Monthly Archives: February 2015

5 Things You Should Know About: Vine


Abbi’s snappy, useful blog regularly includes lists of 5 facts about social media and stuff we could do with knowing more about – like Vine, for instance… Which is why I’ve reblogged this.

Helicopter POV


1. Founded in 2012, Twitter bought it before it even launched. The app eventually went live in 2013.

2. A video-sharing platform that allows users to edit and upload 6.5s looping videos and to “revine” (share the videos with others).

3. Over 40m users. 57% of all users are female with 18-20 year olds making up the largest part of the demographics.

4. 1 in 5 Tweets contains a Vine link.

5. Brands are really starting to get the hang of Vine especially with recent updates including a “revine counter” which works in similar way to YouTube view counters. The first ever Vine TV ad was made by Dunkin’ Donuts.

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Review of Frostbitten – Book 10 of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong


Himself has discovered that Armstrong had been busy completing this entertaining series, so decided to track down the books we hadn’t yet read. Starting with Bitten, this urban fantasy series charted the stories of various female protagonists in Armstrong’s supernatural world. And Frostbitten returns to Elena, who featured in Bitten, with this next slice of her adventure.

frostbittenAfter years of struggle, Elena Michaels has finally accepted her life as a werewolf, and learned how to control her wild side. At least, that’s what she believes when she sets off to investigate a series of gruesome murders outside Anchorage. The truth, however, is more complicated. Trapped in a frozen, unforgiving terrain, Elena is forced to confront a deadly secret, and her own untamed nature…

Hm. I’m not overly impressed with this blurb – it makes this book sound like Elena spends a chunk of the narrative agonising over the nature of her own supernatural status… how she is going to cope… what will happen next… While all those issues are present, they are niftily interleaved amongst the full-on action that kicks off right at the start of the book and don’t stop until the final page.

One of the things that impresses me about Armstrong is how much these books vary in tone, depending on who the protagonist is. In No Humans Involved – see my review here – the tension builds slowly and steadily throughout as Jamie battles to work out exactly what is going on. In Personal Demon – see my review here – Hope and Lucas are trying to work out who is responsible for the trail of mayhem, so my attention was held by their unravelling the puzzle. Whereas in Frostbitten, we get to know fairly quickly exactly who is responsible for the murders – the tension comes in whether Elena and Clay can prevail against the mutts. And what Elena is going to decide to do regarding the future of their Pack…

I really enjoyed this update on a character I loved in previous books, and I think Armstrong has achieved a difficult trick – to show a character’s maturation and greater sense of responsibility without her losing her edge. Which is a great deal harder than she makes it look. It was also enjoyable to take Elena right out of her comfort zone and deposit her in a different part of the country – Armstrong has been smart in this long-running series to swing the action around in a variety of different settings, which has also helped to retain the freshness and excitement of each story. I also very much like how she has portrayed the relationship between Elena and Clay, now they are settled with a family.

She tackles a difficult subject – and one I’ve become increasingly intolerant as a plot device – Elena’s feelings when cornered by a rapist. While I’m not going to divulge how she fares – that strays into spoiler territory – I was gratified to see that even though as a werewolf, she is fitter and stronger than the average woman, she was absolutely terrified, and made no bones about it. Quite right, too.

Any woman who has been in that situation knows it is an utterly horrible experience and I get very fed up when writers serve it up as just one more assault. And when the heroine bounces back, right as a trivet so that by the end of the novel, she quite happy to resume her sexual relationship with her boyfriend – the book goes flying across the room, along with a barrage of language I won’t be repeating here. Armstrong has her strong, capable heroine very afraid to the extent that she finds it difficult to function – in other words, she feels like the rest of us when confronted with such a threat.

So, does the story come to a successful conclusion? Oh yes – I was delighted with this slice of werewolf edginess and am eagerly looking forward to reading the next in the series.

So… what about YOU?


I was reading Sarah McCoy’s sharply funny blog yesterday ‘Shag, Marry and Kill (Literary Edition)’ on Writer Unbox – see the post here – when I got to wondering… Which fictional characters would I shag, marry and kill?

I was debating whether to be all clever about this… Present you with some eminently desirable hunk from the 420410-colin-firth-pride-and-prejudiceplethora of books I devour – but decided in the end to be absolutely honest. Because if I’m not, frankly what’s the point of sharing my feelings with you? And the reason why I was tempted to lie? The moment I imagined myself rolling around in passionate abandonment with any fictional character – an image floated across my inscape of a certain actor wading out of a lake wearing a white cotton shirt, breeches and a look of shocked longing… Yep. It’s Mr Darcy – and yes, it would be the Colin Firth version. And yes… I know that lake scene doesn’t appear in the book – but I’m betting that someone who keeps himself on such a tight leash, yet is prepared to continue pursuing the object of his desire even after a rebuff, is probably an exciting and inventive lover.

But as for marrying? Nope – he’s far too prickly and closed off. Once the initial fervour died down, I reckon he’d be a rather distant, if loyal husband… Lizzie Bennet is welcome to cope with his cagey defensiveness.

Again, this is a no-brainer. It HAS to be Gabriel Oak, the lovelorn shepherd in Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. Though all his steady, loyal love is wasted on that flighty Bathsheba, whose empty head is initially turned by an officer’s uniform and some flashy swordplay.

I was smitten by Gabriel at the tender age of 16, when reading the book and came across the passage where was describing the sort of home he wanted to provide for Bathsheba. When he talked about at the end of the day, both of them reading either side of the fire and said, ‘And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you…’ I felt a lump in my throat and was lost in a mist of longing for someone just like that.

Which is why, when I found someone with the same enduring quality, who also shares my love for books, I fell hook, line and sinker – and am now very happily married to him.

Killing someone is a VERY big deal. So in order for me to be prepared to murder a character, they have to be absolutely evil and pose a terrible threat to those who are unable to fight back.

THE WITCHES (BR1990) ANGELICA HUSTONThe character who always raised the hair on the back of my neck is the Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl’s spooky book The Witches. She is one of the most memorably unpleasant antagonists I’ve encountered with her sheer malice and determination to rid the world of all children. Most pantomime-type villains are ameliorated by some bungling – but Dahl doesn’t do this. So, as long as I wasn’t immediately turned into a pile of ash, she would be the character I would like to kill – preferably before she turns the boy into a mouse…

So… that’s my three – what about you? Which fictional characters would you like to shag, marry and kill? Do please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you.

#1000 Speak: On Self-Compassion


This was Sara’s contribution to #1000 Voices for Compassion on Friday – and I thought it was wonderful. How many of us are far too hard on ourselves? Set unrealistic aspirations and targets? Rush around and try to do it all, snapping at those who offer help? Take a moment to decompress and read Sara’s words of wisdom. And compassion…

Sara Letourneau


Today is February 20, 2015, the day when 1000 Voices For Compassion makes its mark. Bloggers all over the globe have committed to posting articles today to celebrate compassion in all its forms and recognize the importance of such acts in our lives and the lives of others. If you’re interested in reading more articles by our movement, I encourage you to visit 1000 Voices of Compassion’s Facebook group or search the hashtag #1000speak on Twitter.

I prefaced my #1000speak lead-in article, “Acts of Compassion in Literature,” by saying I’d been debating two possible ideas before deciding to pursue both. Originally, “Acts of Compassion in Literature” was going to be today’s post. However, as I worked on this second piece, the topic struck a deeper, more resonant chord than I’d expected. Then again, the idea of self-compassion had already been on my mind recently. So, I decided to switch the order…

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Review of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters


I tracked this book down after a number of my students and online friends recommended it. Would I enjoy it as much as they did?

thepayingguestsIt is 1922 and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in the south of the city, on genteel Champion Hill, in a hushed Camberwell villa still recovering from the devastating losses of the First World War, life is about to be transformed. Widowed Mrs Wray and her daughter, Frances – an unmarried woman with an interesting past, now on her way to becoming a spinster – find themselves obliged to take in lodgers. And the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, brings unsettling things with it: gramophone music, colour, fun…

That’s as much of the very blurting blurb I’m prepared to include, as the rest of it lurches into Spoiler territory and given that this is such a cracking tale, having the shine knocked off it in any way would be an outright sin. However, I will disclose that there are some fairly explicit sex scenes between two women – while it is handled with tenderness, if you find such material difficult to deal with, then this isn’t the book for you.

The protagonist, Frances, is sleep-walking through her life, numbed by the loss of all her dreams, the death of her brothers during the war and any prospect of escaping the drudgery of trying to keep the house in one piece over their heads. Waters beautifully portrays the ashy wasteland of her life without any handwringing self-pity. In fact, it is Frances’ stubborn ability to endure that is one of her greatest strengths – and weakness. Waters builds up a detailed portrait of her main character by walking us through her life, giving us a plethora of period details that has me humbly giving thanks for my washing machine, dishwasher, wet-wipes and nifty throw-away duster mops…

It is really important that we strongly bond with Frances in the early stages of the book – because if we don’t really care about her and feel appalled at having a ringside seat as she atrophies in front of us, then we’ll clearly struggle later on. Because the story morphs from being a beautifully depicted period piece about the plight of women at a particularly grim time in English history into a police investigation, culminating into a classic courtroom drama. A drama with Frances caught up right in the middle of the action…

I had intended this morning to read for half an hour, and then get up. An hour and a half later, rather drained and emotional, I tottered out of bed, having completed the book. It is a triumph. Waters manages to weave a thriller in amongst her wonderfully observed early 1920’s landscape that is a masterpiece. No wonder everyone was so effusive in their praise – and I am now joining the chorus. If you haven’t yet read this gem, and your taste runs to historical thrillers interleaved with a strong, convincing love story, then track it down.

Review of “Empire in Black and Gold” – Book One of “Shadows of the Apt” by Adrian Tchaikovsky


I posted this review back in 2010 – and given the subsequent popularity of the series, thought you might like to read it, again…


Enjoy smoothly told High Fantasy? Let’s see – there has to be a cast of well-fleshed characters fighting against an evil Empire and a satisfyingly complex villain, which you almost feel sorry for – until you empireofblack&golddiscover exactly what he’s done… And the third person POV needs to move slickly between the characters with none of that jolting irritation because you’ve become too strongly attached to one of character’s storylines over the rest… Oh – and the battle scenes have to be packed with plenty of high octane action, clearly told and gripping because you really care what happens to the main protagonists.
Have I left anything out? Hm… Well, there has to be some new fresh angle on this oft-trod path – otherwise you might as well reread one of your very well-thumbed favourite books. What if this tale is set in a world where various human tribes take…

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Review of She Who Waits – Low Town Novel #3 by Daniel Polansky


After being gripped by the first two book in this classy series, see my review of The Straight Razor Cure here, and my review of Tomorrow the Killing here – would I enjoy the next slice of the Warden’s adventure as much?

shewhowaitsThe Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Law Town Denizen of them all. As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds. But Warden’s growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, fast than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn’t get out soon, he may never get out at all.

But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A host of lunatics and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all waits the one person whose betrayal Warden expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today. The one woman he ever loved. She who waits behind all things.

And there you have the blurb. This is every bit as engrossing the other two books – but the action builds up more slowly and my strong advice is that to get the best out of this book you do really need to read the first two. While Polansky hasn’t committed the newbie error of leaving you floundering if you do read these books out of order (a regular bad habit of mine that I managed to avoid this time around), Warden is such a layered, complex character, in order to appreciate some more of his finer points you need to have read at least one of the other books. The tone of this one is darker and more savage – not a surprise, given that Warden is fighting for his life and is more scaldingly aware that he is growing older in an unforgiving environment.

I love his character. While I’d probably go out of my way not to meet him in real life, the humorous asides that pepper his first person narrative, often directed against himself as well as everyone else around him, pulled me right into the story. Despite his ability to murder in cold blood, despite his drug dealing, despite his nastiness to those who care about him – I fiercely wanted him to prevail throughout the story. And, like the previous book, this one explores more of his past – this time shedding light on his downfall in the Black House. How it came about and who, exactly, he still holds accountable for the disaster. Because that is the other part of Warden’s character – he holds a grudge. And is prepared to wait a long, long time before taking his revenge… But that seems to be a common trait in Low Town – and when events take a turn for the worse, he needs all his skill to stay one step ahead of the chaos breaking out around him.

So does the final climax and denouement satisfactorily bring this particular narrative arc to a fitting conclusion? Oh yes. Once more, I ended one of Polansky’s books feeling as if I’ve been through an emotional wringer. They won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you really enjoy character-led stories set in a vibrant, grubbily corrupt backdrop with the inevitable violence leavened by dark humour, then go looking for this series. It’s right up there with the best this sub-genre has to offer.

Review of Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall


As I’ve just completed reading this entertaining romp to Frankie, my ten-year-old granddaughter, I thought I would revisit the review I originally wrote. While I had a hunch that it would be very readable, nothing beats actually sitting down and reading it aloud to a young audience to get a feel for the writing. It was a great success – and I was rewarded with hearing Frankie’s snorts of amusement and on a couple of occasions, outright belly laughs…

mars evacueesI acquired my uncorrected proof copy of this book at the World Fantasy Con 2013 and when considering what to read that night, with the wind moaning through the hotel window in an impressive imitation of Wuthering Heights, my hand slid towards the jolly red cover. Which just goes to show what a clever hand it is – the book is aimed at the eight to twelve-year-old market, but this considerably older reader found it great fun.

When I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

And congratulations to the blurb writer. It perfectly captures the flavour of the adventure and the entertaining voice of the first person protagonist, without producing any major spoilers – which these days is an increasing rarity on book covers.

Alice Dare is being evacuated to Mars because of her mother’s fame, so she doesn’t immediately fit in with the cool kids. Neither does her friend, Josephine, who is being evacuated because she is extremely clever. For all the chirpy voice, this book doesn’t shirk some gnarly issues – how Alice and her friends deal with some unpleasant bullying and the effects of war on families – being two of the more hardcore problems they are confronted with.

The humorous voice allows Alice to pick her way through this minefield convincingly and yet without creating too much emotional havoc. Although there were no other book credits on the cover, I was fairly sure that McDougall wasn’t a new author. The writing was just too assured to be someone feeling their way into the craft – and sure enough when I returned home to my dear know-it-all friend, the internet confirmed my suspicions. Sophia McDougall has written the highly regarded alternate history trilogy for adults, Romanitas. Which accounts for the deft characterisation, perfect pacing and entertaining story arc that ensured I zoned out the howling windows until the satisfying ending.

This is a book that will certainly be on my granddaughter’s reading list just as soon as she’s ready for it. I can’t wait to share it with her – in the meantime, why not track it down when it comes available at the end of March next year? It’s simply too good to leave just for the children.

Review of Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch


I loved the look of the cover and having all the depth of a pavement puddle, the book was off the shelves and into my hands before you could blink. In addition, the writer wasn’t a name I recognised – and as one of my targets this year is to read more books by authors I don’t know, I came away very pleased with myself…

tomorrowandtomorrowTen years after the attack that reduced Pittsburgh to ashes, all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people. John Dominic Blaxton is a ‘lucky one’. He survived the blast, but, crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, his days are spent immersed in the Archive with the ghosts of yesterday. It is there that he finds the record of a forgotten body. Who was this woman? And why is someone hacking the system to delete her seemingly unremarkable life? The hunt for the truth will drag Dominic from the darkest corners of the past into a deadly and very present nightmare.

The tone and pacing is more at the literary end of the genre, so don’t start this book expecting to be immediately whisked into a breathless whirl of action. After the initial shock, Sweterlitsch gives Dominic plenty of time to establish his daily routine, rambling through the digitised streets of Pittsburgh and haunting his longlost home with his wife. The prose is beautiful – shot through with yearning and loss.

This is the overarching theme of this book – what happens to the griefstricken when they can revisit events from their past, still have conversations with their dead partners and interact with them? The answer Sweterlitsch gives, is that there are some who are unable to move on – who spend all their time and resources stuck in the past. And Dominic is one of these lost souls…

The first person, present tense viewpoint gives us a ringside seat into his life and character. In order for this story to really work, we need to care about him and his predicament – which means that while we sympathise with his dogged determination not to move on from the life he built with his young wife in Pittsburgh, we also admire his inability to let the unknown young woman fade into obscurity. As we journey with Dominic on his travels, the constant pornography and gratuitous sexual content to sell everything and everyone – from celebrities to cars – is shocking. Sweterlitsch doesn’t hold back – think of the worst excesses committed on Facebook and Twitter, multiply it by a factor of ten and then normalise it – and you have the world Dominic inhabits.

As the story progresses Sweterlitsch handles the rising tension very well. While the pace is on the leisurely side, the sense of wrongness steadily increases, so that once the action really picks up, this book is difficult to put down. I stayed awake far too long once I got within touching distance of the denouement to discover what happens.

While this is flagged as Sweterlitsch’s debut novel, he is clearly no raw beginner. The prose is accomplished, the characterisation detailed and complex, the world vividly depicted and the unfolding situation handled with a sure deftness that means the climax doesn’t fall flat. The ending ties up all the loose plotpoints and gives each character within the story a reasonable journey. Any niggles? I did feel the villain at the heart of the conspiracy was rather two-dimensional and if he had been the only antagonist, this would have been a real problem. However there was another far more plausible antagonist, so this wasn’t a dealbreaker.

And if your taste runs to well depicted, science fiction thrillers, then go looking for this book – you won’t be disappointed.

Review of Personal Demon – Book 8 of Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong


Recently, Himself and I discovered that since we’d read the last Women of the Otherworld series, there were a few books that had either slipped through the net, or Armstrong had added and given that we’re both fans of her writing, we decided to track down these books.

personaldemonHope Adams, tabloid journalist and half-demon, inherited her Bollywood-princess looks from her mother. From her demon father, she inherited a hunger for chaos, and a talent for finding it. Like full demons, she gets an almost sexual rush from danger – in fact, she thrives on it. But she is determined to use her gifts for good.

When the head of the powerful Cortez Cabal asks her to infiltrate a gang of bored, rich, troublemaking supernaturals in Miami. Hope can’t resist the excitement. But trouble for Hope is intoxicating, and soon she’s in way too deep…

Hope is a really interesting character. We first meet up with her in No Humans Involved – see my review here – when she tries to help Jaime in her investigation. Armstrong has a nifty device in her Women of the Otherworld series – each book features a different female protagonist within her world. So she is able to give us different slices of her paranormal community from a variety of perspectives, giving her world a complex, layered quality.

Armstrong’s characters are always appealing and each one is different, with their own particular strengths, weaknesses and obstacles to endure or overcome. Hope – the name is ironic – finds herself drawn to chaos and people who attract or create strong emotions, such as fear, anger or excitement. So working undercover with the gang provides her with plenty of opportunity to get hits of the rush. Until a particular person from her past turns up, convinced that she is in over her head and determined to extricate her from her current situation.

Hope’s story isn’t the only one in this book. Lucas Cortez, husband of Paige, and declared heir to the Cortez Cabal and fortune, also becomes entangled in this affair when the Cortez cabal finds itself grappling with a major situation. As he flies in to deal with this particular emergency, we also get reacquainted with characters who have featured in previous books, allowing us to follow their continued character arc throughout the series. It is a nifty trick – given the number of different characters within Armstrong’s Otherworld, I have found it relatively easy to keep track of exactly who has done what to whom.

I enjoyed Hope’s adventure and her impulsive attraction to danger. As for the antagonists – there is a theory that in a thriller such as this, it is the baddies that are the engine of the story. Their motivations and actions are the triggers that create the drama along with the resulting fallout and Personal Demon is a classic example of how this can be effectively achieved. Without lurching into spoiler territory, I found the antagonists in this tale riveting and terrifying, while their motivation comes from a deep-seated longing to feel secure. The wrenching truth is that their reasoning for doing what they do is spot on. Which is an uncomfortable truth and raises a dilemma – if you feel yourself threatened with good reason, are you entitled to strike back with sufficient force so as to eliminate that threat even if it involves killing innocent people? Judging by the rising body count in parts of the world such as Syria and Israel, far too many folks think the answer is yes…

But don’t go away thinking this book is remotely dry or preachy. Armstrong is far too an accomplished storyteller to get bogged down in anything that will hold up the driving force of her narrative. This is an entertaining, paranormal romp with a dose of sexy excitement among the other mayhem that abounds. As winter trudges onward, curl up in front of the fire and get whisked away. You don’t even need to have read the other books, although I recommend you do.