Tag Archives: Book reviews

Shoot for the Moon 2016 Challenge – January Roundup

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Mhairi Simpson, and I have set ourselves some crazy writing-related goals over the last several moonyears with variable results. But I have found the experience so very helpful in keeping my focus throughout the year, it was a no-brainer as to what I’d be doing as 2015 sputtered to a close in a flurry of fireworks. So what goals have I set for 2016?

• Publish the Sunblinded trilogy
As some of you know, I was all set to go with this target, having planned to release Running Out of Space in time for Fantasycon 2015 at the end of October – and fell at the last hurdle because I had major problems formatting the book to a suitable standard. And then was ill throughout November with a dreadful cold that would not lift – chiefly due to exhaustion.

However, my clever son has sorted out the formatting issues for me, so I’m hoping to have both Running Out of Space and Dying for Space released together in the first half of 2016, followed by the final book in the trilogy, Breathing Space, in the autumn. I have learnt my lesson, though. No spreading the word about release dates until I have everything set up and ready to go!
It was huge breakthrough to understand what went so wrong and why – not something I’m going to bore you with, seeing as it’s an arcane techie niggle. But it means I should not run into the same problems again!

• Write the first draft of Bloodless, my space opera crime novel, featuring Jezell Campo, my protagonist who features in The Sunblinded Trilogy
I have the plot outline sorted out and I’m going to have a go at writing this one, while editing Dying for Space and Breathing Space. It may not work as I’m the ultimate monotasker, but I won’t know until I try, will I?

• Complete Chaos in New Cluster
This is the novel my writing pal, Michael Griffiths, and I started in 2014. We still haven’t managed to finish it, but perhaps this will be the year when we can get it completed. It’s not a priority as we both have plenty else to be getting on with.

• Complete Picky Eaters
This is the novella that mushroomed from my short story, published at Every Day Fiction longer ago than I care to think. Another story that wouldn’t rest in my head until I completed the whole tale… While reading it to the grandchildren over the Christmas holidays, I realised there were another couple of plotpoints that needed tidying up, so I have it pencilled into my editing schedule during the summer when I’m not teaching, to have a go at getting it to a publishable standard. All being well, I intend to see if I can self-publish it at the start of December.

• Edit Miranda’s Tempest
This is one of the successes of last year. This novel has been burning a hole in my brain for the best part of a year, after I made a couple of false starts. When teaching The Tempest, I always felt that Miranda sailing off to marry Prince Ferdinand was never going to work – she’s been running around an enchanted island in her father’s cutdown robes since she was a toddler, which simply will not prepare her for surviving life as a 15th century Italian princess. And I finally managed to complete it while I was ill during November, given that I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t seem to concentrate on reading. I now need to knock it into shape so I can send it out to some agents.
I am working through it right now, as it still won’t leave me alone. I’m more than halfway through the manuscript and so far have lost 8 pages as I’m tightening it up and ensuring the language is appropriate for the Shakespearean period. It’s a balancing act to keep the feel of the language without too many forsooths and I prithees cluttering up the narrative drive…

• Submit Miranda’s Tempest and Unearthly Things Above
While submitting my work still happens in fits and starts, rather than the smoothly rolling process I’d planned in theory, it hadn’t been completely discouraging. A number of agents requested to see the full manuscript of Mantivore Dreams and said nice things about my writing. Meanwhile Netted is under consideration by a publisher. I don’t want to say more at this stage, but I plan to send out Miranda’s Tempest and Unearthly Things Above as soon as they are suitably shiny and good to go.

• Write at least 100 reviews for my blog
As 2015 was the second year in a row that I nailed this challenge, I’ve decided to fine-tune it. While I don’t want to extend the number of books I read and review, I am going to apply for more Netgalley ARCs and read and review more new releases. There is a real buzz about doing this – and as reading is my main hobby, increasing the excitement and fun can only be a good thing. I’ve also already signed up to the Discovery Challenge, thanks to Joanne Hall’s thoughtful post – read it here – which is to read and review at least one female author I haven’t read before per month, then report back in a specific blog, which should keep me on the ball…
I wrote 12 reviews during January, which came to just over 10,915 words. Half the books I completed were by authors I hadn’t previously read and five were new releases. I don’t think for a second that I shall be able to sustain those shiny stats – the slew of new releases were affordable due to Amazon vouchers and book tokens as Christmas gifts. But I am hoping to be able to continue to read and review at least two female authors new to me every month.

• Propose and plan Creative Writing courses for the academic year 2016/17
I have next year’s courses sorted out, but during the second half of the term I will be submitting them for approval to Northbrook College. I really would like to have the course notes and plans written by the end of the summer holidays, and so long as I work hard, that should be doable.
So far this term is going well – although a number of students have gone down with various bugs and illnesses and I’ll be glad when they have all recovered!

• Work on the teaching syllabus for TW
Since taking on teaching my friend’s son, County have given the go-ahead for the current situation to prevail. So we are now getting organised to start teaching him the English GCSE syllabus and I will be taking responsibility for the planning and delivery of both the English Language and Literature. This is hugely challenging – but also extremely exciting as only a few years ago, no one would have thought he would be in a position to consider taking such qualifications due to his autism.
This is, obviously, going to take priority as it becomes necessary.

• Continue to improve my fitness
I suffered a major back injury back in early 2005, which left me with ongoing sciatica that meant I was a constant visitor to the Physio. Doubtless spending hours in front of the computer aggravated the situation, but I found I couldn’t go on long walks, swim or spend an undue amount of time gardening. Then last year, Mhairi suggested I get a TENS machine to see if it would improve the nerve pain during yet another flare-up that was making my life a misery. It worked! Last June, I spent the day at Kew Gardens for my birthday treat, walking up the stairs in the Palm House and around the grounds without so much as a twinge.
I’ve now been signed off by the Physio and am on my second course of Pilates – yay! Himself and I have also started hiking again, albeit gently. But it’s marvellous – I feel I’ve got my life back. My ambition is to resume my regular swims, which I used to enjoy and increase the distance I can walk. And in case you’re wondering how this impacts my writing – it’s huge. I used to battle through the nerve pain to write, and now I don’t have to, it is such a wonderful relief…

Those are my 2016 Shoot for the Moon Challenges. Wish me luck!

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Dragon’s Loyalty Award

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I am delighted to accept Charles French’s nomination for the wonderfully named Dragon’s Loyalty Award. Charles French’s Words Reading and Writing blog is subtitled ‘And exploration of writing and reading’ which nicely sums up his whole approach, so it’s not a surprise that he is rapidly growing in popularity with his series of readable and informative articles that he publishes. He is also has a delightfully friendly, inclusive approach which guarantees a dragonawardwarm welcome to any passing visitor. If you haven’t already dropped in, I recommend you do so.

Meanwhile I have this Dragon Loyalty Award, thanks to Charles. The rules are:-

* Display the award certificate on your website.

* Announce your win with a post, and link to whomever presented your award.

* Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.

* Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post.

* Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

So, my 15 nominees are:-

Mhairi Simpson – Crazy Creative

Lizzie Baldwin – My Little Book Blog

Sara Letourneau’s Official Website & Blog

Michael D. Griffiths – Yig Prime

Joanna Maciejewska – Melfka

Sophie E. Tallis

Leiah Cooper – So I Read This Book Today

From Couch to Moon

Anastasia – Read and Survive

Zeke Teflon – Rip-roaring reviews

D. Parker – yadadarcyyada

Ionia Martin – Readful Things Blog

Siamese Mayhem – Musings on YA novels and pop culture

Humanity’s Darker Side – A book review blog

Dr Suzanne Conboy-Hill

Seven Interesting Things About Me – hm… it’s debatable whether the facts below are remotely interesting, but I tried to dredge up details many of my online friends wouldn’t necessarily know about me.

1. I spent a chunk of my childhood in Zambia, and when living with my grandparents I first flew unaccompanied from England to visit my parents in Africa when I was 8.

2. As a left-hander, I turn the paper sideways and write from top to bottom, a strategy I adopted at school to avoid smudging my writing.

3. I’m a writing addict and if I go more than 3 days without putting keyboard to paper, I turn a tad unreasonable.

4. I was born on a Wednesday and so were both of my children and my granddaughter.

5. I am the ultimate monotasker – the multi-tasking skill women are supposed to be endowed with has completely by-passed me.

6. I’m an insomniac.

7. I visualise each of my books as colours when I’m writing them.

Review of Heaven’s Queen – Book 3 of the Paradox series by Rachel Bach

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I was hooked the moment I picked up the first book, Fortune’s Pawn – read my review here. I immediately burned through the second book Honour’s Knight, but would I enjoy the third offering as much? I generally don’t read a series straight through as it is much easier to spot an author’s quirks that way. However this third volume was due back at the library, so I had no choice…

Government conspiracies. Two alien races out for her blood. An incurable virus that’s eating her alive. Now, with the captain missing and everyone – even Devi’s own government – determined to hunt her down, things are going from bad to impossible. The sensible plan would be to hide and wait for things to blow over, but Devi’s never been one to shy away from a fight, and she’s getting mighty sick of running. It’s time to put this crisis on her terms and do what she knows is right. But with all human life hanging on her actions, the price of taking a stand might be more than she can pay.

heaven's queenIf you like your action fast-paced, with plenty of twists along the way, then this series ticks the boxes. There is no shortage of fights, with a satisfying variety of different backdrops providing a whole range of challenges. And while it seems that Devi will prevail because she always had – there was always a sense that this time around, she may not manage it.

Bach really knows how to keep cranking up the stakes – and the overall narrative pace throughout the series is perfectly judged. This trilogy really hangs together well, with each book taking a slice of the storyline and overall action. I think if I had read them spaced out, I would have lost more than I gained by reading them together.

Devi is a wonderful protagonist – vulnerable enough to make us care, especially as she is battling for her very survival – but also amazingly gung-ho about Life in general and hers in particular. The first person viewpoint really helped me bond with her and Bach managed to make me entirely sympathetic to her and her ideals, while profoundly thankful I’ve never run into her on the High Street after she’d had a few at the local pub… Devi is different – a product of her Time and upbringing. Bach is too good a writer to tell us this – but she manages to show that difference in action repeatedly.

The love story between her and Rupert is complicated – just because she cares for him, doesn’t stop her blasting him in the chest at pointblank range when he gets in her way. I liked her worries that her feelings for him make her weaker and less effective as a soldier. It is also interesting that she finds for the first time in her life, the rage she uses to hone her battle instincts also accelerates the symptoms of the disease ravaging her. So she has to exercise self control – not one of Devi’s strengths…

In addition to producing an outstanding protagonist that will live long in my memory – I was also interested to note the theme running through the book. Bach raises the question whether the interests of the greater good should ever allow us to trample on the rights of a few individuals. She comes down fairly emphatically on the side of the individual versus the greater good – a classic American theme that runs through many films and books produced on the other side of the pond. The ending is entirely satisfactory and I was relieved and heartened to see a couple of plotlines that could be expanded on for yet more Devi fun in the future. I profoundly hope so – she is a great character and I’m already missing her.
10/10