Tag Archives: coming of age adventure

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Rough Magic: Riding the world’s wildest horse race by Lara Prior-Palmer #Brainfluffbookreview #RoughMagicbookreview

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I have to come clean – I requested this book because I was under the impression that it was a fantasy adventure, due to the title. For once, my trick of not reading the blurb tripped me up…

The Mongol Derby is the world’s toughest horse race. An outrageous feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the army of Genghis Khan, the Derby sees competitors ride 25 horses across 1000km, and it’s rare that more than half of the riders make it to the finish line. In 2013 Lara Prior-Palmer – nineteen, wildly underprepared and in search of the great unknown – decided to enter the race. Finding on the wild Mongolian steppe strength and self-knowledge she didn’t know she possessed, even whilst caught in biblical storms and lost in the mountains, Lara tore through the field with her motley crew of horses. She didn’t just complete the race: in one of the Derby’s most unexpected results, she won, becoming the youngest-ever competitor to conquer the course.

Lara makes an intriguing protagonist – in this painfully honest memoir of a tricky time in her life when she signed up for this most testing adventure on a fairly random whim, I get a sense of a very strong determined personality who is a work-in-progress. I liked the messiness of the characterisation. She is clearly someone not comfortable in her own skin – literally, as it happens. This gawky nineteen-year-old has been suffering with chronic stomach pains that no one has been able to successfully diagnose – and as the race wore on and many of the other competitors dropped away, it did occur to me that the reason why she managed to stick it out when so many others couldn’t, is simply that she’s used to being in constant physical discomfort and pain.

I say ‘simply’, but of course real life isn’t that simple. This book isn’t just about Lara’s gritted determination to complete – and ultimately win – a particularly gruelling horse race, it’s also about her take on the stunning scenery, the people in her life – and how comfortable she feels within herself. It’s striking that when in amongst other people, what falls out of her mouth is often crass and/or simply embarrassing. She mentions near the start of the book that she hasn’t many filters and at school she was in the habit of coming out with whatever was floating through her head at the time.

There’s a sense of her not really fitting in – not at home, or in her daily life and certainly not at the start of the race. By the end, however, it’s a different matter. The vets and race organisers begin to look upon her as a contender and there’s an implicit sense that there’s growing respect for her. Not that she mentions it – I’m not sure even now that she’s aware of how awed they were at her toughness and horsemanship. It’s striking that her main competitor pushed her horses really hard throughout, which eventually cost her the race. Mostly, Lara didn’t.

I’m conscious that I’ve written a great deal about the protagonist and not a whole lot about the race – it’s partly because I don’t want to stray into Spoiler territory, but also because I love the fact that while one thing is going on – the race – Lara is also busy growing up…

Her descriptions of her various horses, the varying weather and stunning scenery, along with her immediate reaction to it is masterfully done. This book pulled me in and held me throughout – I found it a fascinating, layered read that told me about so much more than a very challenging horse race. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about true adventures.
9/10

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#Sci Fi Month – The Ones That Got Away…

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I’ve loved Sci Fi Month – huge thanks to Lisa and the team for organising this fabulous event. As you’ll have realised, I got a tad carried away… In fact, I got even more carried away than is apparent on the blog – because I ran out of November with still a stack of science fiction goodness all reviewed and ready to go. So here is a quick rundown of the books that missed out:

Black Holiday – Book 2 of The Black Chronicles by J.M. Anjewierden
Morgan has finally made it, earning an officer’s slot on S.T.E.V.E., the ancient flagship of the Takiyama Merchant House. She’s survived so much to get here, and isn’t about to let lingering nightmares over those events stop her now. That said, even the toughest mechanics need down time. Grudgingly taking some shore leave, Morgan goes to visit the estate of her friend Emily, Baroness Novan – and gets caught up in trouble that, for once, isn’t of her own making…
I reviewed the first book in this entertaining series here – so was keen to jump in and see what happens next to Morgan – which was something of a shock… I really enjoyed this offering and am looking forward to reading the next one when it is released.

 

Dreadnought – Book 2 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson
Captain William Sparhawk flies Earth’s single starship on a voyage of exploration. His crew of veteran spacers begins the mission with high hopes and the best of intentions, but the universe has other plans. Instead of space merchants and potential allies, they discover Earth’s impending doom. Sparhawk must decide whether to hunt down enemy scouts to keep Earth’s new starship a secret, or to head home to warn Star Guard of the danger. Either way, he’s ignited an interstellar war.
I’ve become a solid fan of Captain William Sparhawk – see my review of Battle Cruiser – and this stagnating, dystopian society – there is a real shock at the end of this book which is a gamechanger for the next one, such that I can’t wait to jump in and discover what happens next…

 

Nimbus – Book 3 of the Psi-Tech series by Jacey Bedford
In a galaxy where the super-powers are the megacorporations, and ambitious executives play fast and loose with ethics in order to secure resources, where can good people turn for help? The megacorps control the jump gates and trade routes. They use psi-techs, implant-enhanced operatives with psionic abilities, who are bound by unbreakable contracts.
But something alien is stirring in the depths of foldspace. Something bigger than the squabbles between megacorporations and independents. Foldspace visions are supposed to be a figment of the imagination. At least, that’s what they teach in flight school. Ben Benjamin knows it’s not true. Meeting a void dragon was bad enough, but now there’s the Nimbus to contend with. Are the two connected? Why do some ships transit the Folds safely and others disappear without a trace?
I’ve loved this entertaining series from a writer I thoroughly respect – see my review of Empire of Dust here. It was her talk on how to organise submissions to agents and small publishers and fired me up so that I persevered, getting a contract with the awesome folks at Grimbold Publishing in the process. It was a blast reading this final slice of the Psi-Tech series and I’ll be reviewing it shortly.

 

The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky
After an unfortunate accident, Handry is forced to wander a world he doesn’t understand, searching for meaning. He soon discovers that the life he thought he knew is far stranger than he could even possibly imagine. Can an unlikely saviour provide the answers to the questions he barely comprehends?
I love Adrian Tchaikovsky’s writing – see my review of Children of Time here. This intriguing novella is another treat, where an unfortunate incident has unforeseen consequences – this writer is fond of those. While part of this colony world adventure was reassuringly familiar, Tchaikovsky does his trick of taking genre conventions by the scruff of their neck and giving them a good shake.

 

Satellite by Nick Lake
He’s going to a place he’s never been before: home. Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known. Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight.
This was an intriguing read, given it was written in text-prose. While I understand a number of readers simply couldn’t get through it, I think the fact this was a paperback actually helped. The story itself is thoroughly enjoyable, apart from a set piece that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Hollywood film, but rather let the book down. Other than that, I found the questions this book raised were both uncomfortable and pertinent for our near-future expansion into space.

 

The Boy on the Bridge – Book 2 of The Girl With All the Gifts series by M.R. Carey
Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world. To where the monsters lived.
If you haven’t read The Girl With All the Gifts yet want to plunge into this offering, feel free to do so – while it is set in the same world, the links between the two books are tenuous and don’t add all that much to the overall story. I found this zombie apocalypse reworking a heartbreak of missed opportunities and bungled decisions – but oh so very believable. And if zombies aren’t your thing, don’t dismiss this one – they aren’t my thing either, but Carey’s a master storyteller and this is a masterful story.

So… these are the books I read and reviewed for Sci Fi Month, before I realised that November only had 30 days – and there are a number of others I haven’t yet written the reviews for. As I said, I did get a tad carried away. What about you – are there any here that have taken your eye? What did you read for Sci Fi Month?

Friday Faceoff – The way to heaven is on horseback… #Brainfluffbookblog #Fridayfaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week features riders. I’ve selected Green Rider – Book 1 of the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain. I read this one longer ago than I care to recall, but thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

This edition was produced by DAW Books in April 2000. I love this cover – the wealth of detail with all the movement and drama of the galloping horse is beautiful. But I do dislike all that chat at the top which draws the eye away from the author name.

 

Published in April 2011 by Gollancz, this one is my favourite. Yes… I don’t think the horse has wings in the book, but to be honest – I don’t care. The illustration is absolutely stunning and just works. My one niggle is that the title and author fonts could be just a bit more decorative as they are unutterably dull.

 

This German edition, published by Heyne in December 2008, is attractive and eye-catching. And if you are wondering why there isn’t a scrap of green anywhere, the German title translates as The Magic Rider so it makes sense to have a striking red cover featuring a beautiful black stallion galloping through the middle of the cover. At last the font also is suitably dramatic.

 

This Turkish edition, produced by Kalipso Yayinlari is more about the young rider than the horse. When I saw the teeny-tiny version of this one, I confess that I sighed a little, but now it is larger, I like it more than I thought I would – though I’d prefer her to be wearing gauntlets and less eye makeup. But that sword hilt is gorgeous and I love the wonderful title font.

 

This Czech cover, published in 2012 is another strong contender. In fact, if it wasn’t for that amazing Gollancz offering, this would be my favourite. I love the fact that we are seeing the back of the rider and the horse, while that rich border gives it a suitably otherworld flavour. I love the golden light that effectively throws the rider and horse into relief, though I would personally have used a different colour other than yellow in the title font. What about you – which is your favourite?

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 24th January, 2018

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Keeper by Kim Chance

#fantasy #YA #magic #witchcraft

When a 200-year-old witch attacks her, sixteen-year-old bookworm Lainey Styles is determined to find a logical explanation. Even with the impossible staring her in the face, Lainey refuses to believe it—until she finds a photograph linking the witch to her dead mother.

After consulting a psychic, Lainey discovers that she, like her mother, is a Keeper: a witch with the exclusive ability to unlock and wield the Grimoire, a dangerous but powerful spell book. But there’s a problem. The Grimoire has been stolen by a malevolent warlock who is desperate for a spell locked inside it—a spell that would allow him to siphon away the world’s magic.

With the help of her comic-book-loving best friend and an enigmatic but admittedly handsome street fighter, Lainey must leave her life of college prep and studying behind to prepare for the biggest test of all: stealing back the book.

Being the shallow sort, I was first lured into checking out this one because of the rather scrummy cover – but I also really liked the idea. Yep – I know it’s been done before, but right now, after being traumatised by my current read, I could do with some magical mayhem!

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?