Monthly Archives: November 2014

Review of The Secrets of Blood and Bone by Rebecca Alexander

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This sequel to the intriguing The Secrets of Life and Death follows the same format – a dual narrative in the viewpoint of Edward Kelley, former assistant to the famous Dr John Dee; and the contemporary strand in the voice of Jackdaw Hammond. Does this book build on the promise of the first one?

Venice, 16th century. Having undertaken a mission of the upmost discretion, occultist and scholar Edward Kelley finds the answers he seeks are more perilous than can be believed, and his ultimate salvation means confronting the darkest deeds of his past.

secretsofbloodandboneEngland, 21st century. Running from her past and hiding from her future, Jackdaw Hammond inherits an old house in the middle of nowhere. But her fresh start is threatened by a wild magic similar to her own. The legacy of Edward Kelley remains, and with their fates inexorably intertwined the battle for Jackdaw’s soul has just begun.

While you don’t have to have read the first book – see my review here – it certainly helped that I was already bonded to Jack and wanted her to succeed. This strand packs a punch – the overgrown cottage and rampant garden immediately caught my attention, as well as the fate of the previous owner… Alexander’s pacing and characterisation is more sure-footed in this book as we, once more, untangle a murder mystery and learn another aspect of supernatural creatures existing alongside the rest of us. While Jackdaw finds herself steadily changing as a consequence of actions that happened at the end of the first book.

I really enjoyed the progression of the characters throughout the book – Alexander is very good at following through the consequences of her protagonists’ adventures, which gives an interesting edge to this fantasy. The story took several completely unexpected twists, which had me hooked. The antagonists were also written with more immediacy – there was a constant sense of threat that steadily grew throughout the book, giving the climax a real punch.

Meanwhile, Edward Kelley is also following coping with the fallout resulting in his own actions as his studies lead him to Venice. His observations of Venetian life at the height of the city state’s power are enjoyable as he finds himself sucked into yet another scheme by a powerful family who need his skills.

As for the ending – well I certainly didn’t see that coming! It was a strong unexpected conclusion to a really enjoyable, outstanding read.
10/10

Creepy Boyfriend Contest: Edward Cullen vs Edward Rochester

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I came across this last night and laughed out loud! And then got to thinking… So which romantic hero made you feel ‘eww’ instead of ‘ahh’? Have to say, I’m completely with Siamese on both Edwards – and would add Mr Knightley into the mix – Emma is SO wasted on him!

Musings on YA novels and pop culture

Well, I have finished Jane Eyre. For those of you who don’t know, Stephenie Meyer has counted Jane Eyre as a major influence in her work, so of course I read it. It was sitting around the house, so I thought, why not?

My relationship to Jane Eyre is nearly as ambivalent as my attitude to Twilight. Like Twilight, I read it when I was younger. Unlike Twilight, I still think the hero is a douche. I think I bailed right around the time Edward R. tried to trick Jane into a fake marriage (I had very little patience for Byronic antiheroes back then. I think I was like nine). So, Edward R. is douchier. I don’t think that can be disputed; he whines more in 500 pages than his vampire counterpart does in 2,500. Edward C. is just self-hating, but I don’t recall him blaming anyone else for his…

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Review of Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

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I loved Zoo City – read my review here – so when the opportunity to read Moxyland came along, I couldn’t resist. Would it live up to the punchy writing, memorable style and unique South African setting and flavour Beukes treated us to in the amazing Zoo City?

moxylandThose of you who have read this book won’t be surprised that there isn’t a blurb – it is set in South Africa in a dystopian near future in multiple viewpoints – Kendra, Toby, Tendeka and Lerato. They are all wannabes – Lerato is a computer whizz who managed to land a much-prized job within one of the all-powerful corporations, but feels restless ; Toby is a poor little rich boy who messes around on the edge of whatever is cool – I found his sardonic and outrageous self-absorption by far the most entertaining voice; Kendra has agreed to be a Sponsor Baby – injected with a substance to make her an ambassador for the drink Ghost; and Tendeka who is disgusted with rampant capitalism and unfairness in the system and wants to overthrow it… It’s a big ask to successfully write a narrative with four viewpoint characters, giving each one clearly different traits – yet keeping the reader sufficiently bonded so one character’s story doesn’t end up constantly being skim-read to get back to a favourite. While I didn’t end up doing this, I did find Tendeka fairly repellent from early on.

However Beukes’ writing is so rich and entertainingly different, I simply allowed the story to unfold while wallowing in the sheer inventiveness of the world unpeeling through these four characters. While normally I’m conscious of pacing and story progression – diving into Moxyland was such an immersive experience, many of these considerations didn’t seem to matter all that much… It was much the same feeling I encountered when reading Zoo City, and also Eric Brown’s memorable book, Engineman – the world depicted has such a strong vibe going on, it takes centre stage.

I do think Beukes manages to produce a more polished storyline – and certainly a more convincing ending in Moxyland, than in Zoo City. I certainly didn’t see the end coming and it was a shock – once I’d recovered, it was fascinating to see who walked away from the apocalyptic climax. And who didn’t…

If you love your science fiction served with a large side order of engrossing cool gismos in a completely different, complex world and you haven’t yet encountered Beukes’ work, then hunt down Moxyland – and Zoo City. I won’t guarantee that you’ll be left with a very clear memory of the plot, but her worlds and some of her characters will lodge inside your head for a long time to come. There really isn’t anyone else who writes quite like her.
10/10

Second Chance – Free for a short time only

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If you like a really enjoyable science fiction adventure – this is a great opportunity to grab a freebie…

Suffolk Scribblings

2ndchance

To celebrate the forthcoming launch of Absent Souls: The Transcendence Trilogy Book 2,Second Chance (Book 1 in the trilogy) is now FREE to download from Amazon for a limited time only.

A near-future political and psychological thriller, Second Chance has over 30 reviews on amazon.co.uk at a 4.7-star average and has been a hit for for lovers and non-lovers of science fiction alike.

So what are you waiting for? Click on the appropriate link at the bottom of this page and get yourself a copy today!

Description

One crime, four people and a secret that could shake the world to its foundations.

Four lives become linked by a student’s disappearance: a politician looking to put integrity back into politics, an investigator hoping to atone for past mistakes, a data cleanser searching for a better life while haunted by his past and a re-life technician creating new lives for old…

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The 7/7/7 Challenge

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I thought I’d pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the wonderful Sara Letourneau. And the challenge? To pick up my work in progress – currently my short story Picky Eaters I’m hoping to self publish with the help of my pal Mhairi Simpson before Christmas – flick to the seventh page, go down to the seventh line and post the next seven sentences,manuscript though I’m going to give you the next seven lines, because my sentences are very short.

What you need to know is that Granddad, a rather grumpy dragon cursed with the gift of time travelling, has recently moved in with his daughter and is looking after the grandchildren while their parents are off on a mating flight…

Sammy Jo’s bright gaze skewered Granddad. “Mummy says after the mating flight, there’ll be an egg.” She tilted her head. “How does that happen?”

Yearning for good old-fashioned phrases, like ‘Wait and see’, Granddad’s mind blanked. “Um… you know the birds and bees?”

Her brow-ridge wrinkled. “Do they go on mating flights, too?”

Granddad’s desperate glance rested on Billy Bob’s mound of stones. “Well, there’s baby boulders…”

So… the question is – would you want to read the rest?

Review of Shanghai Sparrow – Book 1 of the Gears of Empire series by Gaie Sebold

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I met up with Gaie at Bristolcon, who kindly gave me a copy of her book as it sounded right up my street. I’m already a fan of her writing – read my review of Babylon Steel here, which is memorably enjoyable adventure.

Eveline Duchen is a thief and con-artist, surviving day by day on the streets of London, where the glittering spires of progess rise on the straining backs of the poor and disenfranchised. Where the Folk, the otherworldly children of fairy tailes and legends, have all but withdrawn from the smoke of the furnaces and clamour of iron. But events overtake Eveline and as she is forced into someone else’s schemes, she begins to realise that her actions could affect everyone she knows and cares about…

shanghaisparrowI’ve tweaked the blurb somewhat – but this fantasy thriller set in an alternate Victorian England has all the classic steampunk ingredients. With an additional splash of Sebold magic. Eveline is a cracking protagonist – full of spirit and ingenuity, yet with sufficient vulnerability that I really cared what happened to her. And plenty already has… Eveline certainly has the family knack for getting sucked into life-threatening adventures – and as investigations into etheric science gather pace, Eveline draws down the unwelcome attention of powerful people who want results.

The supporting characters are also great fun – Uncle James bounces off the page with his smug arrogance and conviction that he should be the family inventor; Mr Holmforth is suitably menacing and driven; while the scatty and very likeable Beth who enjoys nothing more than fiddling around with the new-fangled steam engines, is a great foil for Eveline’s dare-devil nature. As well as producing a cast of strong characters, Sebold manages to make them all entirely plausible by providing strong motivating factors for each one without silting up the action, or lessening the pace. It’s a trick that is a whole lot harder to accomplish than Sebold makes it look. And for all the forward momentum and breeziness in this book that is characteristic of steampunk, Sebold doesn’t hesitate to show the darker side underbelly of her world, where the poor and sick are left to fend for themselves. Where children roam the streets begging or stealing. Where women can be bundled off to asylums if they annoy their male relatives by their ‘unwomanly’ behaviour. I’d like to say that aspect of Sebold’s story is pure fiction – but it isn’t.

The fantastic elements are also well handled – her otherworldly protagonist in many ways mirrors Eveline with his sharp wit, ability to think outside the box – and the fact that for all his cleverness and strong survival instincts, he is also trapped.

Sebold gives more than a nod to the likes of Dickens and Conan Doyle with some of the plot twists as this adventure unfolds – some I saw coming and some I didn’t… But with the energy crackling off the page, I just wanted to read on. In fact I finished off the book in three greedy gulps, staying up waaay too late to find out what happens to Eveline. Though I understand that this is the start of a series, so I shall be looking out for the sequel. And if you enjoy steampunk adventure tales with characters who ricochet off the page, then give this one a go – it’s a blast.
9/10

How to help Indie Authors – A Primer

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How to help Indie Authors – A Primer

Those of us who love reading may need a bit of help to assist our favourite Indie authors to get some much-deserved publicity. So here are a few tips from an established, successful writer.

P.C. ZICK

Help an IndieHow to help Indie Authors – A Primer for family, friends, fans, and other Indie Writers

It’s not easy taking the route of Indie Author or any route as an author. The field is crowded, and it’s hard for readers to sift through it all. So in addition to writing, most of us Indies spend a great deal of time promoting our work. Most of us try not to annoy our friends and family, but it’s inevitable that many of them will see our promotional stuff. So as we move into the holiday season, I’d like to give some advice to anyone associated with an author. Also, there’s a little bit of advice for other authors as well. I wish you peace and relaxation during the coming season. Take the time to read a book, maybe even from an Indie Author in your life.

Besides buying the books of your…

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Review of The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander

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This is an ambitious genre mash-up – historical noir with a vampire theme entangled in a modern day murder investigation – does Alexander manage to pull it off?

secretsoflifeanddeath1585. When Edward Kelley and his master, Dr John Dee, discover a dark secret at the heart of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory’s illness, they fear the cure will prove more terrifying than death…

2013. When Jackdaw Hammond learns of a young women found dead on a train, her body covered in arcane symbols, she must finish what Kelley and Dee started, or die trying…

This book opens conventionally – with a university lecturer in some arcane studies called in to look at the symbols drawn all over the dead body of a teenage girl found on a train. But before this contemporary plot has a chance to get going, we are yanked back to 1585 where Edward Kelley and John Dee have travelled to Transylvanian forests on a mission to help a young Countess recover from a wasting disease. Their task is hampered by the fact they are Protestants travelling in a devout Catholic country – and they are further singled out by accusations of sorcery.

The book continues with a dual narrative – the modern day story being told in the viewpoint of Jack or Felix, the university lecturer, interspersed by the torrid time Edward Kelley and John Dee have in a particularly savage corner of Europe. There has been a fashion for dual narratives recently, and when done well, it isn’t hard to see why. The author can present the reader with two apparently unrelated plotlines that eventually come together in an interesting, hopefully memorable conclusion that creates a really satisfying read. My standout dual narrative read is Katherine Webb’s A Half-Forgotten Song, see my review here.

However, if the pacing isn’t absolutely nailed – or too many readers already know of your historical characters – then readers will skim either one or other of the plotlines. Himself nearly abandoned the book, complaining that he found the historical interlude dragged too much, while in other reviews I’ve read complaints about how slowly the contemporary plot develops.

I think there is certainly a potential problem if readers already know a fair amount about Elizabeth Bathory – the plot construction and pacing assumes readers don’t. However my own knowledge was sketchy and I am a sucker for well written historical adventures, anyhow. As for the contemporary plotline – Alexander’s pacing is more leisurely than a typical urban fantasy novel, and I suspect a number of readers picked it up thinking that was what they were getting – and this book is attempting to do something else. So to some extent, both narratives are slightly compromised by reader expectation not being fully met – which isn’t necessarily Alexander’s fault.

I enjoyed the historical adventure more than the contemporary strand until about halfway through when the pace picked up and the story developed a twist I hadn’t expected. At that stage, I sat back and went along for the ride, thoroughly enjoying the experience. I won’t claim it is a unique take on the vampire story – in many ways it goes right back to the roots of the legend, but if you are not thoroughly jaded by yet another adventure, this one does have a slightly unusual angle that certainly caught my interest. And sustained it sufficiently to go immediately looking for the sequel, The Secrets of Blood and Bone.

If you like enjoyable dual narratives and are up for vampires with an intriguing take on the whole blood imbibing subject, then give this ambitious debut novel a go – I think Alexander is One To Watch.
8/10

Waterstone’s, passing 30,000 and getting ready for the chicken dance!

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Sophie is a wonderful author I met at Bristolcon – and I thought you might like to hear about her upcoming new book release – as well as see the wonderful new cover…

Sophie E Tallis - Author/Illustrator

White Mountain full book jacketFirstly, I just had to showcase my gorgeous new cover…well I had to, look at it…it’s GORGEOUS!

Despite the exuberance, I’m in reflective mood tonight. I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be celebrating. Not only has my little blog passed 30,000 visitors, for which I am profoundly shocked and humbled (THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!) but my novel is due to be published in less than two weeks time…my excitement is palpable. SAM_5228

So, it’s November already, still can’t quite grasp how the year is flying past. Already the TV is full of Christmas advertisements, hoping to whip up the masses into our usual hysterical feeding frenzy. Need a new sofa, how about some solid oak furniture or ten frozen homogenised meals for £4? Lol, I admit, despite the cynical side of capitalism, I still LOVE Christmas and all the daft glitzy trappings that come…

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Review for Personal – Book 19 of the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

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If you have never read a Jack Reacher book before, and your taste runs to taut, well constructed thrillers, then give this one a go. And – no – you really don’t have to read the first eighteen to enjoy this one…

personalJack Reader walks alone. Once a go-to hard man in the US military police, now he’s a drifter of no fixed abode. But the army tracks him down. Because someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president. Only one man could have done it. And Reacher is the one man who can find him. The trail takes Reacher across the Atlantic to Paris – and then to London. He must track down a killer with a treacherous vendetta. The stakes have never been higher… because this time it’s personal.

As with any long-running series, the quality can vary from book to book. While I haven’t read them all, I’ve read enough to know that this is my favourite. Reacher’s voice bounces off the page in a laconic, clipped first person viewpoint that ticks all my boxes. I also love the way Child unpacks the story. If you want a masterclass in how to put together a page-turner, complete with a dangerous, maladjusted protagonist most of us would cross the road before looking him in the eyes, then study this book.

There are also some lighter moments – admittedly of the grimmer variety. But then, if you want cute and fluffy, you don’t look for it in a Jack Reacher novel. There are a pleasing array of villains, ranging from the lethally dangerous to the almost comically incompetent – and everything inbetween.

Another really nice touch is that in this story, Reacher is paired with a relatively inexperienced agent. Who is partly there to keep tabs on him, and partly to learn from one of the best – and it happens to be a young, attractive woman. So do they end up in bed together? Hm. I’ll leave you to find out. But I very much enjoyed the tension in their relationship and the struggle Reacher has to trust her further than he can throw her… What was very refreshing in this particular genre, is that Reacher doesn’t spend all his time clocking her firm young flesh. And the dynamic between them is far more interesting than having a fresh, know-nothing young thing falling into the arms of the grizzled vet because he’s… well – grizzled and knows what he’s doing.

And as for the final denouement… Well. I didn’t see that coming! At all. Which then had me flipping back through the pages for the clues – which is when you know that you’ve got a doozy of the final twist. And really elevates this to one of the best in a classy series of excellent thrillers.
10/10