Category Archives: contemporary

Friday Faceoff – The moon lives in the lining of your skin… Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is SHAPESHIFTERS, so I’ve selected a book from a cracking series I very much enjoyed – World’s End – Book 1 of the Age of Misrule by Mark Chadbourn.

 

This edition was produced by Millennium in September 2000 – and it was this cover that prompted me to pick this one off the shelves. I love it. That glorious dragon suddenly appearing in the middle of the M4 in the path of a speeding car. The lighting… the rain reflecting the amazing image off the tarmac… a modern landscape in the background… the coruscating light flickering in the sky where the dragon has made his entrance… I think this is a masterful cover and it’s one of my all-time favourites.

 

Published in April 2010 by Pyr, this is another fabulous cover. If I hadn’t already given my heart to the dragon-themed cover above, this would certainly have been my favourite. The sheer threat and majesty of the magnificent being is so well depicted against the appalled figures silhouetted against that lurid green aura… I also love the title font, which works wonderfully well and holds its own with that amazing image.

 

On any other day, against normal covers, this effort would probably be my favourite. I love the image of the leaping dragon on this Polish edition, published by Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie in May 2006. The sheer vicious anger on that dragon face snarling out at us is sufficient to snag my attention – and I also love the beautiful slice of the wing and the way the title is nested within the image – but not quite enough to make this one my favourite…

 

Produced in June 2011, this French edition has gone for a feeling of menace, with the encroaching darkness held back by the small bubble of light over Stonehenge – what a clever choice for a symbol of ancient Britain – and our group of plucky protagonists silhouetted against that light, with an ominous red moon rising… Very cleverly done and far more understated than the previous efforts. Sadly, I’m not a subtle soul and prefer the clamour and excitement of dragons – because they’re – well, DRAGONS, baby!

 

This German edition, published by Feder & Schwert in July 2011, takes an entirely different tack and is another excellent example. The fossilised remains of the dragon, all picked out in glorious shades of gold and yellow, draws the eye. I love the slight spatter of blood – as well as giving extra visual drama, it also provides unanswered questions for the prospective reader… The designer has also taken time to consider how to include the textual matter within the artwork, which is fabulously executed. Another one that was so very nearly my favourite – which one do you prefer?

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Cyanide with Christie Book 3 of Crime With the Classics series by Katherine Bolger Hyde #Brainfluffbookreview #CyanidewithChristiebookreview

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The premise for this entertaining cosy whodunnit caught my eye, as did the title. So I was delighted to be approved for a NetGalley arc.

Having finished transforming Windy Corner, the grand Victorian mansion she inherited from her great aunt, into a writers’ retreat, widowed literature professor Emily Cavanaugh is ready to receive her first set of guests. But her careful planning is thrown into disarray by the unexpected arrival of outrageous true-crime writer, Cruella Crime, whose unpardonably rude behaviour is causing great offence. As a ferocious ice storm rages outside, the guests entertain one another with a game of charades. But their revelries are brought to a sudden halt by the discovery of a body in one of the guest bedrooms. When it transpires the victim was poisoned, Emily decides to take a leaf out of the book of her favourite detective writer, Agatha Christie, and investigate.

I found Emily an interesting protagonist. At a time when kick ass, feisty heroines with lethal fighting skills are thick on the ground, this bookish, hesitant, and rather timid lady was a refreshing change. Although she did at times come across as a throwback from another age, particularly in her rather inexplicable attitude to her hunky and adorably devout suitor. That said, I enjoyed the clash of personalities of the would-be writers cooped up at Windy Corner when a snowstorm cuts off their retreat. Under such circumstances, the shocker would be if a body didn’t turn up – and we are not disappointed.

While there are a number of red herrings, I did work out exactly what was going on well before the denouement. That said, I was never tempted to stop reading as I was drawn into the story and frankly by the end was more held by the characters than the fallout from the murder mystery. Overall, this was a pleasant change from my normal reading and I would happily get hold of another book from this author.

While I obtained an arc of Cyanide with Christie from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #CertainDarkThingsbookreview

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I encountered this remarkable author when reading The Beautiful Ones – see my review here. My admiration of her writing grew when I read Prime Meridian, so I treated myself to this one, which everyone mentions when talking about her work. Would I, too, enjoy it?

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…
Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

I’m not adding the rest of this rather chatty blurb, as it ventures into Spoiler territory and this one is far too good to be compromised by unwanted knowledge about future plotpoints. It’s a gem. Moreno-Garcia is superb at getting under the skin of her characters and making you care, even when they aren’t very likeable. Atl is entitled and spoilt – a fact even she acknowledges. She has done terrible things – and yet, like Domingo, I was smitten. I really wanted her to succeed in fleeing Mexico City without be executed by the police, or worse still – fall into the hands of a sadistic young vampire, who has a very valid reason for wanting to torture her. As her story unfolds, along with Domingo’s own life as a street kid, I found myself inhabiting the smelly hideout and eking out a precarious existence, while constantly harried by the inescapable hunger for blood.

I mostly read SFF, so while it isn’t my go-to genre, I’ve read one or three books featuring vampires. This is the one that best depicts their otherness, the differing races, differing customs and what drives them. It clearly lays bare their sense of entitlement and utter lack of humanity, while demonstrating their dangerous ability to mimic those emotions in order to influence the humans around them. I could see all that – and yet I still wanted Atl to prevail. And as for Domingo… sweet, trusting Domingo, who was enchanted by her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. What did I want for him? Well, not to have his throat torn out, obviously. Other than that – I wasn’t sure. He clearly wanted to become part of her life and leave with her when she went on the run. Was that the best thing for him?

I don’t know how Moreno-Garcia manages to worm her characters right into my inscape – I suspect she is a witch, whose books weave an enchantment. But I have yet to read anything of hers where I haven’t passionately cared about her world and the people in it. As for what happens to Atl and Domingo – you’ll have to read the book to find out. Even if you’re sick of reading vampire books, even if you’ve never read a vampire book, pick this one up and give it a go. It is every bit as beautiful and dark as that amazing cover.
10/10

Sunday Post – 10th February, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Another week has slipped by – this time in a welter of wind and rain. I’ll take that over snow any day, but it has been wet and dreary for a chunk of time, making the drive into Northbrook and back miserable. I can’t quite believe that this week saw the halfway point of this term come and go… Wednesday evening I attended our writing group where the main discussion somehow morphed into various versions of ‘Lilac Wine’ – there were those of us who felt Nina Simone’s version aced it, while others preferred Elkie Brooks and Miley Cyrus – there’s no accounting for taste! On Thursday, I had a good lesson with Tim, who is working towards his Functional Skills Level 2 Reading exam.

On Friday, I met up with writing buddy Mhairi. We had lunch together at Haskins and browsed, when Mhairi spotted some amazing umbrellas on sale – the big old-fashioned kind, with a lovely pattern of a bee on lavender. Given that it was hammering down outside, I treated myself and it easily kept us both dry while we made our way to car. We had a lovely catch-up together, overshadowed by the fact that she’s moving away from the area very soon. She’s promised to come and stay regularly and I hope she does. I’m so sad that she’s going, though obviously I wish her all the luck in the world in her new home.

Last week I read:
Cyanide with Christie – Crime with the Classics series by Katherine Bolger Hyde
Having finished transforming Windy Corner, the grand Victorian mansion she inherited from her great aunt, into a writers’ retreat, widowed literature professor Emily Cavanaugh is ready to receive her first set of guests. But her careful planning is thrown into disarray by the unexpected arrival of outrageous true-crime writer, Cruella Crime, whose unpardonably rude behaviour is causing great offence. As a ferocious ice storm rages outside, the guests entertain one another with a game of charades. But their revelries are brought to a sudden halt by the discovery of a body in one of the guest bedrooms. When it transpires the victim was poisoned, Emily decides to take a leaf out of the book of her favourite detective writer, Agatha Christie, and investigate. But as she pursues her enquiries, it becomes chillingly clear that she herself may have been the intended victim…
This is fun, particularly for those cosy whodunit fans yearning for the nostalgia of some of the old classics. I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

The Revenant Express – Book 5 of the Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann

Following their bloody encounter with the Executioner, Sir Maurice Newbury’s assistant Veronica Hobbes is close to death. Desperate to save her life, Newbury and Veronica’s sister Amelia board a sleeper train bound for St. Petersburg, in the hope that Gustav Faberge might have the answer. But there are enemies on board, and Newbury and Amelia will need all their strength and cunning to survive the Revenant Express.
This action-packed sequel to The Executioner’s Heart follows on more or less immediately from the climactic ending of the previous book, so if you haven’t read it then I’d advise that you do so before picking this one up. Review to follow this week.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 3rd February 2019

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Endgames – Book 12 of the Imagers Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt Jr

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Knife Children – NOVELLA in The Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday Face-Off featuring Tongues of Serpents – Book 5 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Quotations on integrity https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2019/02/06/quotations-on-integrity-4/ Given that baldfaced lying is rapidly becoming an acceptable political tool all over the planet, let’s consider those whose expectations were a whole lot higher…

Let’s talk trigger warnings https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2019/02/08/lets-talk-trigger-warnings-bookblogger-bookbloggers-blogger-bloggers-blogpost/ This is an interesting subject for any blogger – those who do and those who don’t…

It’s Been a Wonderful Five Years… https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/02/09/it-has-been-five-wonderful-years/ She’s absolutely right! This enormously talented photographer has been one of my go-to blogs as I find her photos both inspirational and a huge comfort when the world isn’t being fair…

Will We Read On? Or Put the Book Down? Sometimes It’s The Little Things https://writerunboxed.com/2019/02/09/will-we-read-on-or-put-down-the-book-sometimes-its-the-little-things/ I’m always intrigued to discover what makes other readers DNF a book…

And The Big Secret Project Is… Heart of the Story Editorial & Coaching Services! https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2019/02/09/heart-of-the-story-editorial-coaching-services/ Sara has been a writing buddy for a long time, with a great track record of providing detailed advice for writers. She also did a wonderful job as a beta reader for me on one of my manuscripts! I wish her loads of luck with this project.

In the meantime, many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – have a wonderful week!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Headlong – Book 21 of the Bill Slider mysteries by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles #Brainfluffbookreview #Headlongbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the previous book I read in this series, Shadow Play, and was delighted when I saw this offering on Netgalley, so tucked right in…

When one of London’s best-known literary agents is found dead in strange circumstances, having fallen headlong from his office window, DCI Slider is under pressure from the Borough Commander to confirm a case of accidental death. But when the evidence points to murder, Slider and his team find themselves uncovering some decidedly scandalous secrets in the suave and successful Ed Wiseman’s past. An embittered ex-wife. A discarded mistress. A frustrated would-be author. A disgruntled former employee. Many had reason to hold a grudge against the late lamented literary agent. But who would feel strongly enough to kill him?

This is a classic police procedural, where the focus of the story revolves around the main protagonist, Bill Slider, who heads up the murder squad. As the investigation progresses, we discover more facts about the dead man and his life. And along the way, we also get a ringside seat into Bill Slider’s life, too. I like the fact that he is married with a small son and between them, they sometimes struggle with childcare when work builds up. I also like the fact that he is happily married and a concerned boss who tries to do the best for the team working under him. He isn’t magnificently defiant to his irritable bosses, either. He keeps his head down and his sour thoughts to himself, which nonetheless make entertaining reading.

At the heart of the story is the murder, of course. And Harrod-Eagles once more delivers a nicely twisty mystery with all sorts of plausible suspects that give us interesting glimpses into the publishing world. I didn’t see the resolution coming, but it made absolute sense and I was also very taken with the sudden domestic bombshell that emerged at the end of the book, too.

Any niggles? Well, just one – there were some rather flashy noirish phrases in the early stages of the book that caught my attention, until they completely disappeared around the halfway mark. There should be either more of them, or none at all. That said, I’m conscious that this is an arc, so this issue may have been fixed by the time this book comes to publication. Recommended for fans of intelligent, well-written murder mysteries with not too much gore.

While I obtained an arc of Headlong from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Laughter is the best medicine… Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a HUMOUR so I’ve selected Eligible – Book 4 of the Austen Project by Curtis Sittenfeld.

This edition was produced by Random House in April 2016. The bright red cover with the curling font and line drawing of an outsized diamond ring gives a big clue that this is a romcom. I like this one – it’s bold, eye-catching and cheerful and certainly helped me decide to get hold of the book.

 

Published in May 2016 by The Borough Press, this one isn’t so successful as far as I’m concerned. While the girl is clearly beautiful – I don’t know why she decided to kiss the palm of her own hand and then start waving around. If there is a joke connected to this, then it’s slipped past me – and that isn’t a good feeling, either. I also dislike the amount of chatter on the cover, including that nasty intrusive blob.

 

This Swedish edition, published by Wahlström & Widstrand in January 2017, is a successful effort I really like. The eggshell background works well with the gold edging and the stars and the two rings let us know it is a romcom. I also appreciate the decorative font and the clean, restrained use of colour.

 

Produced by Mona Kitap in 2017, this Turkish edition also makes it quite clear that this novel is a comedy. The classic pink cover shouts romcom – however I do feel that while the updated Bennet family depicted around the cover is a nice idea, the figures are too small to produce strong eye appeal and end up looking rather random. Though I like the cat… At least I have a strong idea of the genre.

 

This German edition, published by HarperCollins in June 2017 is my favourite. The colour scheme with the eggshell blue background and lovely sprigs of those blowsy, heavily scented heritage roses give a lovely nod to the Austin roots of this book, as does that silhouette. Of all the covers, this one is the classiest and – I think – most accurately reflects the blending of old and new in the Austen Project series. Which is your favourite?

Review of Eye Can Write by Jonathan Bryan #Brainfluffbookreview #EyeCanWritebookreview

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This is a book my mother sent me after seeing twelve-year-old Jonathan interviewed on TV and looking up his story.

Can you imagine not being able to speak or communicate? The silence, the loneliness, the pain. But, inside you disappear to magical places, and even meet your best friend there. However, most of the time you remain imprisoned within the isolation. Waiting, longing, hoping. Until someone realises your potential and discovers your key, so your unlocking can begin. Now you are free, flying like a wild bird in the open sky. A voice for the voiceless.

Jonathan Bryan has severe cerebral palsy, a condition that makes him incapable of speech or voluntary movement. He was locked inside his own mind, aware of the outside world but unable to fully communicate with it until he found a way by using his eyes to laboriously choose individual letters, and through this make his thoughts known.

I knew this was a special book, but was unprepared for the emotional impact. It is a book of two halves – the first part is written by Jonathan’s mother and charts the events leading up to the accident that caused Jonathan’s problems. The list of life-threatening difficulties he has endured is shockingly long, as is the number of medical interventions and trips to hospital he had needed. His gritted courage and determination were evident in the fact that he simply hung on in there and refused to die when the odds were stacked against him, time and time again.

But what for me was a source of heartbreak and intense frustration was his treatment at the special school where he was simply being warehoused. It brought back far too many unhappy memories of another bright boy whose education was severely compromised because expectations about his ability were set far too low. This book is a testament to Jonathan’s own intelligence and passion, as well as a tribute to a mother who refused to listen to the experts and was guided instead by her own instincts about her son. She taught him to read and over time, they found a way to allow him to express himself, even though it is laborious.

Jonathan’s own feelings about being trapped within his body without any way to express himself, while forced to watch the same TV programme designed for developing infants should be a wake-up call for everyone in Special Needs education. I very much hope the politicians he has met will take note of what he is saying and realise that while he is remarkable, there are probably many other children and adults with active, creative minds also trapped by their bodies. I’d like to think as a country we will take on board Jonathan’s plea that everyone should be taught to read and write, using all the technology available, unless it becomes apparent that it isn’t appropriate, which is not the case now.

In the meantime, go and track this book down. It is an emotional read, but also very uplifting. Jonathan’s poetry will stay with me for a long time…
10/10

Interview with JEAN LEE – Author of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN #Brainfluffauthorinterview #JeanLeeauthorinterview

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I’d like to welcome Jean Lee, author of the recently released Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN which blew me away – see my review here. I’ve been reading Jean’s amazing blog for a while now and it’s always a pleasure so I was delighted to have a chance to chat to her about her writing.

How does Wisconsin inspire you as a writer?

Wisconsin breeds the fantastic.

We are home to peculiar, toothsome beasts like the Hodag, devourer of all-white bulldogs.

We are home to unique, word-some writers like Neil Gaiman: “There’s that tiny off-kilter nature in the Midwest that’s in the details,” he says when asked about writing…

Neil Gaiman says ‘American Gods’ is

rooted in Minnesota-Wisconsin weirdness

The writer found a strange quality in the Midwest that fuels his “American Gods.”

We are home to hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Picturesque, perhaps? Plainfield was indeed picturesque once—until Ed Gein was arrested in November of 1957. You may know the rest. Basically, Gein inspired many of the fictional horror icons we know today: Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill are all rooted in the reality of Ed Gein.
We drove through the wild patches between the hidden towns often when I was a child. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In the small farming town of my youth, I could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Wisconsin is filled with hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Rock Springs was a town of 600 when I was a child, a little grain-fill stop for the railroad. We didn’t even have a gas station until I turned 5, and our library, a small portion of the town’s community center, could fit in a utility closet (it probably was a utility closet at one point). Farms and wild wood filled the gaps between towns. Unless, of course, you went towards Wisconsin Dells, where the wilderness is trimmed and prepped and ready for its mandatory close-up before the tourist rushes to the proper civilization of water parks and casinos.

We drove through those wild patches often. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In Rock Springs, one could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Both Charlotte and Liam, the Fallen Prince, are strong, nuanced characters – when you first started writing this book whose story did you most want to tell?

At the outset, the story was all about Charlotte. It was strictly in her point of view, the story opened with more of Charlotte and her sister’s life before boarding the bus, and so on. I wanted Charlotte to escape her wretched life and fly. But once I got her into River Vine, I began to see an ensemble take shape, a family of characters bearing their own shames and despairs, all struggling to free themselves and find hope in the future.

Liam wasn’t much to me at the outset–just a pompous artist who had some growing up to do. It was Arlen, the teacher, that got me to slow down and see what he saw: a kind heart that had been brutalized so often it had forgotten what it meant to feel. The more I drafted, the more I came to see Liam’s inner struggle to grow beyond his cage.

When did you start writing Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?

2010. Yup, that’s a while ago, but life tends to fill the years, and in my case, I had just become a mom. Postpartum depression hit hard. Very, very hard. I felt very cut-off from life. I couldn’t feel the joy of motherhood. I found myself often staring out a window, trapped in walls yet somehow exiled outside of feeling. I’d look upon my sleeping baby and feel nothing but guilt because I couldn’t feel complete with motherhood. Then a friend introduced me to the awesome challenge that is National Novel Writing Month. From November 1st-30th, you are to write 50,000 words of a story not yet started (that’s cheating. Outlines are permissible, though.). The story may need more than 50K words, but what matters is that you reach that length in thirty days.

I swung it that year, and felt AMAZING. I was escaping the trap, driven to feel with characters outside of this world. I couldn’t just sit and dwell on individual lines or plot points—I had to keep going, and because I had to march on in the narrative, I found myself marching on in real life, too. I wasn’t staring out the window waiting for minutes to pass. I was…I was back, you know?

I felt a part of life again, enjoying the touch of my daughter’s tiny hands around my finger and her boundless grey-blue eyes. I reveled in these things. I felt…complete.

How did you figure out the names of your characters?

Charlotte’s name came from a baby book in the long, long, LONG process of choosing a name for our firstborn. After weeks of highlighting and crossing out names, we had narrowed ourselves down to Charlotte and ____. Well, we went with ____ for our kid, so I kept the name Charlotte for my heroine. I’d grown attached to the name over those weeks. It carries both feminine and masculine traits, both delicacy and strength. A perfect fit.

Nature was ripe for names, since this small society has been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries. From this I uprooted names like Poppy, Ember, and even Campion (it’s a kind of rose). Many of the other names I chose after studying The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. I loved having this broad overview of names across various cultures. It’s through this book I discovered names that fit some aspect of my characters’ nature, such as Dorjan—“Dark Man” and Liam—“strong-willed warrior.” It’s important to have names that matter. Be it the history, the meaning, or because my child almost carried it—the name needs to matter.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing’s a must. When I write, I channel the depression away from my family and into a universe where my characters can fight it.

It’s never completely gone, you know, depression. We can slay it, burn it, bury it—but it never dies. Only by spinning stories can I transplant some of that darkness into villains, heroes, and worlds. From the darkness grows the adventure and the hope.

What has it been like – juggling writing, teaching and three kids?

Three years ago, you may as well have asked what it’s like to juggle three bowling pins with spikes on fire. Back when I was trying to write in bedlam, I stole whatever time I could before dawn. The television usually bought me at least an hour in the day to outline, draft dialogue, or keep up with my blog. The children’s naptime never felt long enough, but I made due.

Once the boys began preschool, I could at least promise myself one hour of writing time a day. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But that’s the thing about writing and keeping a job and running a household: every minute to write’s a blessing. Sometimes those days crash and burn. Other times—like when the boys didn’t have school—we found other ways to be creative.

Now that Blondie, Biff, and Bash are in school all day, I always have time for writing, be it for the blog, editing, drafting, etc. Granted, summer’s still a trial, but because I didn’t give up on writing when time was scarce, I have many stories to share here in the daylight hours.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Research can feel like a big time-suck, but when it comes to publishing, DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are so many scammers out there with their “author services” and “exclusive anthologies.” They’re going to talk you up, make you feel amazing, and before you know it you’ve paid four digits for lousy editing on a slap-dash affair no one’s going to see. Scope out the small presses. Join author groups online to gather recommendations for editors, book designers, and cover artists. Your story deserves to be seen, but when it’s ready.

Yes, an author platform really does help. Don’t think of it as yet another time suck; rather, treat it as the regimented prose exercise. Reading countless other voices, writing tight posts on a regular basis—all helps the craft, not hinders it. No, it’s not the novel you dream hitting the best-seller list, but making a website, commenting on social media—these simple actions give your name an author’s history. Other writers/publishers/agents/readers can trace your name back to studies, comments, and whatever else you write. You build that platform, you build a writer’s resume for the publishing business to see.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

When my sons’ principal calls. Nothing f***s over the creative mindset when you have to come and talk about one son, or the other, or both. Again.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I do write under a pseudonym, actually. When you’re a preacher’s kid, all your actions and talents are scrutinized—“you play piano just like your mom!” “You sing just like your dad!” “You write just like your father.” “You should be just like your mom and become a teacher.”

There comes a time when you get sick of all the comparisons, and just want to be known for something YOU do, not what your parents do. So when I started my site Jean Lee’s World, I wanted to see who’d like my writing for my writing, NOT because of who I am or whomever I’m related to. Writing under another name’s also allowed me to work through past traumas and current depressions without bringing any family members under fire, which is important to me. These are my demons, not theirs.

How did you begin writing the short stories that accompany your novel?
The short stories began as a writing experiment last year. My husband had been listening to John Carpenter’s Lost Themes, and a story began to shape in my head of a child dying at the hands of a cuddly creature before a dark skulking thing gets involved. When I showed the short story to my publishers, they encouraged me to write more short stories as little introductions to the universe of Charlotte and these imprisoned shapeshifters. Thus Tales of the River Vine was born, with stories following both antagonists and protagonists across the years.

The challenge with such “prequels,” as they are, was to find emotional centers without chipping away at the emotional arc of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Take the last story of the collection, “Tattered Rhapsody.” Originally I intended the story to be called “Dirty Charlie,” featuring Charlotte the Wise-Ass taking on some gang members at her high school for profit. Girl’s got to earn bus money somehow, right?

But the story felt wrong. I couldn’t pin it at first. Charlotte’s there, she’s showing her strength, her protective instincts for her kid sister. And yet, the story felt…heartless.
Then it hit me: Charlotte’s heart doesn’t speak with her fists. It speaks with her music.
And just like that, the story’s heart found a pulse, a rhythm both despairing yet defiant. Just like Charlotte.

I hope you enjoy reading “Tattered Rhapsody” and the other Tales of the River Vine and telling me what you think. They’re all FREE on Kindle, Nook, and other publishing platforms!

 

 

 

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN by Jean Lee #Brainfluffbookreview #FallenPrinceborn:STOLENbookreview

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Jean Lee writes excellent articles on her blog – slices of her family and writing life that leap off the page. So when she asked me if I would be interested in reviewing her first full-length fantasy book, I jumped at the opportunity. I will be posting her fantastic interview on Monday…

In rural Wisconsin, an old stone wall is all that separates the world of magic from the world of man—a wall that keeps the shifters inside. When something gets out, people disappear. Completely.

Escaping from an abusive uncle, eighteen-year-old Charlotte is running away with her younger sister Anna. Together they board a bus. Little do they know that they’re bound for River Vine—a shrouded hinterland where dark magic devours and ancient shapeshifters feed, and where the seed of love sets root among the ashes of the dying.

This one starts with a bang. I love Lee’s immersive style as we immediately are caught up in Charlotte’s concerns once the bus comes to a stop and the passengers spill out. As well as keeping a firm eye on Anna, her rebellious teenage sister, Charlotte is busy checking out the reason why they’ve broken down… their fellow passengers… their surroundings… the odd behaviour of the local wildlife, particularly a certain raven… It’s clear she has a heightened sense of smell – and that while she is alert and apprehensive, she isn’t afraid. Lee does a masterful job of establishing Charlotte’s difference and concerns from the very first line. I loved her.

The worldbuilding is brilliant. Lee’s snappy prose style gives us a real sense of the surroundings – and thanks to Charlotte’s enhanced olfactory abilities, we not only get to see the world, we get to smell it, too. Once the turning point in the book occurs, Charlotte finds herself in a completely different place with different rules. We get to see her propensity to act first and consider later, even if she isn’t always sure that’s the best strategy. During her troubled and often violent past, this has proved to be successful and it also provides her with release for the simmering anger that drives her. I loved watching her progression as she very slowly starts to let her guard down – only for all her suspicions surge once more when she becomes convinced that she is being double-crossed.

The other main protagonist is Liam, the Bloody Prince, who makes a dramatic entrance thanks to Charlotte’s intervention. He is also an interesting mixture. Imbued with a great deal of innate power, his abilities have been compromised over the years by his tendency to use them for his own baser ends. I really liked this aspect – far too often protagonists pitch up with major abilities they have only used for the greater good, with only the baddies who give in to the darker side… But what if a main character’s upbringing is sufficiently skewed to lead him down some dark paths? Can he pull themselves free of such a compromised past and redeem himself? This is one of the main questions Jean asks.

And the clash of cultures between entitled, mesmerising Liam and embattled, bitter Charlotte ensures that plenty of sparks fly. His assumption that he can schmooze her with his usual mix of flattery and mind-power elicits her contemptuous fury, beginning to make him reconsider what he is doing.

He isn’t the only nuanced, interesting character – all the supporting cast have their own tales. I particularly love Arlen, who had the thankless task of raising Liam and his own gifted and powerful nephew and is still trying to hold everything together.

Those violet-eyed, murdering creatures are also fascinating, with their own tragic stories. Like the grief-stricken, trapped fae who has seen his children blown apart, and is intent on slaughtering any human he can get hold of. While he clearly shouldn’t prevail, I liked knowing why his behaviour is so savage. How refreshing to be sympathetic to the antagonists, especially given what they have done and what they are planning to do to humanity.

After the initial tension-filled opening and flurry of action, the pace eases up as we are given a ringside seat into Charlotte’s struggle to acclimatise and discover exactly what is going on. I didn’t mind – I was hooked. Once the story picked up again, gathering momentum for the final denouement I simply didn’t bother to put this one down. Lee’s spin on some of the classical mythical tropes, such as the Tree of Life and a usurped prince, is beautifully handled. There are a couple of short story collections set in this world, but I am hoping for another full-length book of more adventures in this savage, strange place.

Highly recommended for fans of quality, character-led fantasy.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kindle EBOOK Lethal White Book 4 of the Cormoran Strike novels by Robert Galbraith #Brainfluffbookreview #LethalWhitebookreview

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I didn’t enjoy Career of Evil – see my review here – as much as the previous two books and was a bit worried that this was a series that would be sliding further down into the gritty grunge of the murder mystery spectrum, as it’s not what I prefer to read. However this time around, I absolutely loved this one – it’s my favourite so far…

“I seen a kid killed…He strangled it, up by the horse.”
When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic. Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

This story spans the full range of the social class system in England – from a mentally ill young man, clearly unable to adequately look after himself to a Minister of the State with a complicated family life. Cormoran Strike, dogged private investigator, cannot shake the feeling that Billy wasn’t hallucinating about the horrific murder he described.

As part of the investigation, Robin goes undercover in the Houses of Parliament as an intern and that made for fascinating reading, given that Rowling got access to the overcrowded, shabby offices where most of the admin work is carried out. The murder mystery part of the book twists in all sorts of directions, until the crime-fighting duo finally pull enough clues together to work out what was going on. Which is when that title really comes into its own…

This long book isn’t solely about the murder mystery element – at least half the book is given over to Cormoran and Robin’s complicated private lives. In fact the book starts with a major event in Robin’s life that also impacts upon Cormoran – and if you have crashed midway into this series, you’ll be forgiven for wondering if you’ve somehow ended up with a romance. Though there isn’t all that much that is happy or romantic in this book. Both Cormoran and Robin are finding it difficult to keep their partners happy, given the demands the Agency is making upon their time. While Cormoran frequently finds the inevitable walking and standing he has to do creates real problems with his artificial leg, Robin is also battling with panics attacks caused by the last case where she was attacked and injured. I really like the fact that these protagonists aren’t Teflon-coated – they are brave and both crave adventure, but also have to deal with the fallout when an incident becomes terrifying and life-threatening.

This is a long book, but at no time did I feel I was trudging through it. The final denouement was a genuine shock – I hadn’t guessed who the culprit was – and the book managed to tie up all the loose ends, leaving me wanting more…
10/10