Category Archives: novella

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?

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*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

Sunday Post – 5th November 2017

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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.

This was the first full working week since I recovered from the flu, so Monday and Tuesday saw me teaching as usual. I am now on the last lap of the final edits for Dying for Space which is the sequel to my debut novel, Running Out of Space, and am planning to release it on 14th December. So I am in the process of preparing for the blog tour – Lola is once more organising it for me to run from 14th-31st December. And I was a bit startled to realise when about to publish my usual Friday Face-off blog, that it was my 1,500th post…

On Wednesday I returned to Pilates and Fitstep, taking it easy, which was just as well as I was horribly unfit and Friday found me stiff in places I didn’t even know I had muscles. On Thursday, Mhairi came over and offered her usual awesome help and companionship. On Friday evening Himself and I actually had a date night – we went out to The Dragon, our favourite restaurant and afterwards returned home to snuggle up on the settee and watch the final two episodes of season 7 of Game of Thrones. Oh my goodness – what a finale! It was raining yesterday – of course it was as we were due to pick up the children. My daughter invited us to stay for brunch, which was wonderfully good. On the way home we swung by Worthing for some shopping and in the afternoon my sister came over for a meal and we sat and watched Strictly with Oscar, aged 7, passing judgement on the dancing and the judging.

Today, I will be spending most of the day filming Tim’s script in a converted barn for the medieval scenes. We are nearly at the end, so fingers crossed it doesn’t rain and the light levels are good. I hope everyone is also having a great weekend.

This week I have read:

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway
Gnomon, which took Harkaway more than three years to complete, is set in a world of ubiquitous surveillance. Pitched as “a mind-bending Borgesian puzzle box of identity, meaning and reality in which the solution steps sideways as you approach it”, it features: a detective who finds herself investigating the very society she believes in, urged on by a suspect who may be an assassin or an ally, hunting through the dreams of a torture victim in search of the key to something she does not yet understand; a banker who is pursued by a shark that swallows Fortune 500 companies; Saint Augustine’s jilted mistress who reshapes the world with miracles; a refugee grandfather turned games designer who must remember how to walk through walls or be burned alive by fascists; and a sociopath who falls backwards through time in order to commit a murder.
This took me some time to complete, but it was worth slowing down my normal reading speed to savour the dense prose and keep track of the characters. An unusual, rewarding read with some surprising twists and a poignant, powerful ending.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.
This is another quirky, unusual read which defies strict genre classification. It’s a lovely, warm-hearted tale that nonetheless avoids sentimentality. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

 

 

 

The Prisoner of Limnos – Book 6 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series
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: Nikys’s mother has been taken hostage by her brother’s enemies at the Cedonian imperial court, and confined in a precarious island sanctuary.
This little gem is yet another excellent addition to this entertaining, unusual series and takes the story that halted at the end of Mira’s Last Dance onward, encompassing yet another exciting adventure.

 

Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Special limited edition sceince 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…
This supposes that in a post-apocalyptic world where resources are scarce, corporations are involved in the inevitable wars with the top families encased in top-of-the-range armour that makes them almost invulnerable. Needless to say when the dirty jobs are handed out, it’s the regular grunts that end up having to pick up the pieces…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 29th October 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of World of Fire – Book 1 of the Dev Harmer Mission series by James Lovegrove

Teaser Tuesday featuring Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang + Mello and June at It’s a Book Thang host the final leg of the blog tour for Running Out of Space

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Artemis by Andy Weir

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Mongrel Mage – Book 19 in the Saga of Recluce series by L.E. Modesitt Jr

My 1,500th Post… Friday Face-off – Much as I love you, I cannot permit you to maul this particular coat – featuring Frederica by Georgette Heyer

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

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

Gerry Rafferty: Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/10/31/gerry-rafferty-her-father-didnt-like-me-anyway/ Once more Thom at The Immortal Jukebox presents a gem of a tune, complete with knowledgeable analysis.

Pirates for Halloween? https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/pirates-for-halloween/ Viv discusses this ongoing blight that steals income from authors – and how it can also cause other serious consequences..

Halloween Special: Petticoat Loose https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/10/29/halloween-special-petticoat-loose/ In amongst this marvellous scenery lies a spooky tale…

10 of the Best Seduction Poems https://interestingliterature.com/2017/11/01/10-of-the-best-seduction-poems/ As the weather cools and we start snuggling up together for warmth, we reflect on other ways to generate some heat…

When I’m Almost Done Reading a Good Book… https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/when-im-almost-done-reading-a-good-book/ Yes… I think we’ve all been there.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA Taste of Marrow – Book 2 of River of Teeth series by Sarah Gailey

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After enjoying the hippo-related mayhem of River of Teeth and looking forward to reading what happens next as the first book left everything on something of a cliffhanger, I was delighted to spot this one on Netgalley.

A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the damn that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway. Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.” In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.

My first piece of advice would be – don’t start with this one, go back to River of Teeth as this novella picks up from where the first book left off and there isn’t anything in the way of ‘The Story So Far’. While there is a bit of explanation about what happened, it comes fairly late in the story and in the meantime, I think newcomers to this series could flounder.

As we plunge straight back into the action only a few weeks after the climactic events at the end of River of Teeth we meet up with all the protagonists once again as they start to count the cost of that dramatic day. It took me a while to get back into this, because not only wasn’t there much explanation, neither did we have any rebonding moments with the main characters. I did care about several of the gang members, but was rather detached from Winslow, whose behaviour wasn’t particularly pleasant. While I understood it, because the reason for it was in the previous book, we didn’t get a chance to see the justification and I think this hampered some of my enjoyment.

I do like the world very much and there was plenty going on – but I wanted more character development and longer to enjoy this interesting, vivid setting. There was a sense that this was a quart-sized story squeezed between pint-sized covers. That said, if I hadn’t liked it so much then clearly I wouldn’t have wanted more – this is really cool idea and was brought to a satisfactory conclusion this time around. I’d love to see a full-length novel set in this world, though… While I obtained the arc of Taste of Marrow from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Sunday Post – 10th September 2017

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

It’s been a mixed week. My rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest has stalled at just over 1,000 words added to the manuscript as all sorts of deadlines have been knocking on the door. We had a lovely time with the grandchildren last week-end, which was great as it is possibly a while before we’ll see them again.

It was Himself’s birthday on Wednesday so my sister, J and I went out to our favourite Chinese restaurant and once again had an excellent meal – a real treat as being vegetarians means that eating out can be something of a lottery.

Unfortunately, I’ve been laid low with a cold, which has really knocked the stuffing out of me. While I’ve not got much in the way of a blocked nose, it’s the temperature, aching joints and sore head and throat which is the misery. It’s meant that I’ve missed teaching Tim on Friday and the first rehearsal session for the filming on Saturday – and the way I’m feeling today, I don’t think I’ll be making the lesson tomorrow unless I feel a whole lot better, either.

Today is our wedding anniversary – we’ve now been married for 22 years, which I can’t quite believe… Where did all those years go? It was the best thing I ever did. At least Himself is having his annual leave at the end of this month, so hopefully we’ll be able to make up the fact that we’re having a very quiet day at home while I snivel and shiver over the computer feeling sorry for myself… Have a great week, everyone.

This week I have read:

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker
Every dog has its day…
And for Lineker, a happy go lucky mongrel from Peckham, the day the world ends is his: finally a chance to prove to his owner just how loyal he can be. Reg, an agoraphobic writer with an obsession for nineties football, plans to wait out the impending doom in his second floor flat, hiding himself away from the riots outside. But when an abandoned orphan shows up in the stairwell of their building, Reg and Lineker must brave the outside in order to save not only the child, but themselves…
I absolutely loved this one, despite the extreme language. Walker’s first person viewpoint of boisterous Lineker is marvellous and the story is gripping, shocking and tender.

 

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for the fulfillment of a girlhood dream, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY gives voice to the longings of men and women everywhere-and shows us what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.
It is beautifully written and the love affair is depicted with tenderness and passion. However, I wanted to shake Francesca till her teeth rattled.

 

Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastein de Castell
There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.
Magic is a con game. Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path.
This YA coming-of-age adventure is great fun and I loved Kellen’s character and the surprises that kept coming all the way through the story. And the squirrel cat is delightfully snarky, too.

 

Taste of Marrow – Book 2 of The River of Teeth novella series by Sarah Gailey
A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the damn that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway. Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”
In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.
This novella deals with the aftermath of the previous book – and my firm advice would be that if you haven’t read River of Teeth then go and search for that book first. There is more mayhem and chaos as feral hippos continue to infest the river system, causing carnage wherever they go…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 3rd September

Review of The Voyage of the Basilisk – Book 3 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

Teaser Tuesday featuring Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan

Friday Face-off – Everybody’s got haters but your city’s always behind you… featuring Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

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

Waterford Walls – the Sea – some more https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/09/08/waterford-walls-2017-some-more/ I make no apologies for including another post from with wonderful photographer

Monday Funnies – Piracy You’ll Enjoy Reading About… https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/monday-funnies-4/ Have to confess – it was the cartoon about pilates that sold it for me. Now I’ve restarted my classes, I was howling with laughter at this one.

Running Out of Space Blog Tour – http://www.lolasblogtours.net/blog-tour-running-out-of-space-by-s-j-higbee/ To be honest, I’ve included this just because it still feels very unreal and seeing my book cover online is thrilling. And terrifying…

Writer’s Music: Daniel Pemberton https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/09/07/writers-music-daniel-pemberton/ This is a real treat – Jean writes about how she uses music when writing and then provides some wonderful tracks. This album is certainly one I’m going to be acquiring.

Poetry: The Misunderstood Merman http://blog.kristenburns.com/the-misunderstood-merman/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=socialnetwork
I love this one – funny and poignant…

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

Sunday Post – 20th August 2017

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

Thank you, everyone so much for your kind good wishes for my sister’s speedy recovery – I have always maintained that book lovers are the loveliest folks and this is yet more proof… Your wishes on her behalf have clearly had an impact because I cannot believe how quickly she is healing – the bruising, though still spectacular, is improving day on day. The hospital were delighted with her when we returned last Tuesday and today we are attending an eye appointment at the local hospital. We have been so impressed at the excellence and kindness of all the hospital staff we have encountered throughout this whole episode – from the ambulancemen who stopped by in A & E to wish her well during their break on that first traumatic day, to the lovely doctor who suggested we have a coffee while waiting for the blood test – and then phoned to give the results while we were sipping our beverages.

Other than that, this week I have managed to write the course notes for my Creative Writing classes and complete some editing tasks. My marvellous writing buddy Mhairi came over for the day on Thursday and we talked through writing stuff in general as well as catching up with each other’s lives. On Thursday evening Himself and I went out for a lovely Chinese meal with my sister and her younger son who was visiting. On Friday I received the exciting news that my short story ‘A Dire Emergency’ has been accepted for the anthology Holding on By Our Fingertips.

This week I have read:

The Voyage of the Basilisk – Book 3 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal. Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.
This alternate history charting the life of renowned explorer and dragon expert, Isabella Trent is a joy. I was in dire need of excellent escapist fantasy fiction, preferably about dragons, and this offering was perfect.

 

Penric’s Fox – Book 3 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.
While this is actually the fifth book to be published in this series, chronologically the events occur after the second book, Penric and the Shaman. This intriguing murder mystery gives us yet another slice of this rich world as we get to see more of Penric’s gradual growth. An entertaining instalment in this impressive series that has become one of the few must-buy books Himself and I pre-order as soon as they come available.

 

The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts
Alma is a private detective in a near-future England, a country desperately trying to tempt people away from the delights of Shine, the immersive successor to the internet. But most people are happy to spend their lives plugged in, and the country is decaying. Alma’s partner is ill, and has to be treated without fail every 4 hours, a task that only Alma can do. If she misses the 5 minute window her lover will die. She is one of the few not to access the Shine.
So when Alma is called to an automated car factory to be shown an impossible death and finds herself caught up in a political coup, she knows that getting too deep may leave her unable to get home.
Another storming read – a locked-room murder mystery that rapidly turns into a high-stakes conspiracy set in the near-future. I loved this one and am absolutely thrilled to note it is intended to be the first in a series.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 13th August

Review of The Last Straw – Book 3 of A Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts

Review of The Masked City – Book 2 of The Invisible Book series by Genevieve Cogman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Penric’s Fox – Book 3 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday Face-off – Silver apples of the moon… featuring Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR – July roundup

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

The NHS saved me. As a scientist I must help to save it. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/18/nhs-scientist-stephen-hawking?CMP=share_btn_tw I don’t normally tweet or comment on issues outside the book world, but after my sister’s recent seizure, I strongly echo Stephen Hawking’s sentiments

Lola’s Ramblings: Do You Clean Out Your Pile of Review Books? http://lolasreviews.com/lolas-ramblings-do-you-clean-out-your-pile-of-review-books/
As a fellow reviewer, I was very interested to see how someone else keeps tabs on their review copies

Where’s Cassini now? Countdown has just started http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/08/17/wheres-cassini-now-countdown-just-started/
Another excellent, informative article from Steph about another exciting chapter in the exploration of our solar system

Tilted Poles https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/tilted-poles/ I love this photo – I’m not sure why…

The Best Poems about Holidays https://interestingliterature.com/2017/08/16/the-best-poems-about-holidays/ As we are bang in the middle of the holiday season, this article seems particularly apt…

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Penric’s Fox – Book 3 of the novella series Penric and Desdemona by Lois McMaster Bujold

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This series has become a firm favourite with both Himself and me, having been largely responsible for my renewed interest in reading novellas. So I was delighted when this one popped up on my Kindle as a pre-ordered release.

Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.

The observant among you may have noticed that this latest addition to the Penric and Desdemona series does not follow on from the last book. However, it really didn’t make all that much difference to my enjoyment as there were no spoilers in the subsequent stories to compromise my reading experience.

Penric is inhabited by an old and very powerful chaos demon, Desdemona, who can provide him with supernatural powers and regularly needs feeding with the souls of dead creatures. Penric normally obliges by ridding any dwelling where he resides of fleas, lice, mice and rats. So he is shocked when he comes across the body of a fellow sorceress alone in the woods. The question then has to be – what has happened to her demon? In addition to tracking down a clearly dangerous and inventive murderer, Penric needs to discover what has happened to a traumatised demon who may be hitching a ride on a woodland animal.

Bujold is very good at packing a lot of story into a relatively short read. While I appreciate and draw on previous knowledge of the character, I believe that if anyone reads this book as a standalone, they won’t find themselves floundering. An extra twist to this tale is that Penric has the assistance of a couple of shape-shifting shamans who know the woods well. It was interesting to see how these differently talented characters fitted into this established world and worked alongside Penric.

As ever, the pacing of the story is well judged as the tension rises. This isn’t a classic whodunnit as we have a fair idea who the culprit may be well before the end. But the manner in which the denouement occurs and the story wrapped up is skilfully handled. This is another well-written, thoroughly enjoyable addition to this quality series and is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys first-class fantasy with a difference.
9/10

Review of KINDLE novella Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai series by Marie Brennan

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The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command.

There is will. There is need.

And so, in reply, there is a woman.

At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

And this female warrior springs into life, full of fury, not knowing who she is or where she comes from – but bound by magic to the rather frightened mage who summons her. So… as a reader, do I care about her? After all, I haven’t a clue who she is or what she stands for – other than the fact that they are all very frightened of her and she would dearly like to do them bloody harm. What about learning of her backstory to pull me into her world and make me bond with her? Nope – that can’t happen. She doesn’t know so much as her name. But, yes – I care, alright.

As she struggles to make sense of what is going on, she quickly becomes subsumed with her quest. Which she only has the haziest notion about – and the mage warns her that she shouldn’t try to find out too much, or it will be used against her. Yet Brennan still managed to pull me into this violent, threat-filled world we see through the viewpoint of a magically bound warrior, who can’t even recall her name. It takes serious writing chops to pull off such a feat – so many of the usual techniques used to make readers bond with main characters are simply off the table with this scenario.

But what is in abundance is punchy, strong writing in this epic, classic warrior story. Brennan draws on all our memories of heroic warriors stretching back as far as Beowulf and King Arthur and evokes echoes of those stories with her elevated language. It’s nicely done – too much would have just come off as pretentious and annoying, while not enough would haven’t given this tale the gravitas necessary to keep the stakes so high and pull us in.

As it is, I was hooked right from the dramatic moment of her summoning as she struggles against the magical bindings while trying to work out who she is – and then manages to sustain that tension and threat throughout. As for me – I could no more put this one down until it was finished than flap my wings and fly around the room… I was caught up in the story, while also trying to figure exactly how Brennan sank her hooks so deeply into me with such a tricky, violent character.

I was also a tad concerned that by the end, I still would be as much in the dark as I was at the start – which would have probably had me hurling my Kindle across the room. But Brennan knows how to play fair with her readers and the quest was brought to a satisfactory ending, while also providing us with some information about our mysterious female warrior – which of course, I’m not going to divulge as it would be a spoiler. This one comes highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook River of Teeth – Book 1 of the River of Teeth series by Sarah Gailey

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When I heard this one was all about an alternate history where the US Government decided to farm hippos in the everglades, I had to have it…

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true. Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two. This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

Well this is fun! Gailey has perfectly paced this rip-roaring alternate historical adventure that mostly features Winslow Houndstooth. However, this story is an ensemble piece where a group of hard-edged characters are assembled to undertake the caper, or operation, whereby they drive the feral hippos out of the Harriet, this enclosed area that was once one of the foremost hippo breeding farms in the States.

All these folk are people you wouldn’t wish to meet in a dark alley – tough and battle-wary as they are.
We also meet up with some of the domesticated hippos, the star being Ruby, who is small, dark-skinned, smart and loyal. She is a hopper – a hippo bred for wrangling the herds of larger hippos, but who actually is Winslow’s best friend. He is determined to pull off this operation with his hand-picked crew, as it pays extremely well while also planning a side-dish of revenge along the way. However, events rapidly spin out of control as Gailey isn’t afraid to off some of her leading characters – the sudden death of one in particular rather winded me.

This novella certainly packs a punch, with Gailey effectively handling the pacing of events throughout the narrative timeline so that the climactic scene works really well. This is a real roller-coaster ride with plenty of mayhem and violence along the way. That said, there is also a large dollop of humour amid the tension – think of The Magnificent Seven set in a swamp with hippos… Of course, there also has to be an antagonist in this scenario and Gailey provides us with someone suitably powerful and menacing with just the right amount of nastiness.

All in all, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story with an original premise I thoroughly enjoyed. I shall certainly be keeping an eye out for A Taste of Marrow, due to be released in September.
8/10