Category Archives: novella

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc novella Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #PrimeMeridianbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Beautiful Ones by Moreno-Garcia – see my review here – so when I caught sight of this novella on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer.

Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life. It awaits her.

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting – but it wasn’t this. Less escapist space opera and far more dystopian, very-near-future, this novella packed a punch. I’ll be honest – given what else was going in my life, this was not the read I would have chosen to pick up. But I’m glad I did.

Amelia has edges – and quite right, too. So would I if I’d endured the lack of opportunity and dead-end options facing her. She has fixated on going to Mars – right from the time she was old enough to be ambitious and despite having had a series of unlucky breaks, she still is determined to get there. It’s the only thing that really matters… so it is painful to read of her constant struggles that seem to go nowhere. She is constantly angry and hostile to those around her – not ideal when one of her hard-scrabble jobs is to sell her companionship in response to an app.

The world is richly depicted – which seems to be Moreno-Garcia’s trademark, along with indepth characterisation that doesn’t impede the storyline. She nearly has the pacing nailed, but I did feel the ending was a tad hurried in comparison to the rest of the story. Having said that, novellas are fiendishly difficult to get right.

I enjoyed the story and the awkward dynamic between Amelia and the rest of the characters. The times when she is most at peace with herself and those around her, are when thinking of Mars, or watching the movies with an ageing actress who employs her to listen to her past. And if you think that sounds rather poignant, you’d be right.

I would love to read a sequel to this thought-provoking story as I find myself wondering about the character and what happens next. Recommended for fans of literary fiction. While I obtained an arc of Prime Meridian from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Earth and Air – an Earth Girl novella by Janet Edwards #Brainfluffbookreview #EarthandAirbookreview

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I have been a solid fan of Edwards’ writing – see my review of Scavenger Alliance, here. So when she contacted me to ask if I would like an arc of her latest novella, Earth and Air, which is a spinoff from her popular Earth Girl series – see my review of Earth Girl here – I was delighted to accept in return for an honest review

2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else uses interstellar portals to travel between hundreds of colony worlds, 17-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, abandoned by her parents to be raised a ward of Hospital Earth, she lives a regimented life in one of their impersonal residences. Jarra is spending the summer at New York Fringe Dig Site with her school history club. While her friends search for lost treasures on the ground, Jarra is airborne in a survey plane and hoping to become a qualified pilot, but the sprawling ancient ruins of New York contain the lethal legacies of the past as well as its treasures.

It was a real treat to rebond with Jarra, the chirpy disaster-magnet who is the main protagonist in Edwards’ popular Earth Girl series. I had forgotten just how effective Edwards’ writing style is when depicting the alliances and frictions between a group of young teenagers. It could so easily become tedious or petty, but never does. The other standout feature of this entertaining series is the fascinating backdrop – a ruined Earth, where buildings are lethally unstable yet packed with archaeological treasures and discoveries eagerly awaited by populations scattered across the stars.

Novellas are not generally my favourite reads – too often, I have just become engrossed only to find the story abruptly finishing. Only a handful of my favourite writers can, in my opinion, adequately control the pacing and narrative arc so that the ending isn’t an unpleasant jolt. Edwards is one of them. At no time did I feel I was being short-changed with either the characterisation, setting or the storyline which contains plenty of adventures and shocks. The other outstanding quality of Edwards writing, particularly with this series, is the chirpy, upbeat tone that pervades most of the story. Unlike so many YA books, I get the sense that most of the people are trying to do the best they can most of the time. This is definitely one I will be introducing my granddaughter to next time she comes to visit – I think she will love it. With the absence of bad language or gratuitous violence, it is an ideal read for young teens – as well as those of us a lot longer in the tooth. This one is far too good to leave just to the youngsters. Recommended for fans of adventure and science fiction.
9/10

Review of NOVELLA NETGALLEY arc Time Was by Ian McDonald #Brainfluffbookreview #TimeWasbookreview

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I was delighted when I saw this offering on NetGalley – and even more delighted when I was approved to read it. I enjoy McDonald’s writing and was particularly impressed with his lunar duology – read my review of Luna: New Moon here.

Struggling second-hand book dealer, Emmet, is trying to survive in the increasingly difficult financial climate – and then comes across a small poetry collection called Time Was which includes a love letter from Tom to Ben, set in WWII. It sets him out on an astonishing search to discover who Tom and Ben are – a search that takes him to a tucked-away corner of England where odd stories abound about the seas catching fire…

And no… You won’t find that blurb anywhere else, as I wrote it myself. I feel the official version is highly misleading and yet somehow also manages to reveal some of the major plot points. I’m very glad I didn’t read it before I picked up the book, because I would have approached it expecting something completely different.

The main protagonist is gripped by the need to track down the fate of the two young men caught up in WWII and more or less abandons his everyday life to do it. In contrast to the lyrical, slightly highflown prose produced by Tom when in his viewpoint, Emmet is far more down-to-earth with a dry, sarky humour that I thoroughly enjoyed and stopped this turning into a treacly read. In fact, Emmett isn’t a particularly likeable character – and that was okay, too.

Tom and Ben were the people in the story that snagged my sympathy and attention – and I think that is exactly how I was meant to feel, in effect, shadowing the main protagonist in his attempts to find out more about these two people. But history and historical research is inherently messy – it never delivers exactly what you want, in the way that you want it. And there are two major surprises at the end of this bittersweet story that summed up that premise.

Overall, I think this is a haunting, really well written novella with a misleading blurb that isn’t doing it any favours whatsoever. Take my advice – skip the blurb and instead pick up this short story without any prior expectation and let the plot unfold around you.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ebook NOVELLA #The Flowers of Vashnoi Book 14.1 of The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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It’s been a while since we read the last book in the Vorkosigan Saga, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen – see my review here – which didn’t feature much about Miles or Ekaterina, so I was thrilled to see this one was in the pipeline…

Still new to her duties as Lady Vorkosigan, Ekaterin is working together with expatriate scientist Enrique Borgos on a radical scheme to recover the lands of the Vashnoi exclusion zone, lingering radioactive legacy of the Cetagandan invasion of the planet Barrayar. When Enrique’s experimental bioengineered creatures go missing, the pair discover that the zone still conceals deadly old secrets.

Those bioengineered creatures alluded to in the blurb are our old friends, the butterbugs, which made a very dramatic entrance in A Civil Campaign during a particularly important banquet. Those of us who read this excellent series won’t ever forget that particular scene… During this incarnation, they are being used to help clean up an irradiated area, when they start to go missing.

Bujold has nailed the pacing of the novella form – not something every author used to writing full-length novels manages to do, so we hit the ground running with this mini-adventure and the pacing is judged perfectly for a really satisfying ending.

In amongst the drama and sadness of their discovery in the middle of this irradiated wasteland, there are also flashes of Bujold humour, ensuring that while I felt emotionally connected and really cared about the outcome, it didn’t overwhelm the scale of the storyline. It was a treat to have Ekatarin’s viewpoint throughout, as she has always been a strong, interesting character who appears in several of the other books.

All in all, this novella is a real treat and my only quibble is that I wanted it to be longer. Recommended for fans of the Vorkosigan Saga and anyone interested in tackling this long-running established series who would like a taster of the world.
9/10

Sunday Post – 20th May, 2018

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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.

My sister has moved back to her own flat, which is really good news as she is hopefully now on the road to recovery. Though I am missing her – if the road works would allow it, she is only ten minutes away.

On Thursday, Mhairi came over for the day and we spent some of the time poking the Marketing Monster with a big stick, which is both terrifying and enjoyable. Other than that, I’ve been busy line editing Breathing Space with the help of Dragon’s dictation tool, as I follow the manuscript with a cursor. It’s time-consuming, but I don’t know another way to do it, as my speed-reading habit isn’t conducive to weeding out those fiddley mistakes that dog my writing.

Yesterday, I went over to my sister’s and we watched the Royal Wedding together, having great fun critiquing the outfits while quaffing tea and jam doughnuts. It was a wonderful service and I wish the couple all the very best in their life together.

This week I have read:

Crimson Ash by Hayley Sulich
Solanine Lucille wants her little sister back. Eight years ago, the government kidnapped her sister Ember, stole her memories, and transformed her into a soldier. But Solanine refuses to give up. Now that she and her fiancé have located the leader of a rebel group, she believes she can finally bring Ember home. But then the soldiers raid the rebels, killing her fiancé and leaving Solanine alone with her demons and all the weapons needed for revenge.

After raiding a rebel camp, sixteen-year-old Ember doesn’t understand why killing some boy bothers her. She’s a soldier—she has killed hundreds of people without remorse. But after she fails a mission, the rebels hold her hostage and restore her memories. Ember recognizes her sister among the rebels and realizes the boy she killed was Solanine’s fiancé.

This was certainly a dystopian world, leaving a trail of devastated, broken people in its wake and the writing was intense and fast-paced.

A Trail Through Time – Book 4 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
At St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, the historians don’t just study the past, they revisit it.

Behind the strait-laced façade of a conventional academic institution, the secret of time travel is being used for ground-breaking and daring historical research, taking the historians on a rollercoaster ride through history. Meanwhile, within St Mary’s itself, there are power struggles and intrigues worthy of a book in themselves.

Max and Leon are reunited and looking forward to a peaceful life together. Sadly, they don’t even make it to lunchtime.
From 17th-century London to Ancient Egypt and from Pompeii to 14th-century Southwark, Max and Leon are pursued up and down the timeline until, finally, they are forced to take refuge at St Mary’s – where a new set of dangers await them.

After the darkness of my previous read – I wanted something with humour, so I turned to this offering on my TBR pile. It didn’t disappoint. Packed with adventure that had me laughing aloud and nearly weeping, I finished this one buzzed and re-energised. Nobody does it like Jodi…

Scourged – Book 9 of the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne
Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They’ve made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there’s a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win. Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought.

Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry. And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they’ll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.

I have read and enjoyed all the previous books in this series, so hoped that this one would bring all the plotlines to a satisfactory conclusion. It was a delight to plunge back into this world for ending to work so well.

The Flowers of Vashnoi – Book 14.1 of the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
Still new to her duties as Lady Vorkosigan, Ekaterin is working together with expatriate scientist Enrique Borgos on a radical scheme to recover the lands of the Vashnoi exclusion zone, lingering radioactive legacy of the Cetagandan invasion of the planet Barrayar. When Enrique’s experimental bioengineered creatures go missing, the pair discover that the zone still conceals deadly old secrets.

This novella takes us back to the amazing world Bujold is rightly best known for writing – what a treat this little gem is. The only grumble I have is that it ended too soon.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 13th May 2018

Review of Talon – Book 1 of the Talon series by Julie Kagawa

Teaser Tuesday featuring Scourged – Book 9 of the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Flowers of Vashnoi – Book 14.1 of the Vorkosigan Sage by Lois McMaster Bujold

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Crimson Ash by Haley Sulich

Friday Face-off – I’m freeee… featuring Traitor to the Throne – Book 2 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton

Review of Scourged – Book 9 of the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne

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

5 ways you should not react when an annoying friend says they don’t read https://thisislitblog.com/2018/05/13/5-ways-you-should-not-react-when-that-annoying-friend-says-they-dont-read/ Yes… I’m aware this was published over a week ago – but I’ve only just caught up with it and figured you would still want a giggle over your Sunday cuppa…

Get Caught Reading https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/get-caught-reading/ I’m spreading appreciation for my favourite hobby – and this is a great scheme to promote a love of books…

A Summary and Analysis of the ‘Bluebeard’ Fairy Tale https://interestingliterature.com/2018/05/13/a-summary-and-analysis-of-the-bluebeard-fairy-tale/ I love the insights offered in the articles produced by this cracking site…

Thursday Doors – Jacobean https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/thursday-doors-jacobean/ This is another lovely set of doors, windows and graves… there isn’t anything more evocative than the ruins of a long-ago building.

Fabulous opportunity to get hold of over a 100 sci fi books featuring feisty females… https://claims.instafreebie.com/gg/rvyoTzZB9pvCEbrw2lN4 There is a wonderful spread of books featured for fans wanting more ebook goodness in their lives of the science fiction kind.

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Novella Escaping Firgo by Jason Whittle

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I picked up this book at Forbidden Planet on my jaunt up to London to support the Grimbold Publishing team, so to that extent I am declaring an interest. That said, I don’t know Jason personally and my opinions of the book are entirely my own.

When a bank worker takes a wrong turn in life and on the road, he finds himself trapped in a remote village hiding from the police. Before he can find his freedom, he has to find himself, and it’s not just about escaping, it’s about settling up. Because everybody settles up in the end.

This intriguing story could be characterised as Psycho (the opening sequence, anyway – this isn’t horror) meets Groundhog Day. The protagonist, tired of trudging through life where he constantly sees others more dishonest and less deserving achieve their aims, decides to rob the bank where he has worked his way up to Assistant Manager over a number of years. On the way to the airport, however, his car breaks down and he finds himself rushing to the nearest village to try and find someone who can help him so he can catch his flight.

Things don’t quite work out that way… While he finds a village handily close, trying to find someone who can fix the car so he can be on his way again, proves to be unexpectedly difficult. And then the car disappears… I really enjoyed this story. It’s quirky, otherworldly feel is perfectly realised. Whittle does a good job of balancing the characterisation, pacing and narrative tension so that this novella works really well. I often find novellas unsatisfactory because just as I am getting into the swing of the story, they abruptly come to an end.

This isn’t the case with Escaping Firgo, as I was well aware of the approaching climax and found the ending appropriate and satisfying. Since I have finished reading it, I find myself thinking about it, and wondering what I’d do if I found myself in the same situation.

This little gem is recommended for anyone who enjoys reading, well told, quirky stories.
8/10

Sunday Post – 25th February, 2018

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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.

I’ve been back in the thick of it as term time has resumed at Northbrook. We had a department meeting this week, which was the most exciting in years with a new head who is very focused on expanding the role of Adult Learning in the college and in the community. I am now thinking about next year’s courses.

On Wednesday evening we had a great meeting with our Writers’ Group and are discussing the possibility of going on a week-long writers’ retreat in Devon at the start of October. During Thursday, my staunch writing buddy Mhairi came over and we discussed our projects, when she stopped me taking Miranda’s Tempest off on a new shiny direction that was luring me away from my former narrative arc. That’s what writing friends are for, people!

On Friday, Himself and I collected Frances from school so we were able to catch an early train to London on Saturday, as Grimbold Publishing were part of a featured event laid on by Forbidden Planet. I’ve never been to this store before – and found I’d arrived in heaven. In addition to being able to catch up with wonderful folks like Kate Coe and Jo Hall – there were all these books… shelves and shelves and shelves allll devoted to science fiction and fantasy! Frances was equally thrilled at the range of manga comics, so after a lovely afternoon chatting about books, browsing among books and buying books, we came home again… Though the trip home on the train was a tad quiet as we’d all buried our noses into our favourite reading matter.

Writing-wise, it hasn’t been a great week, but let’s hope I can do better in due course. Though it has been a very good reading week, given that I had some time after my meeting on Tuesday and a train journey to and from London to fill…

This week I have read:

The Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
A year after the Commonwealth won the war with the Theocracy, the interstellar cruise liner Supreme is on its maiden voyage, carrying a host of aristocrats thrilled to be sharing in a wondrous adventure among the stars. The passengers include the owner and his daughters, Angela and Nancy. Growing up with all the luxuries in the world, neither sister has ever known true struggle, but that all changes when Supreme comes under attack…
This is a really enjoyable adventure set on a passenger liner – think Titanic in space. I loved the slow build so we get to know the characters and care about them, before it all hits the fan. There are plenty of twists, though I did see a couple of them coming. All in all, an excellent read for fans of quality space opera.

 

Into the Fire – Book 2 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
When Admiral Kylara Vatta and a ship full of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable arctic island, they uncovered secrets that someone on Ky’s planet was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been revealed, but the organisation behind it still lurks in the shadows, doing all it can to silence her.
I loved Cold Welcome, the first book in this series, so I was delighted when I realised this offering was now available. It picks up immediately after the first book, when everyone has returned home and should be relaxing with their loved ones after such a terrible ordeal – only that isn’t happening. Once more Moon is cranking up the tension in this, well told futuristic thriller.

 

The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – Book 1 of the Black and Dods series by Diane Janes
1929.
The night before she’s due to make a speech to the Robert Barnaby Society on the subject of the famous writer’s ‘magic chair’, committee member Linda Dexter disappears. When her body is discovered two days later, fellow members Frances Black and Tom Dod determine to find out the truth about her death.
This cosy murder is consciously set in the 1920’s tradition with a slow buildup and plenty of prospective suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed the historical details of Fran Black’s life, which takes a hard look at the lot of a woman living on her own at a time when they had only just got the vote. This one held me right to the end and I am definitely going to be looking out for more books, in this entertaining series.

 

The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon: Using Speech Recognition Software to Dictate Your Book and Supercharge Your Writing Workflow by Scott Baker
As writers, we all know what an incredible tool dictation software can be. It enables us to write faster and avoid the dangers of RSI and a sedentary lifestyle. But many of us give up on dictating when we find we can’t get the accuracy we need to be truly productive.

This book changes all of that. With almost two decades of using Dragon software under his belt and a wealth of insider knowledge from within the dictation industry, Scott Baker will reveal how to supercharge your writing and achieve sky-high recognition accuracy from the moment you start using the software.
This book is certainly well written and very clear. While there are a number of excellent tips which should help me improve my mastery of Dragon, I’m not sure that I will ever get to a stage where my accuracy will rival my typing – after all I was a fully-trained touch-typist who earned a crust as secretary in a former life. But as my hands and wrists are getting increasingly unhappy at cranking out 400,000+ words a year (NOT all novels or stories, I hasten to add) I need to do something before it turns into a full-blown repetitive strain injury.

 

Into the Thinnest of Air – Book 5 of the Ishmael Jones Mystery series by Simon R. Green
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny are attending the re-opening of Tyrone’s Castle, an ancient Cornish inn originally built by smugglers. Over dinner that night, the guests entertain one another with ghost stories inspired by local legends and superstitions. But it would appear that the curse of Tyrone’s Castle has struck for real when one of their number disappears into thin air. And then another . . .
This is another entertaining adventure in this paranormal murder mystery series. There is certainly plenty of tension as guests disappear one by one in the creepy castle that is cut off from the outside world. I was hooked into wanting to know what happens next and will be writing a review in due course.

 

Escaping Firgo by Jason Whittle
When a bank worker takes a wrong turn in life and on the road, he finds himself trapped in a remote village hiding from the police. Before he can find his freedom, he has to find himself, and it’s not just about escaping, it’s about settling up. Because everybody settles up in the end.
This is a delightfully quirky read – and at only 52 pages, moves along at a decent clip. I thoroughly enjoyed following our protagonist’s adventures, as he endeavours to escape from Firgo and will be reviewing this one.

 

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 18th February 2018

Review of Defender – Book 2 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards

Teaser Tuesday featuring Into the Fire – Book 2 of the Vatta’s Peace series by Elizabeth Moon

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – A Black and Dod Mystery:1 by Diane James

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Fire and Bone – Book 1of the Otherborn series by Rachel A. Marks

Friday Face-off – Halfway up the stairs isn’t up and isn’t down… featuring Murder Must Advertise – Book 10 of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers

Review of Killbox – Book 4 of the Sirantha Jax series by Anne Aguirre

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

It Comes Down to Reading https://jenniefitzkee.com/2018/02/22/it-comes-down-to-reading/ Just in case anyone has gone away thinking that learning an appreciation for books and reading is now an outdated irrelevancy superseded by newer technology…

Let’s Discuss – Predictability in Fiction and Film https://www.spajonas.com/2018/02/23/lets-discuss-predictability-fiction-film/ Accomplished indie author S.J. Pajonas raises this topic and has some interesting things to say regarding this topic. Do you like knowing what is coming up?

Blackwing: LITFIC edition https://edmcdonaldwriting.com/2018/02/19/blackwing-litfic-edition/ Genre author Ed McDonald pokes gentle fun at some of the snobbery that still pervades certain corners of the writing world…

Bar jokes for English Majors https://bluebirdofbitterness.com/2018/02/20/bar-jokes-for-english-majors/ I loved these – though there were one or two that had me blinking and wondering what the joke was…

Do Not https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/do-not/ I love this poem by talented writer Viv Tuffnell – it contains a strong message for anyone who is feeling pressured and manipulated.

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

Shoot for the Moon 2017 Challenge – How Did I Do?

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Mhairi Simpson, and I, once again, set ourselves a series of ambitious writing-related goals when 2017 was only a couple of days old. How well did I do in meeting these targets?

• Rewrite Miranda’s Tempest after receiving excellent advice on how to improve the storyline.
I finally managed to get this rewritten, including a change in the point of view from first person to third person, and sent back during the summer. In the beginning of August, I got another long, detailed email listing the main problem areas where I could further improve it. So far I haven’t managed to get to it – but it is high on my list for early 2018.

• Edit Dying for Space and Breathing Space
I duly tightened up Dying for Space to my satisfaction, but although I had another go at Breathing Space, I’m still not completely happy with the narrative arc and plan to have a drastic pruning session to see if I can smooth out the pacing in the first third of the book, before publishing it in summer 2018.

• Write the first draft of Bloodless, my space opera crime novel, featuring Elizabeth Wright, my protagonist who features in The Sunblinded Trilogy.
Nope. Didn’t get close to this one as I was tied up with the rewrites of Miranda’s Tempest and later in the year, I also made a drastic change to Running Out of Space and Dying for Space ridiculously close to the publication date which further messed up my writing schedule. So this is another major task that needs to be completed in 2018 if I am to sustain my self-publishing schedule.

• Complete Picky Eaters
And this is another project that didn’t see the light of day and one I intend to get completed during 2018. Apart from anything else, the grandchildren are keen for this one to be published and given my other books aren’t age appropriate, I’d really like to get it out there for them.

• Continue submitting my work
My more professional approach to the submission process paid dividends as in January 2017 I was offered a contract for Netted by Grimbold Publishing. I am thrilled – they are a small outfit, but so passionate about the books they publish. They are like a family, with a strong and continuing interest in the authors they work with and I have huge respect for the quality of the work they release. Netted is due to be published in 2019.

In addition, I was asked to submit a short story to be included in a Grimbold Publishing anthology Holding On By Our Fingertips. I was delighted when ‘A Dire Emergency’ was accepted and will be published alongside a number of excellent writers in the first half of 2018.

• Self publish a novel
And in October, I finally released Running Out of Space. It has garnered a few reviews, all positive and in December I published the sequel, Dying for Space. I am thrilled every time someone drops me a line to tell me how much they enjoyed reading the books. I’m guessing that is an emotion that never gets old.

 

• Write at least 100 reviews for my blog
This year I read 175 books and wrote 162 reviews, though not all of them have been published yet. I have now got my act together regarding Netgalley arcs and throughout most of 2017 I have managed to achieve an 80% feedback ratio. In another post, I will further discuss the books I read in 2017. I’m really pleased I have managed to sustain my reading and blogging as I thoroughly enjoy being involved in the lovely #bookbloggers community, discussing books I’ve read and swapping recommendations.

• Propose and plan Creative Writing courses for the academic year 2016/17
I am delighted that since the merger with Brighton Metropolitan College last year, the Adult Learning Dept at Northbrook has had a new lease of life. My Creative Writing classes this last year have all been successful and well attended. I’m really pleased, because this is the loveliest teaching job on the planet – teaching a subject I love to the nicest bunch of folks you could wish to meet.

• Continue teaching TW
What an amazing year! We were quite daunted at the start of the year as trying to find a suitable syllabus that would be a good fit for Tim’s specific abilities was a major challenge. And once we found the subjects, we then had a battle getting hold of past papers and a suitably extensive teaching programme as despite the fact Tim is fully funded by County, we weren’t formally recognised as an official learning centre. However, it all fell into place in time for Tim to take and pass a couple of music and singing exams, which he passed with flying colours. He also passed his first formal English exam with a very high percentage. And in March we took the decision to film the script he had been working on for the previous three months – and it turned into a whirlwind…

By the end of November, we had all thirteen songs professionally recorded in a studio and the filming completed – with a cast of twenty-three, shot in a variety of locations, including Bognor pier, the museum, a shop and a local college. Tim repeatedly was pushed beyond his comfort zone as he had to respond to a number of deadlines and react to unexpected problems. He is now in the throes of editing it with the help of the videographer and we are hoping it will be ready to be shown at a local cinema sometime in the summer. I still can’t quite believe we managed it…

• Continue to improve my fitness
It was a year of two halves. I was doing so well with this up until the summer, when I was slimmer and stronger than I’ve been for years. But it was a gruelling summer and I was zapped by flu in October – probably because I was very, very tired. It wiped me out for nearly a month. The result was that I only attend my a Fitstep and Pilates class for three sessions last term. You won’t be surprised to hear that the weight has started piling back on and I am finding a number of my favourite clothes are uncomfortably snug. So I need to get back to exercising and hopefully going on walks with my husband.

Overall, it has been probably my most successful year so far, when long hours of sustained work started to pay off. The irony was that Himself was in real trouble with his job and from March through to December, we weren’t sure if he would be able to keep it. Fortunately, the review board found in his favour – but throughout that time, we didn’t know if he would prevail. So in the middle of all these successes, we were busy trying to keep our anxiety on a leash. I’m fervently hoping that 2018 is a kinder year personally and that I fulfil most of my targets I’ve set for my Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2018, which I will be discussing at the beginning of February.

In the meantime, what about you? Did you set yourself any 2017 challenges and how do you feel they went?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Prisoner of Limnos – Book 6 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Himself was thrilled when he realised that another slice of Penric goodness was coming our way – quite right too as this series has not only been consistently excellent, it also is very good value, given that each novella is modestly priced. So would this next slice of the adventure measure up to the very high standard already set?

In this sequel novella to Mira’s Last Dance, Temple sorcerer Penric and the widow Nikys have reached safety in the duchy of Orbas when a secret letter from a friend brings frightening news…

And the answer is yes – this book is a joy to read and difficult to put down. However, I do feel quite strongly that although each book is designed to be read as a standalone, in order to gain the maximum enjoyment from this particular adventure, you at least need to read Mira’s Last Dance. As this narrative continues from the ending of that story, there are too many allusions to previous storylines – and besides, why not double the reading pleasure?

One of the delights of this series is charting the growth in Penric’s confidence and maturity since his first fateful encounter with the demon he has named Desdemona. Initially, he had a lot of adjusting to do, given that he wasn’t Temple-trained and his hosting of Desdemona was a complete accident. We don’t get so many tussles between them and neither does Desdemona bait him so much – instead, a strong bond is evident and interestingly, at one stage, it is Desdemona who is panicked and overcome in this adventure, with Penric providing the necessary reassurance to get them out of yet another tricky situation.

In amongst all the tension and excitement, we are also treated to Bujold’s hallmark humour, which is every bit as quirky as her characters. While the stakes are undoubtedly high, I found myself sniggering once Penric manages to successfully get into the prison complex, when someone wholly unexpected pops up… Their indignant exchange was a nice bit of light relief in amongst all the tension and danger.

I found this one almost physically painful to put down and when I finally finished it with a sigh – it was part happiness at having had such an enjoyable read, along with the inevitable pang of regret that it was all over. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, this book – and the series – is recommended for anyone who enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan books or loves reading well-written fantasy with appealing characters and plenty of adventure.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc novella Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I was intrigued when I saw this on the Netgalley dashboard – and obviously went for it…

Special limited edition science fiction hardcover novella by the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author. Only 1000 copies.

Scions have no limits. Scions do not die. And Scions do not disappear.
Sergeant Ted Regan has a problem. A son of one of the great corporate families, a Scion, has gone missing at the front. He should have been protected by his Ironclad – the lethal battle suits that make the Scions masters of war – but something has gone catastrophically wrong. Now Regan and his men, ill equipped and demoralised, must go behind enemy lines, find the missing Scion, and uncover how his suit failed. Is there a new Ironclad-killer out there? And how are common soldiers lacking the protection afforded the rich supposed to survive the battlefield of tomorrow?

This year has marked an outpouring of creativity by this talented author, who is clearly relishing flexing his writing muscles. The last book I reviewed only a few weeks ago was in the first-person viewpoint of a wardog. This offering features battle-hardened Sergeant Ted Regan, who has improbably managed to keep himself and his small team from being killed thus far in a war where ordinary troops are regarded as fodder for the scary fighting machines and near-impregnable Ironclads.

I found that once I picked this one up, it was difficult to put down. I’m not a huge fan of novellas. It takes a degree of technical skill to downsize plot progression, characterisation and worldbuilding, particularly in science fiction and fantasy settings, so that the pacing and story flow doesn’t suffer. In my frank opinion, relatively few authors can successfully pull this off – and while I think the denouement was just a tad hurried so that I had to go back and reread it to ensure I completely understood what was going on, it certainly didn’t make a major dent in my overall enjoyment of this cracking tale.

The world is a grim one. Now resources are increasingly limited, the major corporations are fighting for control of governments and land in order to continue to make money. Most people have been knocked down to subsistence levels with only the privileged few able to live in any kind of luxury. However, as is often the case, the true motivations of the savage fighting are wrapped up in grander-sounding motivations – like freedom and democracy. Those at the sharp end know only too well what a hollow sham that turns out to be and I loved Ted’s world-weary take on what is happening around him.

It means that when it all kicks off, I care about him and the small band of outmatched underdogs tasked with a Mission Impossible job. Knowing Tchaikovsky’s form, I was genuinely worried that we might lose one of the team. In the event, as the action unspooled I wasn’t going anywhere until I discovered what happened and the ending came as something of a shock. I am really hoping that this proves to be the start of a new series – I’d love to see more of this world.
9/10