Monthly Archives: February 2015

Read any good books lately?

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Julie has given us the benefit of her own all-time favourite reads, so I thought I’d share them with you. What are yours?

Julie Lawford

book-520626_1280I’m a writer, but I’m a reader too…

Even though I try and keep up with what’s going on in the world of fiction, good books still pass me by. A friend will say, ‘Have you read such-and-such?’ and I’ll not have heard of it. It’s not surprising, given how many books there are, but I still find myself a bit miffed that I don’t appear to have a handle on ALL the books.

That said, I thought I’d take the opportunity of a weekend blog post to introduce you to a few novels which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over the years. They’re all mainstream and they all got a Goodreads 5-star rating from me. But I’m pretty sure, however well-read you are, there will be one or two in this short list, which you haven’t come across before.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 of my 5-star recommended…

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Review of Indie KINDLE EBOOK Xoe: or Vampires, and Werewolves, and Demons, Oh My! – Book 1 of the Xoe Meyers series by Sara C. Roethle

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Sara is a smart, funny writer I’ve met through my blog. So I downloaded and read the first book in her YA fantasy series.

Xoe Meyers had a normal life. So she was stuck going to high school, and she only had a few friends to call her own. She liked her normal life. Things were about to change though, because there’s a new guy in her small town, and he is anything but normal. Before Xoe can say, “Werewolf,” her best friend’s life is in peril, and Xoe’s world is turned upside-down. Then, of course, there’s Jason. Xoe doesn’t trust him as far as she can throw him, and given that he’s a vampire, she’d have to be able to catch him first.

XoeThe chirpy tone of the blurb accurately reflects Xoe’s attitude. This isn’t some angst-ridden cry from the heart set in amongst an uncaring dystopian world. In fact, her daily routine is very familiar – right down to the long-suffering tone Xoe adopts when discussing her classes. Roethle manages to exactly capture the teen voice, with perhaps a slightly less self-absorbed spin on events. But the first slice of the book effectively establishes Xoe and her friends’ daily lives – until it all changes.

I was perfectly willing to suspend my belief regarding that change and go with the flow. Roethle’s lively style sets a cracking pace that doesn’t hang around, as the story then gains extra momentum once everything lurches into the paranormal spectrum. However, this story isn’t about some isolated loner mooching around looking exotically different… Xoe has several close buddies and like many teens of her age, wants to hang out with them. Constantly. So when events start sliding out of control, there’s no thought of this little group coping alone – one of Xoe’s main characteristics is her strong loyalty and sense of protectiveness towards her friends. Which means that in addition to finding Xoe appealing, we need to be convinced about her friends and their relationship dynamic within the group. And it’s a lot harder to do successfully than Roethle makes it look, when the story skips along at such a rate, while ensuring readers know exactly how everyone is feeling and what they are doing. But, again, she ticks that box.

So does Roethle manage to bring this adventure to a satisfactory conclusion, yet leave us wanting more? In the first book of a series, it is always a balancing act – do you leave the story on a cliffhanger, hoping your readers will be compelled to immediately reach for the second book to discover what happens next? And I’m delighted to report that Roethle resisted the temptation to go down that route. All the major plotpoints are satisfactorily tucked up, bringing this particular slice of action to a conclusion with a real sense of pleasure – yet with the knowledge that there are a handful of outstanding issues that will need attention sometime very soon.

This is a charming, enjoyable beginning to this YA series and one that once she is a few years older, I’ll have no hesitation in introducing to my granddaughter. In the meantime, I’ll be tracking down Accidental Ashes, the second book in the series – Xoe is definitely a teen I want to meet again.
8/10

My Liebster Confessional…

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Many thanks to Gloria Chao for kindly nominating me for the Liebster Award – I’m delighted to receive it. The official description for the Liebster Award is as follows:-
The Liebster Award originated in Germany. The German word Liebster means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. In short, this award is given to the upcoming promising bloggers who have some worth-reading content and certainly have less than 200 followers as a recognition of their talent and as a way to greet them “welcome”. This is a small act of inspiration that might change a blogger’s whole point of view, just like it changed mine. The Liebster Award is an award for Recognition. You would not get any money, or cup, or medal, or certificate; just a recognition which will give you a spot-light mark in this crowded blogging-market!

Another thing about this award is that this is a “Pay it forward” award, like a chain-reaction. Once you have accepted the award, you have to search for other bloggers, who are emerging as new buds with some really promising content which you find worth reading. You can accept it, or you can let it go; no harm done….However, if you want to accept The Liebster Award, you have to follow six simple rules which are:

d8ca2-rules2bfor2bliebster2baward

The lovely thing about this award is that it seems to sum up the spirit of so many of the fascinating and inspiring blogs I read.

These questions are the ones Gloria has set for me, as one of her nominees, so I’ll do my best to answer them…
1. If you met your main character (or the main character from your favorite novel) in person, would you be friends, enemies, or frenemies?
The main character of my trilogy I’m currently working on – Jezell Campo – is opinionated, strong-minded, brave and rather damaged… I think we’d probably be frenemies.
2. What is the most unique part of your manuscript or blog?
Everyone who reads my manuscripts says it’s my voice. It’s very distinctive, apparently – though I have toned it down quite a bit since I started writing.
3. What is your career now, and what is your dream career?
I work as a part-time Creative Writing tutor and editor, which is a lovely job as I have a wonderful bunch of students. However, my dream career is to be a hybrid author. By the end of the year, I hope to have self-published my space opera trilogy The Sunblinded and have acquired an agent for my YA dystopian science fiction novel, Mantivore Dreams.
4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
It has to be Alderney, which is one of the Channel Islands. I love the sea and am lucky enough to live very close to the coast, but Alderney is simply beautiful. I spent a wonderful holiday there as a girl and have often dreamt of living there.
5. What inspired you to write (either your manuscript or your blog)?
I’ve always known that at some stage I’d write a book – and then, about 15 years ago I simply had to make a start. The story spilled out of me and I couldn’t have stopped if I’d tried, and by the time I realised the hardest part was learning the craft of writing, I was thoroughly addicted. As for my blog – I’ve always loved reading and discovered that I also enjoy sharing my experience of the books I’ve devoured in my reviews. Which has also become something of an addiction…
6. What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned so far in your writing journey or life?
To walk away. Or better still – run. I wish I’d learnt this earlier – I wasted far too much of my life being profoundly unhappy.
7. What is the best advice you’ve received?
The advice came from my beloved Grandpa, a brave, intrepid man who I loved dearly and provided me with most of the really useful advice in my life. But the best tip he ever gave me was, “Don’t ever say never…”
8. Who is your closest confidante?
My husband, John, who is my hero and constant helpmate. Life would be a drab, monochrome affair without him
9. What’s your favourite blog and why?
Oh, I’ve FAR too many favourites to be able to pick out a single example – my friend Mhairi writes with fluency about her own issues and how we can boost our creativity; but all those below have something awesome and individual to offer, ranging from John’s wonderful site on old films, through to Jeanne’s quirky take on books.
10. Books, tv, or movies?
Books, books, books… I could quite happily cope without ever seeing another film or TV programme – but the prospect of never picking up another book again would destroy me.
11. How do you make difficult decisions about your characters or settings? Any trouble “murdering your darlings”?
I have an inbuilt BS sensor that quickly picks up when my narrative has taken one left turn too many, when I need to backtrack and ensure everything gets back onto solid ground. I’m something of a conflict junkie, so occasionally overload my poor suffering protagonists. So I regularly commit wholesale slaughter for the sake of pace and clarity, because my darlings are nothing of the sort. They are overwritten padding designed to help me visualise my world and have no business littering up my final draft.

Eleven Random Facts About Me…
1. I LOATHE being cold. I’m with the Vikings – Hell is a frozen wilderness.
2. I’m very bad at working out my left from my right – it took me 3 goes at my driving test before my driving instructor realised what the problem was, so made me lipstick an L on my left hand before I took my fourth test. Which I passed…
3. My parents lived in Zambia when I was a girl, so I flew on my own for the first time aged eight from Gatwick, to Ndola, stopping off at Entebbe to refuel and nearly missed the plane because I insisted on finishing my free drink.
4. I like most foods, but a fair number plain hate me – chocolate gives me migraine, chilli blisters my tongue and I’m dairy intolerant. You’d think this would mean that I was on the slim side of svelte – sadly it’s not the case…
5. I’m terrible at multi-tasking.
6. I LOVED having my children around when they were little and always came home and cried on the first day of term when they had to go back to school.
7. I hate housework – and as I get older I care less and less what people think about the state of my house.
8. I’m really good at reciting tongue twisters like ‘She sells sea shells on the sea shore’ and ‘Betty Botter’.
9. I contracted a mild case of TB as a baby which left me with scarring on my lungs – apparently… (I haven’t personally had the opportunity to check).
10. I’m fond of most insects and especially like spiders.
11. I’m addicted to strong tea. I particularly enjoy Assam and would sell my soul for a nice cup of lapsang souchong – or smoky barbeque flavour, as I like to call it…

My Eleven Nominees for the Liebster Award
1. Independent Woman
2. Book Minx Reads
3. J.E. Nice
4. thepickypagesproject
5. Reality Refugee
6. Noirish
7. Necromancy Never Pays
8. Into Another World
9. Past Offences Crime Fiction
10. The Avid Reader – Books! Books! Books!
11. The World of the Teigr Princess

Review of Tomorrow the Killing – Low Town Novel #2 by Daniel Polansky

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After enjoying the first book in this series, The Straight Razor Cure, as much as I did – see my review here – it was a no-brainer to go looking for this sequel. Would I enjoy it as much?

tomorrowthekillingOnce he was a hero of the Great War, and then a member of the dreaded Black House; now he is the criminal lynchpin of Low Town. His name is Warden. He thought he had left the war behind him, but a summons from up above brings the past sharply, uncomfortably, back into focus. General Montgomery’s daughter is missing somewhere in Low Town, searching for clues about her brother’s murder. The General wants her found, before the stinking streets can lay claim to her, too…

This is another murder mystery, a bit after the style of the adventure The Warden got involved in during The Straight Razor Cure – but this one is all about his past. In Fantasy, war is often part of the story, but Polansky focuses on the damage that war inflicts on those who took part. The Warden’s traumatic memories interleave the current story as he struggles to cope. But once the General asked him to track down his daughter, the Warden finds himself confronted with a past he does his best to avoid. Mostly by taking copious quantities of drugs.

We were faced with the Warden’s irreverent, sharp attitude in Polansky’s first novel, along with his short fuse, his ruthlessness and his drug habit. This is the book that unpacks a real slice of his backstory that probably helps to make up his spiky, layered character. I really enjoyed this journey – the Warden’s sparky humour counteracts the darker tone of this book and helps to tone down the uglier edges of the violence that regularly flares throughout the story. He is a classic anti-hero, complicated, driven and full of self loathing – but with a strong sense of justice and loyalty for the handful of people he loves. Though I’m glad I’m not one of them – he regularly punishes those who do…

One of the joys of this book is the backdrop. The dubious delights of Low Town is described vividly throughout, along with the character cast, through the filter of the Warden. Some of those descriptions verge on the poetic and others are amusing. And some of the descriptions of trench warfare are plain grim, but what they do is build up a wonderful world that pings off the page and straight into the imagination. And as the backdrop is continually inserted as part of the Warden’s routine – he walks everywhere, for starters – the pace is never impeded. It’s a far niftier trick to pull off than Polansky makes it look.

As for the storyline – well I didn’t see that coming… It was a real plot twist, right at the end which created a strong sense of satisfaction and confirmed for me that Polansky is destined to be considered alongside the likes of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.
10/10

National Libraries Day-Reading is living…

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This is sooo important. We have a moarvellous library system in this country and we MUST fight to hang onto them…

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Today in the Uk we have National Libraries Day. This is at a time when we are regularly reading, hearing and seeing news about many local and national libraries closing down and seriously struggling due to the recession and financial cuts.
Many of our libraries are seeing most or some of their staff cut or dropped, and many that communities have visited and known all their lives now closing down.
Many people may not go along to their local libraries often these days- there are so many things in our lives that can distract and entertain us, from our phones, internet, video games, television and more- and some people may have the view that libraries are increasingly irrelevant in modern times. This is not exactly true I think.
The main city library where I live in Manchester has only just reopened after a few years, and it is now a…

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Just the world, the galaxy and the universe set to music

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When I saw this, it blew me away… Watch the video, it’s not all that long and will be something you remember. It’s magical… So I thought I’d share it with you and many thanks to Guy for bringing it to my attention!

The Red Pen of Doom

Illusion of Lights: A Journey into the Unseen from Goldpaint Photography on Vimeo.

So this man and his wife quit their jobs, sold every possession and went on the road to shoot epic videos.

Not gritty urban scenes or dogs shaking water off them in slow motion. Nope.

They’re shooting the world, the galaxy and the universe, using a camera rig that (a) shoots all night while (b) changing the shot and (c) switching how you see things, forever.

Kudos to you, Brad and Marci Goldpaint. Give us moar moar MOAR.

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Review of The Forever Watch by David Ramirez

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The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

theforeverwatchAnd there you have the blurb… I’m a sucker for generational ship science fiction – it provides an ideal backdrop for any kind of drama, given that it is the ultimate closed system. And because it is also entirely imaginary, it means an author can add/tweak all sorts of details designed to ramp up the tension and increase the sense of claustrophobia… So does Ramirez take full advantage of this scenario? Oh yes.

We are immediately pulled into the daily routine of the ship via Ramirez’s protagonist, Hana in first person viewpoint telling her story in present tense. Those readers who sometimes grumble that men cannot write convincing women need to read The Forever Watch – I loved Hana’s character. She is sympathetic, vulnerable and highly intelligent without coming across as arrogant or geeky, which is far harder to pull off than Ramirez makes it look. And caring about Hana is vital, as we need to be firmly in her corner as she starts on her journey of uncovering the mystery lurking in the bowels of Noah. She encounters the police enforcer, Barrens, who rescues her from a horrible situation and they strike up an unlikely friendship. It is Barrens who pulls her into his search for the criminal who shredded his colleague and mentor. He is convinced there is a high-level conspiracy operating to cover up the vicious killings and although she is initially dubious, Hana gradually finds herself in agreement with Barrens.

The first section of the book is taut with the growing sense of insecurity as Hana increasingly feels that all the safe, everyday details of her life is a hollow disguise, as a merciless criminal strikes with impunity throughout the ship. I was completely caught up in the storyline, though my enjoyment was tempered by a niggling fear. I’ve never read anything else by Ramirez, and when an author creates such a tense, fearful atmosphere, he has to ensure that the denouement fully delivers. After steadily building up this shocking, terrible secret – it had to be HUGE…

So does he deliver? Oh yes. The whole book is superbly crafted, with the climax and final denouement leaving me with tears in my eyes. It all completely hung together and was every bit as shocking as was hinted at throughout. Even if you are not in the habit of reading science fiction, yet love mystery thrillers – get hold of The Forever Watch. It is a storming debut and I shall be looking out for this author’s next book. Ramirez is One To Watch.
10/10

Review of Mage’s Blood by David Hair

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David Hair is a writer whose name keeps cropping up – and this detailed and readable review of his first book in the series really helped me decide whether to track him down – so I thought I’d share it with you. Thank you, Jessica:)

A Bibliophile's Reverie

Amazon/Barnes & Nobles/Kobo/Goodreads

Review Written by: Jessica Curtis

Every twelve years a war occurs due to the moon tide drawing back enough that a bridge, the Leviathan bridge, which separates two continents is easy to be crossed. David Hair takes no caution when it comes to his comparisons to the countries portrayed in Mage’s Blood, as it is easy to see that the countries could be the ancient portrayal of the Middle East. Mage’s Blood focuses on the countries settled upon the continents of Yuros and Antiopia/Ahmedhassa, both of which are separated by the mage constructed Leviathan Bridge. Each chapter of Mage’s Blood is dedicated to focusing on the point of view of the main characters mainly: Antonin Meiros, Ramita Ankesharan, Elena Anborn, and Alaron Mercer all of which have key roles and parts in the novel. Starting out Mage’s Blood is a novel…

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Shoot for the Moon 2015 Challenge – January Roundup

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Last year, egged on by fellow writer and partner in crime, Mhairi Simpson, I set some crazy writing-related goals, which I revisited every month to see how I was doing. It worked so well, that this year I decided to continue with yet another set of over-ambitious targets. So what are these goals?

• Publish the Sunblinded trilogy

Running Out of Space and Dying for Space had already been written, when last year I decided this would be my firstmoon foray into self publishing my work. So I needed to complete Jezell’s story arc in the last book, Breathing Space. I’d initially hoped to complete the manuscript by the end of 2014, but it kept running off and generally behaving badly. One of the reasons prompting me to publish this series is that I’ve wanted to write a science fiction crime series featuring a female PI – and using Jezell as that character is an obvious choice. I know all her gnarly secrets, and how she got them; and given that I’ve also written two other books in the same world, I’m also on more than nodding terms with how it works. So now comes the stupidly ambitious part – I intend to publish the Sunblinded trilogy in time for Fantasycon in the autumn, so with a following wind and the gods of editing being very obliging, the three books will probably appear during mid-August. My marvellous writing group have agreed to beta-read and nitpick the manuscripts for me – though if anyone else is interested in doing so, I’d – of course – be delighted to hear from you.
Managed to complete the first draft of Breathing Space in the last week of January. Just as well – I was considering battering my head against a brick wall to see if I could shake the dratted story free, as it took 25,500 words – and less than half of that wordcount made the manuscript…

• Write Miranda’s Tempest

I started this last year and got nearly three-quarters of the way through before hitting a wall. I knew I’d gone badly wrong, but was too close to figure out what it was. So plonked the manuscript into the Pending box, and sure enough, I now know where and how it went off the rails… As a fair amount of what I originally wrote can be recycled, it shouldn’t take too long, once I get going.
Just to see if I could – I sat down and rewrote the first chapter in present tense, first person pov and it was so much punchier, while still keeping the slightly formal feel I wanted. But won’t be tackling this in earnest until the Sunblinded trilogy is done and dusted…

• Complete Chaos in New Cluster

This is the novel my writing pal, Michael Griffiths, and I started last year, writing alternating chapters between us. It has been pushed onto the back burner rather a lot, but is in the closing stages, so it would be great to get the first draft done and dusted. And start on the editing runs…
Haven’t had a chance to get to grips with this one, yet.

• Write at least 100 reviews for my blog

I pulled this number out of thin air last year – and nailed it. In fact, I wrote 126 reviews last year, as I increasingly find writing about books I enjoy helps complete the reading experience for me. I did debate whether to extend the challenge to make it more… challenging. But just because last year I happened to hit this target doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be able to do so with such ease this year – and as I find it really useful and fun to do, I don’t see the need to spoil it by placing undue pressure on a process that seems to work anyway.
I wrote 10 reviews during January, which came to just over 6,700 words. Half the books I completed in were by authors I hadn’t previously read – a promising beginning for my target to include more writers new to me in my reading pile.

• Propose and plan Creative Writing courses for the academic year 2015/16

I have already been thinking about next year’s courses. I really would like to have the course notes and plans written by the end of the summer holidays, but given I will be probably working flatout on getting three manuscripts ready to go at that stage, I’ll settle for having the Autumn term course good to go in plenty of time.

• Submit Mantivore Eyes and Netted

I attended a wonderful talk last year at Bristolcon by Jacey Bedford, who was very generous in telling us about her efforts to obtain an agent. She took us step by step through her approach and totally inspired me. As I want to be a hybrid author, with a traditional publishing deal in addition to my self publishing career, I’d like an agent. Up to now I’ve been rubbish at submitting my work – but this year, I’ve determined I will NAIL this target!
Nope. But then I spent January grappling with Breathing Space – and in order for a submission to be any good, I have to pay attention. I’m liable to make stupid mistakes, otherwise… Watch this space, though!

Overall last month, I wrote just over 37,400 words.