favourite heroes here, I thought it was about time I produced a list of my favourite villains. There is a caveat to this list – I avoided wandering into Spoiler Territory by divulging a villain that isn’t immediately apparent at the start of the book or series, so there are one or two omissions that I would have otherwise included. To make this list, the character in question has to be opposed, at least part of the time, to the aspirations of the protagonist(s). In no particular order, here they are:-

1. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Yep. I know everyone cites Voldermort, or He Who Must Not Be Named. And I’ll agree that he is dislikeable and Harrypotterclearly opposed to Harry. But he is also utterly unredeemable and behaves so outrageously obnoxiously, I keep waiting for him to twirl a moustache and cackle evilly. Rowling packs her books with plenty of antagonists, ranging from Draco Malfoy through to Gilderoy Lockhart. But Severus Snape, the horrible Potions Master is outstanding, both in his blatantly unfair behaviour and the heartbreaking backstory that explains his feelings towards Harry.

2. The Vogons from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams hitchhikersguideThe Vogons certainly tick all the boxes regarding sheer unpleasantness. These nasty aliens decide that Earth needs to be destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace by-pass – and are completely unmoved by the fact that the humans inhabiting our planet were unaware of their intention. In addition to vaporising the planet as per their planning regulations, they then compound their hatefulness by inflicting their atrocious poetry on everyone. They are truly memorably horrible villains.

3. Saruman from the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkeinreturnoftheking I regularly read that Sauron is the Big Bad in the Lord of the Rings. But as a villain, his threat is very diffuse and while he makes Sam and Frodo’s life hellish while they are carrying the ring, it is The White Wizard who causes a lot of the actual chaos they have to deal with. Initially he is working alongside Gandulf to keep the forces of Mordor at bay – until he is bribed with the promise of greater power to turn to the dark side. So he is not only a villain, he is a traitorous villain, who is also responsible for the scouring of the Shire – and don’t we love to spit on those rascals?

4. Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte WutheringheightsYes, I know – his reputation is as the starcrossed lover who is claimed by the ghostly Kathy, mostly thanks to the fey song by Kate Bush and the 1939 film adaptation starring Laurence Olivier as Heathcliffe. But if you go back to the book, Heathcliffe comes across as a boorish, embittered bully who makes his ward and his child’s life hell. Ellen, the servant telling the story, deeply dislikes him and as she recounts the story, the prickly boy who is picked up on the streets has a dire impact on the family who take him in. Catherine may have run wild on the moors with him and she may have even loved him, but she knew he would make a really bad husband, which is why – I think – she latched onto any excuse not to marry him…

5. President Snow from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne CollinsHungergames_poster And isn’t he a really nasty piece of work? While there has to be a very large organisation at his beck and call to run this autocratic, unfair system of government, President Snow is the public face of this system. And the private despot who arranges killings for those who fail to carry out his wishes. It is President Snow’s dislike of Katniss that influences what happens to her after her initial win, with ultimately catastrophic consequences…

titusgroan

6. Steerpike in The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake This gothic series, set in Castle Gormenghast, is something of an oddity in that although it is often described as a fantasy novel, there are no magic or paranormal elements. It’s an examination of what happens when those in power get complacent and far too steeped in tradition, allowing a villain like Steerpike to worm his way in and wreck far too many lives.

7. Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip PulmanNorthern-Lights The beautiful, accomplished and very charming Mrs Coulter is a deadly villain who only spares Lyra because she is her daughter. It doesn’t stop her imprisoning other children and torturing them in the name of science, though. Time and again, throughout the various adventures that befall Lyra, Mrs Coulter pops up to try and thwart the scientific investigations into Dust by any foul means she can.

8. Mr Teatime from Hogfather by Terry Pratchett hogfatherJonathan Teatime is the assassin hired by The Auditors to kill the Hogfather – Discworld’s version of Santa Claus. He seems a quietly spoken, mild mannered young man who insists his name is pronounced “Te-ah-tim-eh,” and gets very bothered when they don’t. And you really don’t want to upset him, because he is very, very casual about killing people, even when the Assassin’s Guild recommends they should be left alive… Terry Pratchett’s villains often have a redeeming feature or a thread of humanity about them – there are a select few that are beyond redemption and Mr Teatime is one of those few.

9. Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verneverne-20000 I read this book more years ago than I care to recall – but it has always stayed with me. Mostly because of Captain Nemo, whose wonderful submarine took his captors to parts of the planet they had never seen. But this depressed visionary is also an early template for all those mad geniuses who kept cropping up in James Bond films, building empires of incredible beauty and vision that would advance their own craving for power so that Bond was able to destroy them in a welter of death and fiery destruction with impunity.

10. Queen Jadis/The White Queen from The Chronicles of Nania by C.S. Lewis themagiciannephewQueen Jadis initially appears in The Magician’s Nephew and very nearly conquers Earth when she follows Digory and Polly back to their own time. And when she reappears in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe she has managed to become ruler of Nania, condemning the land to everlasting winter and being the cruel, capricious ruler that had depopulated her first conquered state of Charn, whose inhabitants all were killed by Jadis, rather than be ruled by anyone else. Truly, a very, very villainous character – and don’t let’s start on what she did to Aslan…

The near misses include Madam Mumblechook from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, whose casual cruelty towards the animals she tortures and deforms is truly shocking; the Grand High Witch from The Witches by Roal Dahl who takes a lot of beating for plain sheer nastiness and would definitely have made the list, but for the fact that I’d already mentioned her in my article about who I’d snog, marry or kill here; Alec D’Urberville from Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy, whose initial rape of poor Tess causes such havoc in her life; and Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost – the depiction of the beautifully patterned, upright serpent who manages to charm Eve into disobeying God is mesmerising and chilling. So there you have it, my top ten choices for the bad’uns that crop up in books. Do you agree with me? Who are the villains you love to hate?

Teaser Tuesday – 21st July

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TeaserTuesdays-ADailyRhythm3-300x203Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teasers:
‘The wind ruffled the pages; raindrops caught and tossed in the breeze spattered down, as if they too wanted to read decodedthe contents of this letter. Maybe it was because he had not slept well the night before; maybe it was because the letter had touched some hidden corner of his mind: the old man sat quiet for a long time after he had finished reading.’ P.97 of Decoded by Mai Jia, who is China’s bestselling espionage novelist, according to the cover.

It’s certainly an intriguing and very different read, and I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

Review of Vicious Grace – Book 3 of The Black Sun’s Daughter by M.L.N. Hanover

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For those of you who are interested, M.L.N. Hanover is also the prolific and best-selling author Daniel Abraham of the Long Price quartet and is part of the writing duo responsible for producing The Expanse series as James S.A Corey, see my review of Leviathan’s Wake here. I also reviewed the first book in The Black Sun’s Daughter, Unclean Spirits here. So when I came across Vicious Grace nestling on the shelves, it was obvious I’d scoop it up and take it home.

viciousgraceEven if she routinely risks her life to destroy demonic parasites that prey on mortals, she now has friends, colleagues, a trusted lover and new-found confidence in the mission she inherited from her wealthy, mysterious uncle. Her next job might just rob her of all the above. At Grace Mrmorial Hospital in Chicago, something dark is stirring. Patiends are going missing and research subjects share the same sinister dreams. Jayné is primed to take on whatever is causing the nightmares – but the greatest danger lies much, much closer to home.

I’d enjoyed the first book and thought the series had the potential to be an interesting additional to the Urban Fantasy genre, but one book does not a series make. So does this third in the series still tick the boxes? Oh yes. The conflicted, angst-ridden heroine in the first book has matured into a strong, confident character who is far less wafty. I really enjoyed that progression. All too often I encounter protagonists who don’t appear particularly changed, either for good or ill, in a series. Hanover is far too smart and accomplished a writer to commit such an error – and he was also brave enough to make her less likeable in the first book. So despite the fact her life has been turned upside down as she and her team battle demons who parasitise humans in order to create as much chaos and misery has possible, she now has a tight unit around her to help. Or they are at the start of this particular adventure…

It’s a really smart move to give this appealing heroine, narrated in first person viewpoint, such a blinder as she embarks on yet another demonic-blasting adventure. And in a particular twist, one of the main beliefs she has held from the outset of her paranormal adventures is utterly undercut. If and when you read this book, you’ll know the moment when you get to it – I dropped the book, I was so shocked. And these days, that doesn’t happen all that often. But it is such a smart, clever move, that I sat and finished the book in one session – no way was I going anywhere until I knew how this all worked out.

The writing is clever throughout.I love that Jayné notices random people as she ventures into enemy territory, demonstrating her jittery attention to detail. It also put me on edge reading it. And the relationship upheavals that take place were completely convincing – even though I didn’t want them to happen. Hanover handles the pacing perfectly – but be warned, while there isn’t any of the steamy sex often associated with this genre, this would not be a book I’d be happy for my young teens to read. Hanover’s books often contain a dark thread of horror – and the scene in the bowels of the hospital during the denouement of the story had me swallowing hard. But the promise shown in Unclean Spirits has flowered into a memorable series that will be staying with me for some time to come. 10/10