I’m conscious that I’ve never experienced a month like it in the whole of my life – and I’m not sure I ever will again… Or perhaps I will. Perhaps May and June will continue being in social isolation with lots of handwashing and staying at home. But what has kept my head straight is my love of reading and writing – thank goodness for both! I’ve also loved the wonderful sunny weather – it’s been a joy being able to sit in the garden and watch Spring springing… I’m conscious that I am very blessed. And given that none of us can guarantee if we will survive this, I’ve determined to be as thankful for every coming day as I can be. So despite everything, this has been a very precious April.
I read eighteen books in April, which isn’t quite as marvellous as it sounds, as one of those was a short story and another was a novella. This is the list:
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi
Shorefall – Book 2 of The Founders Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett
Scythe – Dimension Drift prequel NOVELLA #1 by Christina Bauer
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. This is my EBOOK read of the month
Dead Eye – Book 1 of the Tiger’s Eye Mystery series by Alyssa Day
Arkadian Skies – Book 6 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
Q by Christina Dalcher
The Hedgeway SHORT STORY by Vivienne Tuffnell
A Little Bit Witchy – Book 1 of the Riddler’s Edge series by A.A. Albright
The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel. This is my AUDIOBOOK read of the month
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing – Book 2 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
The Palm Tree Messiah by Sarah Palmer – manuscript read
Witch Dust – Book 1 of the Witch series by Marilyn Messik
Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan
After Seth by Caron Garrod
I continued working on my Creative Writing How-To Book on Characterisation and I’m pleased with the progress, but I woke up on 11th April with an epiphany about some issues that had been niggling me with Mantivore Warrior – so I dropped my How-To book and immediately dived back into the manuscript to fix it. I’ve learnt from hard experience not to ever put those kinds of moments off – otherwise they pass and I forget!
I have also been working on another project that I’m hoping to be able to discuss in another couple of weeks. I don’t normally flit between so many different writing projects – but right now everything is extraordinary. So it makes sense that my writing patterns would suddenly go AWOL, too… Overall, I wrote just over 43,000 words in April, with just under 17,000 words on my blog and just under 25,500 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just under 180,000 words so far.
I have found keeping up with my blog such a source of comfort and encouragement – I know social media can be responsible for some dark acts, but I happen to be fortunate enough to inhabit a really lovely corner, where I meet some of the nicest people on the planet. But that’s not a surprise, because they are readers, or writers, or both. I hope May is a good month for you and that you stay safe. Take care.xxx
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Another lockdown week. The weather continues to be freakishly fabulous, so I’m enjoying many tea and coffee breaks in the garden. I’ve posted the choisya blossom, which is fabulous and the amber bedding plant last year, that I left in the garden and has turned into a perennial. I love it when that happens. And the echiums are now starting to bloom!
Non-gardening news: I am missing family horribly, but my daughter and I have had a couple of marathon phone calls, which meant on Friday night I didn’t get to bed until the early hours. I’m so filled with admiration at how she has organised the home-schooling routine for her 15-year-old and 10-year-old, so that it still makes time for little Eliza, who is also struggling with lockdown. Rebecca was telling me how she was calling out to another toddler in a shopping trolley, who was shouting back at her, as she went around the supermarket and they were both stretching towards each other, desperate to make contact. It must be so hard on that age-group who developmentally need socialisation, when you can’t even explain to them what is going on.
I had the pleasure of judging a poetry competition organised to coincide with the Littlehampton V.E. celebrations. Though the celebrations were cancelled, the competition went ahead and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the entries, all submitted online. I’ve been working on another writing project, which hopefully I will be talking about in more detail in the next few weeks.
Last week I read:
Q by Christina Dalcher
Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.
Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.
It’s a long time since I’ve read a protagonist I really hated as much as I loathed Elena. Review to follow.
The Hedgeway – short story by Vivienne Tuffnell
Leading from the overgrown grass and thicket of brambles were the distinct signs of feet passing: small, bare human feet.
A child had walked here, breaking the crisp coating of hoar frost, and had stood only yards from the kitchen window.
Cathy thought: They’re only footprints, so why do I suddenly feel so scared?
Daniel’s grandmother’s house seems only a few years from becoming a ruin but the roof is still sound and unlike his rented accommodation, the whole place is his. It seems the perfect time to ask girlfriend Cathy to move in with him and together they plan to renovate the house. But the old house has secrets that it wants to share with them whether they want to know or not.
(This is a longer short story of around 17,000 words)
After getting through Q I was yearning for a read that I knew would be excellently written and provide a complete contrast, so I turned to an author who I knew would deliver the goods.
A Little Bit Witchy – Book 1 of the Riddler’s Edge series by A.A. Albright
Aisling Smith is about to try out for a new job – a job writing for a paper she’s never heard of. But seeing as she’s currently writing classified ads and obituaries, it would be foolish not to give it a shot. Riddler’s Edge might be a small town, but it’s definitely not boring. The train hasn’t even pulled into the station, and already a woman has been murdered.
This is one that has been lurking on my TBR pile for far too long. Enjoyable and nicely escapist, I’m glad to have found a new series to dive back into when I’ve completed more series.
The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Ishmael Jones is someone who can’t afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He’s employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself – is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.
This is the first book in this thoroughly enjoyable series, so I jumped at the chance to discover more about the mysterious Ishmael Jones and was quickly engrossed in this entertaining paranormal whodunit. Review to follow.
Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Earth is burning. Nothing can survive at the Anchor; not without water and power. But the ultra-rich, waiting for their ride off the dying Earth? They can buy water. And as for power? Well, someone has to repair the solar panels, down in the deserts below. Kids like Mao, and Lupé, and Hotep; kids with brains and guts but no hope. The Firewalkers.
This cli fi adventure drew me in from the start. Once again, Tchaikovsky didn’t disappoint – review to follow.
My posts last week:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA Scythe – Book 1 of the Dimension Drift prequels by Christina Bauer
Friday Face-off featuring The Fell Sword – Book 2 of The Traitor Son series by Miles Cameron
Review of AUDIOBOOK Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight Full-Cast BBC Radio Dramatisations based on the books by Agatha Christie
Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Mother Code by Carol Stivers
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shorefall – Book 2 of The Founders Trilogy – by Robert Bennett Jackson
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi
Sunday Post – 19th April 2020
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
7 Eco-Friendly Actions for Kids during the Pandemic: from EARTHDAY. ORG https://platformnumber4.com/2020/04/19/7-eco-friendly-actions-for-kids-during-the-pandemic-from-earthday-org/ These practical suggestions look really useful…
Your Own Flying Rainbows https://cindyknoke.com/2020/04/19/your-own-flying-rainbows/ Aren’t they adorable?
National Bookmobile Day https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2020/04/22/national-bookmobile-day-2/ I loved this article by Loreen in tribute to Mr Riggs. Let’s take a moment to remember that person who understood and honoured our love for books when we were too young to get hold of them ourselves…
Book Recommendations: If You Liked… You Might Also Like… https://bookwindowcom.wordpress.com/2020/04/16/book-recommendations-if-you-liked-you-might-also-like/ I haven’t encountered this really useful blog post before – so I thought I’d share it.
Caturday funnies – coronapocalypse edition https://bluebirdofbitterness.com/2020/04/25/caturday-funnies-coronapocalypse-edition/ Some much-needed laughter…
Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have the best possible Easter and a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.
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.
Still in the foothills of Editland, I’m now more than a third of the way through line editing Breathing Space. I let loose Electric Annie’s voice, courtesy of Word, so the computer slowly reads through the manuscript aloud to me, while I follow it on the screen, set on 125% zoom. I haven’t yet found a more effective way of picking up the graunching phrases, small errors and fiddling plot holes and anomalies. The catch is that it takes a lot of time and concentration – and it isn’t something I can do when I’m tired.
This week’s Creative Writing classes went well – this term students bring in their own favourite pieces of writing that has inspired them in some way and share it with the group. We have had fiction ranging from Charles Dickens to J.K. Rowling and everything in between; the teachings of Idris Shah and the life of Desert Orchid; as well as poetry ranging from John Cooper Clark to Rudyard Kipling. It has been highly enjoyable – and the icing on the cake is that the work my lovely students produce just goes on getting better… One of my students won a poetry competition this week, while another was shortlisted for yet another competition. It’s been a good term.
I’m still not up to full speed on my reading this week, because when I do finally get to bed, I tend to fall asleep, as I find editing exhausting. So the two books I completed are:
The City of Mirrors – Book 3 of The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin
“The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?”
The Twelve have been destroyed and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew and daring to dream of a hopeful future. But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy – humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him. One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate…
This is the final book in this remarkable post-apocalyptic trilogy, which has been a real roller-coaster – the writing is remarkable, both gritty and lyrical. Cronin manages to make it acceptable to switch viewpoints three or four times in the space of a couple of pages and you can’t pull off a stunt like that without being very, very talented.
Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno
Malcolm Graves lives by two rules: finish the job, and get paid. After thirty years as a collector, chasing bounties and extinguishing rebellions throughout the solar system, Malcolm does what he’s told, takes what he’s earned, and leaves the questions to someone else—especially when it comes to the affairs of offworlders. Heading into hostile territory, Malcolm will have to use everything he’s learned to stay alive. But he soon realizes that the situation on the ground is much more complex than he anticipated . . . and much more personal.
Enjoyable, full-on space opera adventure that nevertheless provides some thought-provoking insights into the human condition. Featuring anti-hero Malcolm Graves, the ending was wholly unexpected and very memorable. I loved it! My review will appearing on the blog be next week.
My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 12th June
Other interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
I loved this enjoyable, articulate article about a long-standing passion. Why I Write Science Fiction by Kate Colby. https://katemcolby.com/2016/06/15/why-i-write-science-fiction-fantasy/
Some excellent safety tips now we are approaching the time of year when we take our littlies out and about by Wanda Luthman – https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2016/06/13/family-vacation-safety/
Another superb post from this lovely site about war poets – some I knew, and some I didn’t… https://interestingliterature.com/2016/06/17/interesting-facts-about-war-poets/
Haunting pictures of children who have been displaced. https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/from-the-far-from-home-series/
Drew’s Friday Face-off contribution this week featured the mighty Robin Hobb, with a number of different covers for her book Fool’s Errand. Which is your favourite? https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/friday-face-off-17th-june/
Last night I attended the All Night Write event at the old Emporium theatre that ran from 10 pm through to 6 am this morning. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but went along with my friend Sarah Palmer. The setting was amazing in an old theatre space, with plenty of tables, comfortable seating and refreshments laid on. Phil Viner, best-selling crime writer, had organised a whole series of talks about all aspects of writing ranging from the actual process of writing, through to a discussion about the role of agents by Phillip Patterson, head of the Books Department from the Marjacq Agency. I particularly enjoyed Sarah Rayner’s excellent talk on self publishing as a hybrid author – the bonus being that these talks were delivered on the set of Peter Pan… Quirky and atmospheric. There was so much going on, we looked around twice – and it was already 3 am. We reluctantly left at 5 am before breakfast was served as we had quite a long journey home and no one wanted to suddenly find themselves falling asleep at the wheel after a fried meal. It was an amazing experience – and the bonus was that I also managed to write the opening pages of Bloodless.
Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.
I had downloaded Square Peg a while ago onto my Kindle, but suddenly turned to it as an antidote to the rather grim apocalyptic near-future NetGalley arc I’d just endured. I was so very glad I did…
“She’d seen faces like that before, but on the television, in films and in the history books. The faces of fanatics, cold and blind to all reason staring back at her.”
Chloe is a square peg in an increasingly uncomfortable round hole. Brought up by her wildly unconventional grandmother, she’s a true free spirit and has never learned to pull her punches. She’s just married trainee Church of England clergyman Clifford, and is living at the theological college and trying to figure out what’s going on around her. She’s had very little connection with formal religion, and has a talent for stepping on all sorts of emotional land-mines with the wives of the other ordinands. That would probably be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that her grandmother has inconsiderately died, and left her a house full of exotic souvenirs of her days as a travelling doctor, instructions to track down her father and sister, and what everyone else regards as a really bad attitude. She’s also lost her job, her temper, but not the will to live.
Chloe may come across as something of an airhead during the above extract of a rather chatty blurb, but in actual fact, she is mostly level-headed and extremely likeable. She is also in big trouble. Very recently bereaved, she is adrift. Her Gran, who brought her up, is the only family she has and while she is very happily married, it is a relatively new relationship. Moreover, her husband has recently started a course at a theological college training to be a Church of England vicar. And then, she is made redundant.
Like many people in great emotional pain, Chloe has become a tad short-fused and succeeds in mortally offending one of the wives of the ordinands at a supper designed to welcome the new intake and their wives. And what should be a relatively minor clash, quickly forgiven and forgotten in a Christian society, becomes the poisonous bedrock upon which a whispering campaign against Chloe is formed.
I’ve always been aware that Tuffnell possesses a keen intelligence and understanding of human nature – it sings out of her writing on her blog, Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. It is what prompted me to buy her books in the first place. But this challenging read about prejudice and how it can get a grip, is a masterly study in how we human beings function – and how it can go so badly wrong. However, let me start by reassuring you. If you enjoy reading a smoothly well-written account of a very likeable protagonist in her daily life, then dive right in. Tuffnell’s technically accomplished writing style won’t plunge you into scenes of over-wrought misery. She depicts an independent young woman who has suffered a grievous loss, but carries on anyway – because everyone around her expects her to. Indeed, she expects that she should.
And despite the fact she is dealing with a serious subject, there is plenty of humour. Many of the scenes that lead up to the shocking climax verge on the farcical and certainly had me grinning. What added to my pleasure was that another of Tuffnell’s protagonists, Isabel from Away With the Fairies – see my review here – makes a sudden appearance. The narrative arc is beautifully handled, as is the fallout. There are no over-dramatic flourishes, which could so easily have tipped this book into melodrama.
Tuffnell tried to get her work traditionally published and after a number of near misses, gave up and now self publishes her writing. Thank goodness for that option – it would be a crying shame if books of this calibre didn’t see the light of day.
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 good week – a VERY good week… First piece of excellent news was that I was graded an Outstanding for my latest lesson observation at Northbrook College. I enjoy teaching and have a lovely group of students, so it’s gratifying to have such positive feedback.
The next slice of excitement came in the form of an email from Darren Pulsford, editor of the upcoming anthology Eve of War due to be published on 19th June by Fox Spirit. ‘Miranda’s Tempest’ by yours truly is the first story in the running order. To be honest, I’d sort of forgotten about it – making it a lovely surprise!
I’ve read four books this week:
Date Night on Union Station – Book 1 of the EarthCent Ambassador by E.M. Foner
I needed something lighter in tone after a fairly hefty apocalyptic sci fi adventure – and this was Himself’s suggestion, which, as ever, was on the button. It is more of a comedy of manners than the gritted battle for survival we are more used to seeing on space stations brimful of alien races and gnarly tech. I shall be reviewing it in due course.
Square Peg by Vivienne Tuffnell
I got know Viv’s writing through her accomplished blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking and bought her book Away With the Fairies last year. I wanted to touch base with the contemporary world and Himself was nagging me to read this prequel, so I did. It’s another original, memorable read. No one writes quite like Viv and she deserves to be far more widely read. Another book I’ll be reviewing soon.
Outriders – Book 1 of the Outriders series by Jay Posey
This military science fiction adventure starts with a bang and rolls forward as we get to see events spool forward in the viewpoint of Lincoln, the Outrider’s new commander. And the Outriders are an elite black ops team in a world teetering on the edge of war with Mars… This NetGalley arc is due to be published at the beginning of May and I was very pleased to be in at the start of what I think is going to be a very successful series, if the first book is anything to go by.
The Executioner’s Heart – Book 4 of the Newbury and Hobbes Investigations series by George Mann
This latest steampunk whodunit has been loitering on by TBR pile for far too long – and as I’m learning to interleave my NetGalley arcs amongst the rest of the books piled up waiting for my attention – it suddenly jumped up and down and demanded to be read. Quite right too. It’s much too good to be ignored – and the ending was a major shock, leaving me agog to know what happens next.
My posts last week:
Weekly Wrap-Up – 17th April
Review of The Rhesus Chart – Book 5 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
Teaser Tuesday – Outriders by Jay Posey
Review of Space Hostages – Book 2 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall
Books I Wished I’d Reviewed
Friday Faceoff – Dead Men Tell No Tales featuring Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
The Spring Book Tag
I had planned to spend the week-end out in the garden, tackling all those early weeks and tidying up after the winter, but the grandchildren are staying, so inevitably the weather has turned cold. I only garden when it’s nice, so we’re going to snuggle down in front of the fire, read books together and watch some daft film together. Once more, thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to read my reviews and articles and have a great week.
I downloaded this book, because I knew from Viv’s blog that she is a fine writer, with high standards, so I knew I wasn’t in for a misspelled, poorly formatted offering – and I was intrigued by the opening passage I read as a sample.
Irrepressible artist Isobel has survived most things and managed to bounce back from everything so far. A sequence of domestic disasters finally signals to Isobel that perhaps things aren’t quite as rosy as she’d like. With her half of the inheritance, Isobel buys an isolated holiday cottage where she hopes to be able to catch up with some painting, as well as have the occasional holiday. The cottage is idyllic, beautiful and inspiring, but odd things keep happening. Doors won’t stay shut, objects go missing and reappear in the wrong places and footsteps are heard when there’s no one there. One of Isobel’s new neighbours suggests that it is the fairies who are responsible, but Isobel is more than a tad sceptical: there’s not a hint of glitter or tinselly wings or magic wands.
As she works at a frenetic pace, the odd happenings begin to increase until even Isobel’s rational, sceptical mind has to sit up and take notice. And that’s when she gets really scared. Up until now, her motto has been that there’s nothing in life that can’t be made better by a cup of tea and some Hob Nobs. This time it’s beginning to look like it’ll take more than even chocolate biscuits to make things better.
That’s a heavily edited version of the rather chatty blurb – but if the rather misleading title has you expecting some whimsical tale of winged cuteness, then don’t. This is a far grittier tale of how a couple of people deal with the curved balls Life throws at us, often in quick succession while we are still reeling from the last wicked delivery. I was immediately drawn into Isobel’s world, recalling my own struggles to prevail while in the midst of coping with a very precocious toddler and small baby suffering with a major dairy intolerance at a time when I was being told such a thing didn’t exist – though I certainly wasn’t also trying to paint…
There is a leavening of edged humour running throughout this thought-provoking book – and I can see why Viv ended up publishing the book, herself. This contemporary story isn’t all about boy meets girl, though there is plenty of love in it. Neither is it any kind of thriller or mystery, though there is tension and death in it, too. And while it is on the edge of paranormal, you won’t find any fae, vamps or werewolves stalking through it. In short – it thoroughly blurs the main genre boundaries, which probably accounts for the fact that publishers and agents left it alone, despite the fact it is an original, well-written, engrossing story.
Along with Isabel, there is a cast of well depicted, realistic characters who help to make up Tuffnell’s world and contribute to the richness of the world which bounces off the page. I stayed up reading waaay into the night to see what would happen next, as the story swept me up. Is the narrative arc brought to a successful conclusion? Oh yes – and this could have so easily descended into facile sentimentality. Tuffnell is grappling with some gnarly issues here that has most of us staring into the darkness, shivering a little… What is the point of it all? What happens when we die? How will we be remembered – if at all? It would have been so much simpler to have wrapped this story up in a thick layer of treacle and served it up as comfort food for the soul.
That Tuffnell refuses to give into that temptation is a testament to her own gutsy take on the world, which becomes apparent in her blog – and her talent as a writer. If you’re a fan of well-written, contemporary fiction featuring a sympathetic female protagonist, then track this book down. You, really, won’t find anything else out there quite like it…