Monthly Archives: May 2013

Spring Walk in Clapham Wood…

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We wanted to see the bluebells this year, so took a quick walk through Clapham Wood last week early one morning while it was still sunny (it was trying to sleet later that day) and got to see a number of other wonderful wild flowers.

Bluebells in Clapham Woods1 Red campion in Clapham Woods2  Deer in Clapham WoodsGreater Stitchwort & Bluebell in Clapham Wood3New foliage in Clapham WoodsSpurge in Clapham Woods2Bug on Cow Parsley in Clapham Woods1Greater Stitchwort & Speedwell in Clapham WoodsBugle in Clapham Woods1

                                                                                                                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INDIE EBOOK – Review of Time Sniffers – Shadow World series by C.S. Lakin

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I have not been reading or writing about self-published books, because when I first acquired a Kindle a couple of years ago, the dross I had to wade through convinced me that Life was too short to bother. However, with the market share of self-published books steadily increasing and a number of writers I respect making the decision to publish their own work, this stance was no longer possible if I wanted to keep up with events in the publishing world. So, here is my first review of self-published author C.S. Lakin’s offering.

time sniffersThis ebook is a YA science fiction adventure, very much aimed at the early/mid-teen market. Bria Harrison, brilliant teenage daughter of two prominent scientists, searches for her mother, whom she insists is alive, despite the devastating explosion at the National Laboratory. While re-creating her mother’s last experiment in her basement, Bria, her autistic brother Dylan, and four friends cause a rip in time-space – and out of the resultant black hole tumbles K-Six, a time sniffer who has come to get them.

The blurb chatters on for a few more lines, but as it contains a number of spoilers I have decided to leave it there. The intriguing title and well-written sample convinced me to download this book. But would the subsequent story hold me?

Written in Bria’s viewpoint in first person, the start of this novel is emotional as she and her family grapple with the death of her brilliant mother. The trauma and grief caused by the bereavement is well depicted and I also found Dylan’s autism believable. But Bria becomes convinced her mother isn’t dead, the pace starts to pick up and the adventure shifts into top gear.

Lakin set herself a hard task – Bria and Dylan are accompanied by a veritable posse of friends and companions. So, in addition to narrating a fairly complex time-travelling story where the party of youngsters visit a variety of very different worlds, Lakin also has to ensure that we learn about each of the group’s personal journey and what impact all the danger and adventure is having. Writing science fiction is a technically demanding task – which is why there are so many mediocre efforts out there. But, Lakin manages to braid the unfolding action, the changing backdrops and the various personal crises besetting the group very deftly. There is even a spot of romance…

I found Bria’s character and narration convincing and the story compelling – I certainly wanted to know what was going to happen next. Lakin manages to produce a clear story arc for each character and in addition to providing a satisfying conclusion to all the excitement, she also has a twist that sets the team off on their next adventure. Altogether, an entertaining, engrossing read with some interesting ideas about Time and our conception of the universe. I shall certainly be looking for more books by this author.
8/10

Review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

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This book was on my ‘To Read’ was a looong time – and finally I got around to it…

Christopher Boone is fifteen and has Asperger’s Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human curious incidentbeings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour’s dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.

This short book caused a huge fuss when it first came out in 2003 – and having finally read it, I now know why. Haddon has managed to masterfully inhabit the skin of a teenager who cannot cope with human emotions, suffers from sensory overload and compensates by retreating into mathematical formulae and logical list-making. As a result, when confronted by major events – like being told of the death of his mother, for instance – Christopher tells us what he had to eat that evening and that he went to bed and fell fast asleep.

This doesn’t mean that Christopher is incapable of loving – but that he finds it difficult to understand or relate to his feelings. So when he discovers Wellington, the standard poodle who lives next door, skewered by a garden fork to the lawn, he resolves to find out who murdered it – even when told repeatedly by his father that he mustn’t interfere. He even overcomes his reluctance to engage with strangers in order to ask if anyone has seen anything suspicious – trouble is, he cannot process the heavy hints that a well-meaning neighbour gives him about his own domestic set-up.  His inability to process information that the reader clearly understands gives us greater insights into Christopher’s capacity to engage with the world, while also providing some comedy, albeit the darker, lump-in-your-throat variety. Books that make me both want to weep and laugh hold a special place in my heart – and this one joins that select few.

Haddon not only manages to give us an idea of what it must be like to experience the world while coping with Asperger’s – he also provides us with the daily challenges facing Christopher’s carers. I found myself wondering how you’d survive when the strong-willed, highly intelligent individual in your life retreats into black silence when he encounters a series of the wrong coloured cars on his morning bus ride…

But don’t go away with the notion that this is some worthy, high-mindedly literary attempt to give the rest of us an appreciation of what being born with Asperger’s can entail – the story that powers Christopher’s narration is a mystery. And while we learn who did do it, we also learn what the strains were that led up to the deed and Christopher’s unwitting role in the whole affair. It will be a book that will stay with me for a very long time – and if you want an outstanding example of character-led fiction, then this is a must-read book. Come to think of it – this is a must-read book, anyway.
10/10

The Adventures of Mike and SJ – Episode 4

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This thread started on a forum Mike and I shared, when we started playing off each other about this alternative/fantasy persona we each gave ourselves. Since then, we’ve started writing a novel together and Mike has had a number of books published as Michael D. Griffiths (The Chronicles of Jack Primus, Part I, The Chronicles of Jack Primus, Part II, Eternal Aftermath) while I’ve been busy rewriting several books and establishing my Creative Writing classes at Northbrook College. But though he writes horror and I write sci fi, when we get together, we write… differently! So I thought I’d put a slice of our combined madness on my blog…

Wow

SJ sure has a lot of cool things in here guest room. I guess since her family has lived her for so long these old artifacts just sort of pile up.   Still, why does she let her place go when she has all these old jewels lying around? She could probably just sell a few of these off and be fine.

teaThis Orb is the best though. I can’t stop staring at it.  SJ is off making tea again. Does she have to do that like eight times a day? I must have dozed off. Where was I? Wow this Orb thing almost seems to be glowing. Hmm that is strange. Wasn’t I sitting on the other side of the bed?

Huh, what is SJ all worried about now? She is all in a tizzy about the long drive I asked her to go on. Shoot – after that stupid tank museum, I feel like taking a break.

Chepstow Castle in Wales? I don’t remember asking her to take me there at all. She must be drinking too much tea. But it does sound cool. Oh it’s in Wales, even better!

Sheesh she acts like it is so far. Driving from here to Wales is like going on a wood run back home. Big deal. She says she can take me in the morning. Sweet. It is about time we saw some real castles. Now… where did I leave those Samual Smiths?

***

Thank goodness our day out at Bovington went off smoothly – no ‘wax’ incidents, I’m pleased to say. Altho’ Mike wasn’t in the best of moods.

I thought he’d enjoy seeing all those cool tanks, with their riveting history. But he grumbled constantly about the car journey. Kept telling me to ‘open her up’ and ‘put the pedal to the metal’. Whatever that means. I’ve got perfectly respectable mats in my little Ford Fiesta, I’ll have you know. And as for ‘opening her up’ – as I kept telling him HOW??? There were always cars ahead of us. So then he’d jab me in the ribs and yell, ‘There’s a space, go on, just zip by…’ When we’d have been smeared across the radiator grill of some 42 tonner coming towards us.

And halfway around Bovington museum, when I’d just got onto explaining to him the crucial role of the Sherman T in WW2, he got all fidgety and wanted to know whether there were any swords or suits of armour. So we had a nice cup of tea and went home again. With him still moaning about the traffic, all the cars, the speed I was driving at… Meaning, I was obeying all the speed restrictions (there’s lots and lots, by the way.) I was taking extra care to make sure I wasn’t breaking any rules, because there was this black SUV four or five cars back. It tailed us all the way to Bovington and all the way back…

So when we got home to a tasty, nourishing meal of spaghetti hoops on toast (Mike grumbled about that too. Bit of a cheek from someone who served up rat burgers night after night, when I was his guest…) my jaw grazed the floor, when he announced that he wanted to drive to Wales the following day. Wales! He’d been nearly cross-eyed with frustration on the drive to Bovington. Wales was a whole lot further… But – nope, I couldn’t talk him out of it. Mike wanted to go to Chepstow Castle. When I mentioned the price of fuel, he just sniggered and said I should think about selling some of the cool stuff in my spare room.

I smiled and said it was too precious. I mean, I know my signed copy of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather would be worth a bit – even with 42_12_6---The-New-Severn-Bridge_webthe crayon drawing little Johnny did of the pig arriving at Crumley’s all over the first 30 pages… But I couldn’t part with it. I don’t ever part with a book…

So, this morning we set off. And now… here we are. Finally arrived in Chepstow. Thank goodness. If I’d had to spend another hour in the car with Mr Why-aren’t-we-there-yet, one of us would have ended up on the grass verge. And it wouldn’t necessarily have been Mike…

And after raising a second mortgage on the house to pay for the fuel to get here – Mike threw a tantrum cos I wouldn’t take us to St Justinans Country Hotel for our stay. Accused me of being mean! Well, then I lost it. Parked on a double yellow – hauled him out’ve the car and took him to the nearest hole in the wall, punched in my PIN number and showed him the extent of my wealth. He had the grace to look a bit ashamed, but still went on muttering about the ‘stuff in my spare room’.

So, we’ve ended up here, at the Rat and Dog Inn on a ‘bargain’ package. Meaning our rooms would make the average wardrobe look spacious. Never mind. I’m too tired to care. And tomorrow, we’re off on a proper tour of the Castle. I think *yawn* Mike’s headed down to the bar. Maybe his waxed hairdo will keep them all amused with his beer-sucking trick…

Hope… it’ll… be… ok…zzzzzzzzzz

Review of Cosmic Crash – Book 2 of The Space Penguins series by L.A. Courtney

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Any publication that encourages primary-age children to read and enjoy science fiction is going to get a thumbs-up by me. My granddaughter and I acquired the first two books at the school’s Book Fair, where I was dismayed to see the welter of sugar-pink and purple covers covered with sparkling stars about pets, dolls and fairies intended for girls.

A friendly Year 5 girl nudged Frankie. ‘Look in the Boys section. There’s some cool adventure books there.’

spacepenguinsShe was right. That was where we found the Space Penguins books, which Frankie scooped up, flicking through the pages. She immediately decided she wanted to take these home because of the enjoyably madcap illustrations.

What’s black and white, and flies faster than the speed of light? The Space Penguins! They’re the ice-cool crew of the spaceship Tunafish. With their pioneering flying skills and resistance to the deep freeze, these intergalactic avians are going where no fin has gone before. Captain T Krill, Rocky Waddle, Fuzz Allgrin and Splash Gordon are on a mission to explore new planets, rescue alien life, and battle their former comrade-in-wings: Dark Wader. Alert! Alert! In Cosmic Crash! the penguins splash-land on a watery planet, they find themselves in the tentacles of a monstrous sea creature. Can they escape with their ship in one piece or are they well and truly sunk?

As you can tell by the blurb, the books are delivered with a stream of puns, shamelessly plugging into science fiction classics with the wordplay around the names of the characters – and using non-stop adventure to keep young readers and listeners hooked. Each of the penguins has well-defined characteristics, and the dialogue had both of us laughing aloud at times – though there were a number of jokes only I got. Though I’m quite comfortable with that as the best children’s books recognise that adults can spend significant chunks of their lives reading stories aloud and reward us accordingly.

I like the premise that NASA decided penguins were better suited to space travel than humans as they can swim through zero gravity without losing control and are far better acclimatised to the cold of deep space. Their ship, the Tunafish is equipped with an extensive supply of frozen fish and a cool onboard computer – and they are ready for the next daft adventure. Is the story believable? Not really – but it features one emergency after another to test the space penguins’ courage and ingenuity. Needless to say, they all emerge with credit – however, they still haven’t managed to evade their nemesis, former crew member Dark Wader, which sets up the team for the next adventure in Galaxy Race!, the next book in the series. I don’t think Frankie and I will be waiting for the school book fair before we get hold of it, though…
8/10