Category Archives: feisty heroine

AUTHOR ANNALS #2 – WRITING RETREAT #Brainfluffauthorannals

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I was fortunate enough to be invited to go on a writing retreat with some of my writing group members. I’ve been part of this group now for nearly ten years and we try to meet up twice a month over tea and cake every other Wednesday evening to share each other’s work and provide constructive, but honest criticism.

This retreat was at a converted barn with 8 double bedrooms, all with ensuite bathrooms. Six of us were there for most of the week, while three others joined us for part of the week. The barn was tucked away down winding single-track roads etched into the red West Country earth at a farm on Exmoor near the hamlet of Roadwater. The weather was fabulous, so we’d aim to write from 9.30 am, stop for lunch at 1 pm and go for a walk at between 4-4.30 pm, though I only broke off a couple of days for the walk. And then we generally stopped writing at about 6 pm and took turns to prepare the wonderful meals organised and provisioned by Sarah Palmer, who not only organised the whole thing, but happens to be a fabulous cook. After clearing up, we sat around the table and read our work aloud to each other and gained valuable feedback. We then played quizzes or chatted until going to bed, before repeating the whole process again the next day. Bliss…

My bedroom view was across the lawns to the main farmhouse, with a large lavender bush right outside the door opening onto the gardens, which was open most afternoons because otherwise it was too hot. It was so lovely – this was where I chose to write

The internet connection was practically non-existent in the barn, apart from the occasional text and if we wanted to make a phone call we had to climb the hill at the back of the property. I found this a huge advantage, though others weren’t so impressed, but it meant that there was no question of messing around on the internet in displacement activities – it was all about the writing.

It’s been such a treat to have spent that amount of time as a writer – the part that often gets tucked away until the end of a busy day, or squeezed between other chores – that I’m very aware just how very lucky I’ve been to have such a wonderful opportunity. But did I make the most of it? Nope. I made some fundamental mistakes that meant I didn’t make as much progress as I should have.

The biggest problem was my lack of preparation. During the last year, I’ve published a space opera adventure The Sunblinded trilogy, which meant I spent hours in the head of my main protagonist, Lizzy and immersed in the world. I don’t know what made me think that I’d be able to seamlessly switch into Kyrillia’s viewpoint in Mantivore Preys and absorb all the details, backstories and most importantly of all – the speech rhythms and dialect differences of Arcadia without at least rereading the first book, Mantivore Dreams. But I didn’t and I paid the price. While Felina, the protagonist who made a takeover bid for the book during my last retreat, had poured from my fingertips, Kyrillia didn’t. The going was slow and I kept having to break off to check up on various details.

That said, having read several scenes to the group, who gave me suitable feedback, I’ve returned from Somerset with a stronger start to the book. And while I was there, I also had an epiphany regarding Miranda’s Tempest which is currently on the backburner, until the Arcadian trilogy is finished.

But the biggest advantage was to get a break from my everyday life in a setting that made me feel happy and peaceful, with the mental space to realise that my current work rate simply isn’t sustainable. I need more sleep and fewer hours in front of the computer – I suspect my raised blood pressure is part of that problem, too. So now I’m back home, I hoping to put in place some major changes… watch this space!

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*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

Friday Faceoff – Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again… #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 MYSTERY NOVEL, so I’ve selected Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

 

This edition was produced by Little, Brown and Company in December 2013. Initially I didn’t like it – too gloomy and odd. But it is a cover that has grown on me. There is a lot going on despite the preponderance of black – the glamorous woman hugging herself, clearly in trouble. For once, I even think the textbox featuring the title is well done – though I generally hate them – as it gives a sense of the period in which this classic was written.

 

Published in 2006 by HarperCollins, this is a classic case of more is less. The sepia image of the steps, presumably leading to Manderley, are suitably appropriate. Granted, the very plain white font is rather bald and could have done with a bit of texture or shadowing to lift it – but then scrawling a fancy R over the whole thing in a mismatched colour just shouts that some big boss looked at it and decided it ‘needed something’. He was probably right – but definitely not the odd scolling either side of that very plain font, or that R…

 

This edition, published by Virago in December 2007 is more like it. Those wrought-iron gates with the ominous glow in the background, echoed in the sky above the author’s name leaves a sense of menace without giving the impression it’s horror. I quite like this one, though once again, I think the title and author name are rather too plain.

 

Produced by Virago Modern Classics in 2015, this is my favourite. For starters, unlike any of the others to date, this cover is actually beautiful. The scrolling of the wrought-iron gate, the looping font for both the author and the title are eye-catching and visually appealing. And yet… those hectic red flowers shout that something is amiss – maybe dangerous.

 

This edition, also published by Virago, though in July 2015, is another excellent effort. You can see echoes of the previous design (I’m not sure which one came first) in the styling of the author and title font, but the colour is different. The silhouettes of Manderlay and the second Mrs de Winters – or is it Rebecca? – stand out really well against the black background. This one is a very close second, though the previous cover still just edges it for me. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Select Few – Book 2 of the Select series by Marit Weisenberg #Brainfluffbookreview #SelectFewbookreview

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I really enjoyed this first book in this YA paranormal series, Select – read my review here – so when I saw the second book was available, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be accepted.

After rejecting the cult-like influence of her father’s family, Julia moves into a fancy hotel in downtown Austin. But she finds herself alone except for her boyfriend, John–and her fears. The FBI is also keeping a close eye on Julia hoping she can lead them to her father, Novak, as he’s wanted for questioning in his former assistant’s death. Will she ever be able to blend into normal society without being traced by her father? Will the FBI ever leave her alone? Can she ever find happiness?

I have once again made major changes to the very chatty blurb, and my advice is – don’t read it before picking up the book. The first book ended on something of a cliffhanger with a sudden revelation right at the very end, which turned everything on its head and had Julia making a snap decision not to join her family in their flight to a new life. So the start of Select Few has Julia coming to terms with that decision, after realising the enormity of her loss. She now has to make her way without her sister, whom she loves and misses and her overbearing authoritarian father. While at times she has revelled in her new freedom, she has also discovered that freedom is often accompanied by loneliness. Her relationship with John is also problematical, given that revelation at the end of the first book, so while her feelings for him are a comfort, he is often at a loss to understand her behaviour.

The reason I can discuss John’s feelings with such authority is that this book is a dual narrative with Julia’s first-person viewpoint telling most of the story, interleaved with John’s observations, addressed directly to Julia in the form of some kind of journal. If you haven’t read Select I recommend you do so if you are not feeling particularly bonded with the main characters, or you cannot work out what is going on. Given the first slice of the story is taken up with what is happening, I think this is one of those series where you really can’t crash midway in the series without floundering – and that would be a shame as I found the early part of the book particularly gripping while I tried to work out where it would go next.

Of course, if you are held at the start, the build-up has to really lead something – we’ve all read books which start with a bang and simply can’t sustain the momentum. Fortunately, Weisenberg has sufficient story and drive that the climax and final stages bring the book to a satisfying and convincing end.

I wasn’t as fed up with the inevitable love triangle as I usually am, and to be honest, I’m not sure why. But perhaps it was because I was sufficiently caught up in the main story and found the road trip also helped Julia comes to terms with some important issues along the way. Recommended for fans of paranormal coming-of-age books. While I obtained an arc of Select Few from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Muddle of Magic – Book 2 of the Fledgling Magic series by Alexandra Rushe

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One of my book blogging buddies was looking forward to this one (sorry – I can’t remember who!) so I nipped across and requested it, not realising – again – that it was the second book in the series.

What’s a nice Southern girl doing in a place like this?
Whisked from humdrum Alabama to the fantastical land of Tandara by a mage who won’t take no for an answer, Raine Stewart finds herself tangled in a muddle of magic. A Dark Wizard is out for her blood, a demonic golem has orders to dispatch her . . . and she stinks at magic. Being a wizard, even a baby wizard, is harder than Raine thought.

This is an amazingly rich, detailed world – and I was a bit more adrift than was ideal, given I hadn’t read the first book. But this portal fantasy adventure was great fun with a wealth of magical beings – there are dragons, giants, a rich variety of trolls and fairies, wizards, seers, ghosts and shape-shifters. I enjoyed Raine’s character and while there were times she was a bit overwhelmed, she mostly coped with the major culture shock extremely well. Since she arrived in this fantasy world, she has managed to make a number of friends with some powerful beings – sufficiently successfully so as to draw down some very unwelcome attention from a powerful dark wizard. So with a huge price on her head, she is also having to be continually guarded – which she finds especially irksome, given that before she was yanked into this portal world, she was an invalid with a poor prognosis.

While the adventure is mostly in Raine’s viewpoint, there were moments when suddenly we would get someone else’s pov, which I found a bit jarring. That niggle aside, I really enjoyed this world. It is very much a classical fantasy adventure in the Tolkien tradition with a rich variety of different creatures and Rushe is deft at giving us plenty of description without holding up the pace too much. I loved her serpent Flame, while the puzzles surrounding a number of the other main characters kept me turning the pages and enlivened a long train journey.

There was plenty of snark and humour thrown in amongst the plots, kidnappings, brutal fights, snooty courtiers and lantern-jawed heroes. My favourite is probably Gertie, the foul-mouthed, drink-loving troll who takes Raine under her protection and is full of smart-mouthed opinions about the outraged courtiers and haughty queen who hates her. And in amongst the banter and nonsense, there are some poignant moments of loss and heartache in the form of unrequited love and a desperately unhappy marriage.

I’m impressed that Rushe has managed to pack so much vividness and detail into a book just shy of 400 pages – she achieves this by also ensuring the pace keeps moving forward as fantastical creatures, magic artefacts and scheming wizards spin through her story. And there might be a muddle of magic – but there is nothing muddled about the storytelling. While I obtained an arc of A Muddle of Magic from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Indie EBOOK arc Sadie’s War – Book 3 of the Currency Girls series by Rosemary Noble #Brainfluffbookreview #Sadie’sWarbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed Noble’s novel about the early days of Grimsby in her engrossing tale, Ranter’s Wharf, see my review here. So when I heard she was bringing out a new historical novel – this time featuring Australia – I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy in return for an honest review.

Sadie is brought up amongst the vineyards of the Yarra Valley whilst her work-obsessed father reaps riches from the boom years before the Great War. With post-war depression looming, Sadie’s only option is to flee from her disastrous marriage, seeking refuge in Cleethorpes, a small seaside town in northern England. Years later, when her sons are in RAF Bomber Command, she receives a letter from her long-lost brother which forces her to confront the past and her part in her family’s downfall.

Noble has done a great deal of research, as many of the characters featuring in this family saga are actual family members, including Sadie, although not much is on record about this intriguing woman, other than the fact that after her failed marriage, she left for England. This is a fascinating tale fictionalising her life, stretching back to Sadie’s childhood, where her earliest memories are of being constantly moving houses, the next one ever grander and better than the previous one. Though her growing up years are blighted by the sudden death of her mother, which brings about a set of circumstances which probably wouldn’t have happened if there had been a vigilant and caring mother-figure at home. I really enjoyed Sadie as a character – she wants to please and conform, as girls were trained to do back in those days, but when it all hits the fan, she also proves that she has plenty of courage to take the necessary steps to start again.

In charting Sadie’s life, Noble gives us a vivid insight into the life and times, including customs, food and entertainment in an easy, natural writing style I have come to associate with her books. This is a real strength of the book, which makes it a delightful read.

The depiction of life during WW2, which is the other narrative running alongside Sadie’s earlier experiences, works well as a contrast to those days of heat, sunshine and socialising in Australia, as life in England on the Home Front was demanding. People were frequently hungry, cold and exhausted as they dealt with food rationing, war work and sleepless nights during bombing raids. This is all well described as part of Sadie’s daily round without holding up the story, while she is also desperately worried about her sons, who are all away fighting.

The only niggle I have is the wrinkle in the developing love story. It feels a bit contrived for the purposes of the narrative arc, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Do also read the Afterword, which is fascinating. I had no idea that Stanley, Sadie’s beloved brother, had led such an interesting life after his time in Australia. This is highly recommended for fans of sagas and historical adventures featuring WW2 and Australia.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – I spy with my little eye… #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 EYES. I’ve selected The Host by Stephenie Meyer.

 

This edition was produced by Little, Brown and Company in May 2008. This is the definitive cover you see everywhere. It is surprisingly effective, that single eye staring out with such intensity – with the infamous silver line around the iris that glows eerily on the cover itself. This one is my favourite.

 

Published in January 2013 by Black Bay Books, this cover misses the whole point, while highlighting the love triangle in the book, which for me was the weakest part of the story. Still, I suppose it depends on whether you read it as a romance with a bit of science fiction thrown in, or an alien invasion with an added love story.

 

This German edition, published by Ullstein in 2011, features a butterfly. I’m not sure why. It makes for a lovely cover, though. I do feel the title is rather too curly, in fact this whole design makes me think fantasy, rather than science fiction alien invasion.

 

This Serbian edition, produced by Evro Giunti in 2009, is the failed version of the first cover. For starters, she is wearing far too much mascara and the light in her eye is entirely normal. So… is this our protagonist before the aliens got to her? In which case, why is the eye being specifically featured? I get the sense that they decided to rip off the really popular cover of this bestseller without reading the book, though I’m sure that didn’t happen. Did it?

 

This Italian edition, published in February 2013 by Rizzoli is a far better effort than the previous offering. The face is far better, though I think the silvering in the eye looks too heavy-handed. I do like the title font, which works well as it glows out of the gloom and stands out well in thumbnail size. This is a close second for me. What do you think? Do you agree with me?

Review of Library book Like a Boss – Book 2 of the Windswept series by Adam Rakunas #Brainfluffbookreview #LikeaBossbookreview

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I had only recently finished Windswept, which I loved – see my review here – and was delighted to discover this sequel also nestling on the library shelves…

After buying her favourite rum distillery and settling down, she thought she’d heard the last of her arch nemesis, Evanrute Saarien. But Saarien, fresh out of prison for his misdeeds in Windswept, has just fabricated a new religion, positioning himself as its holy leader. He’s telling his congregation to go on strike, to fight the system. And unfortunately, they’re listening to him.

I got the sense from reading this one that it was the success of the first book that inspired this one, rather than the story arc. Or perhaps it was the added pressure of that success – but whatever the reason, this book lacked the impact and sheer energy of Windswept. However, given I absolutely loved the first book, I was perfectly happy to read something along the same lines, even if it was a paler, saner version. Padma is now involved in trying to sort out the economy after those arranged against this plucky little colony want to see if fail…

While the scenario of the entrepreneurial individual ranged against the uncaring corporation is a regular theme within science fiction, it rarely takes centre stage – and kudos to Rakunas for making this the main engine of this story. However, his handling of some of the characters didn’t quite work for me – particularly Evanrute Saarien. He was the big, bad villain in the first book, who clearly wanted Padma dead – and his willingness to allow her to thump him, while having two huge bodyguards right alongside, simply didn’t convince. I couldn’t see any force on any planet allowing someone with such a huge ego permitting that to happen without there being retaliation. Similarly, I wasn’t convinced when the main antagonist was revealed, either. If they had wanted to effect such a major change, I don’t feel they would have waited such a long time before putting in place their plan.

Although I had these reservations, they weren’t dealbreakers. Because the main character, Padma, was still engrossing and unstoppable and I have a soft spot for the amazing world Rakunas has created. I hope if he returns to this world, however, he gives himself sufficient time to ensure the story arc involving the main supporting characters also are as strong as the worldbuilding and that extraordinary protagonist. Recommended for fans of colony world adventures.
7/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook No Time Like the Past – Book 5 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor #Brainfluffbookblog #BookreviewofNoTimeLikethePast

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This is one of those outstanding series that I keep revisiting and yet trying to spin it out as I don’t want to the fun to stop…

St Mary’s has been rebuilt and it’s business as usual for the History department. But first, there’s the little matter of a seventeenth-century ghost that only Mr Markham can see. Not to mention the minor inconvenience of being trapped in the Great Fire of London…and an unfortunately-timed comfort break at Thermopylae leaving the fate of the western world hanging in the balance.

Max is one the historians, often described as disaster-magnets as they are generally prone to all sorts of mishaps occurring, as well as the day job being the insanely dangerous task of travelling back in time. It doesn’t help that there are also a group of renegade historians also cris-crossing the timeline equipped with one of their travelling pods who have sworn to see Max and her companions dead.

These books are very episodic, as each one covers a number of major time-travelling projects interleaved with life at St Mary’s, which is rarely peaceful. There is also a fair amount of emotional turmoil in Max’s life as her past has left scars that creates problems when she wants a relationship. Max’s hilarious first-person narrative often has me laughing aloud and nudging Himself in the ribs to read out a particular humorous gem, but what sets these books apart is that when highly dangerous, risky expeditions into the past are undertaken, often people don’t come back in one piece. Or at all… Taylor isn’t afraid of killing off characters we have grown very fond of, to the extent that I don’t get through one of these books without also weeping – and I don’t do that very often these days. Consequently, this series is always a roller-coaster read with lots of humour and heartbreak in amongst the action. Taylor’s writing is vivid and quirky and I love the fact that she always lulls me into a false sense of security by setting up a situation or scene, which suddenly changes into something quite different.

While I think you could quite easily pick up one of these books without having read any of the others and work out what is going on, it would be a real shame to do so with such an unusual and exciting series. I haven’t encountered anything quite like Taylor’s writing before, and I don’t expect to do so again. And if you, too, would like to experience the whirlwind that is St Mary’s and the madcap team of historians, then don’t track this one down, instead go looking for the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another. Highly recommended for fans of time-travelling adventures with a difference.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 18th September, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Sadie’s Wars: An Australian Saga – Book 3 in the Currency Girls series by Rosemary Noble

99% One day, in the late 1970s, a reporter from the Grimsby Evening Telegraph visited the Dolphin looking for a story. The landlord suggested he talk to his oldest regular, Stanley Timms, and a piece was written for the newspaper detailing his life. We read it; made fun of it because it sounded unbelievable. A father who owned an award-winning vineyard and a million-acre sheep station, a friend of the Murdochs, and Dame Nellie Melba, a winner of horse races and a member of the CIA in WW2. Not possible, we thought, until he produced his CIA membership card at Christmas dinner. Unassuming, gentle Stanley had spent his war behind Japanese lines as a coast watcher in Borneo. After the war, his forest, the sole remaining piece of Timms property was taken over by the Indonesian government, without compension, and he was left penniless.

BLURB: An astonishing tale, spanning continents, where truth is stranger than fiction. This historical saga of an extraordinary Australian pioneer family continues into a new generation. Sadie is brought up amongst the vineyards of the Yarra Valley whilst her work-obsessed father reaps riches from the boom years before the Great War. With post-war depression looming, Sadie’s only option is to flee from her disastrous marriage, seeking refuge in Cleethorpes, a small seaside town in northern England.

Years later, when her sons are in RAF Bomber Command, she receives a letter from her long-lost brother which forces her to confront the past and her part in her family’s downfall.

No… I haven’t given you a flavour of the story – you’ll have to take my word for it that the writing is fluent and very readable. This extract is from the Afterword as I was just boggled at the manner in which this family discovered they’d been related to a colourful, once highly-regarded member of Australian society who has now been written out of history… Noble has done a storming job of recreating this era through her fictionalised account of the life of Sadie, one of the family members in the middle of this eventful time.