Tag Archives: YA

Friday Faceoff – Better to fight and fall than to live without hope… #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 subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a LONGBOAT, so I’ve selected Half the World – Book 2 of The Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in February 2015. I like the design – the huge wave rising out of the sea, with the breaking surf at the crest morphing into edged weapons. However, I don’t like the monochrome treatment – it looks rather drab and gives the impression that the book is a lot darker than it actually is. And other than that small flourish on the tail of the R, the title font is unforgivably boring.

 

Published in February 2015 by Harper Voyager, this cover makes my point. I think this one looks sooo much better than the bleak version above. We can fully appreciate the detailing of all those cool weapons, while the deep green water on the face of the wave gives a sense of the power of the sea, even without the plucky Viking boat fighting up it. And the title font is far more appropriately eye-catching – altogether a much better version. It never fails to surprise me how much changing colours can affect the whole feel and tone of a design. This is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Harper Voyager in June 2015, is another strong offering. This time around we are on the longship, alongside the heroes as they negotiate a tricky strait. I love the prow of the boat, the back of the protagonist and the ominous sky, giving a sense of tension. The title font is both appropriate and eye-catching – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Arqueiro in January 2017, this Portuguese edition chooses to focus on the characters rather than the setting. While I think it is well executed and I very much approve of the clean, uncluttered look of the cover – and the fact they choose to let us know that it’s the second book in the series. However, I find the stern-faced, armed female protagonist rather generic.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Nemira in April 2016 is another attractive, well-crafted offering. However I think the scale is wrong. The longship is beautiful – that gold edging of the sail looks fabulous – but it’s too small and the grandeur of that epic landscape is simply lost. I’m itching to apply a zoom option to this cover, which has so much going for it… Which one is your favourite?

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Review of PAPERBACK Satellite by Nick Lake #Brainfluffbookreview #Satellitebookreview

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This is another book I hauled last summer with my birthday money – and yes… I can’t lie, it was allll about that stunning cover.

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.

That’s part of the blurb. But what is interesting is that if blurbs are supposed to be a taster for what is inside the book, then this back-book matter should be written in text-speak because Lake has taken the brave decision to write this near-future adventure in this format, complete with no capitals except for names. It took me a couple of pages to get comfortable with this format, but I’ve read a string of reviews from indignant readers who simply couldn’t cope. That’s a real shame, because they missed a cracking story as a result. And to be honest, I’m not sure this step was worth it, given it certainly posed an additional barrier to accessing the story.

Leo is a rather self-contained character, who is always an outsider – he’s bound to be given he is raised in a space station alongside a set of twins. When he sees his mother, which is infrequently, she never shows him any affection – not so much as a hug, let alone playing games and reading to him like Orion and Libra’s mother during her visits. At fifteen, Leo tells himself that he has become used to her attitude, while readying himself for his return to Earth. I loved his personality, which is important as this tale is told in first person viewpoint. Lake managed to denote his emotions, while we are also aware he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. Given the nature of his upbringing, he is wary of people and their motives, which stands him in good stead once he finds himself back on Earth.

Leo’s wonder at the beauty he encounters is wonderfully conveyed as he begins to acclimatise to gravity while living on his grandfather’s cattle ranch. But all too soon, his life there becomes disrupted. Earth is in trouble. Water and food are running out as global warming is drying up farmland and turning swathes of the landmass into desert. There are dangerous factions abroad who would like to get their hands on one of the famous space-born children…

As events stack up and the story turns a whole lot darker, I found it hard to put this one down. The scenario portrayed is chillingly plausible, which sharpened the sense of distress at the children’s plight. However, after carefully building up a realistic sense of the near-future, this adventure suddenly takes a sharp left-turn into a plotpoint more suited to Hollywood silliness. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I could easily visualise an alternative scenario that wouldn’t have entailed all that nonsense and still given more or less the same ending.

So while I coped with the text-prose, I have marked this down from a five-star rating to a four-star novel, because I strongly felt that one final action scene at the end was entirely unnecessary and distracted from some of the hard ethical questions this thoughtful story raises. But don’t that discourage you from reading this one – it’s a gripping story with a hard-hitting message and left me with a lump in my throat, notwithstanding that final act.
8/10

Review of PAPERBACK Caraval – Book 1 of the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber #Brainfluffbookreview #Caravalbookreview

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I’ll admit it – it was the cover of this one that caught my eye – and the premise that a complicated, magical game was at the heart of the story…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over. But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives…

And that’s as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to include as far too many of the major plotpoints are revealed, so my first piece of advice is to avoid reading the back matter. As for the story – Garber quickly snagged my attention by providing a sympathetic heroine who is desperate to escape her cruel father. She has written every year for seven years before her request to join the game is approved – and she has tickets for her and her sister. However, as she is soon to be married and is desperate to believe the kind, courteous letters that she has been exchanging with her prospective husband means he is caring and at the very least – kinder than her bullying, violent father who has been terrorising her and her sister ever since their mother disappeared.

Caraval – remember it’s only a game – all too quickly turns into a desperate quest, when her sister almost immediately disappears and Scarlett is led to believe that if she doesn’t find her before Caraval ends, then she will die… Scarlett is plunged into a beautiful, varied world where she cannot trust what anyone says or does and her decisions have unexpected and frightening consequences. Accompanying her for at least part of the way, is a young sailor who effected their escape from their family home. Unexpectedly, he joins her and is responsible for saving her life – apparently… But can she really trust him and his advice? Or is he one of the famous Master Legend’s highly trained actors?

This one is a real page-turner as Scarlett struggles to work out how to survive and track down what has happened to her beautiful, wilful sister – and it is the love between the two sisters that is the emotional engine that powers this story, despite the love story also threading through it. I really enjoyed it and found the twisting, often surreal situations that Scarlett was confronted with kept the pages turning late into the night.

Of course, it’s all very well constructing a tension-filled mystery with high stakes – but at the end, the denouement must deliver. I was pleased to find it did. Some of my guesses about what was going on were correct – however, most of them weren’t and I loved the way Garber wrapped this one up. Recommended for those who like their thrillers with a strong paranormal twist, delivered by a sympathetic protagonist.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook Hurricane Book 3 for the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards #Brainfluffbookblog #Hurricanebookreview

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Regular visitors to this site will know that I am a fan of Edwards’ writing. She has written several entertaining YA science fiction series – the best-known being the Earth Girl series, see my review of Earth Girl. The Hive Mind series, featuring the adventures of telepath Amber – see my review of the first book, Telepath – has also become a solid favourite, so I was delighted when the author contacted me and asked me to read a review copy of Hurricane in return for an honest opinion of the book.

Eighteen-year-old Amber is the youngest of the five telepaths who protect the hundred million citizens of one of the great hive cities of twenty-sixth century Earth. Her job is hunting down criminals before they commit their crimes, but this time a simple case leads on to something far bigger. This is a case where Amber’s team have to face the unknown and break all the rules they usually follow, while Amber has extra burdens she can’t share with anyone. She has a personal mystery to solve, and questions she wants answered, but curiosity is a dangerous trait in a telepath.

As with all Edwards’ books, we see the world through the viewpoint of the young protagonist, so we only know what she knows, therefore I was delighted that Hurricane gives us more information about the worldbuilding. It appears – this will doubtless come as a great shock to you – that the leaders of the Hive aren’t completely honest with their citizens and keep secret some important details about how the society functions.

In this interesting instalment, Amber and her team find themselves solving a major crime outside the Hive where she learns a lot more about a hitherto hidden aspect of the workings of the Hive. Obviously, I’m not going to reveal those aspects as I’d be straying into Spoiler territory, but a lot more things made sense regarding the longterm viability of the society which wasn’t bothering me, but had concerned Himself. Alongside my increased understanding of this intriguing post-apocalyptic setup, Edwards also delivers another tension-filled crime adventure featuring a series of malicious attacks that trip into something far darker and more harmful. It is Amber’s task to discover who the murderer is by reading the culprit’s intention – far harder when everyone’s mental landscape differs so markedly from what she’s used to. And there are potentially dire consequences if she cannot find the perpetrator, so there’s plenty at stake.

I’ve enjoyed following Amber’s story from the beginning and though it is only eight months since the events of the first book, she has significantly matured – hardly surprising given the responsibility she is shouldering. There is also an intriguing sub-plot surrounding one of the other telepaths, which gives us an insight into what can happen when things go wrong.

This society is under enormous pressure, given that the population density is very high and the authorities are keen for everyone to feel a reasonable degree of happiness – if they didn’t, then mayhem would quickly ensue. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this book since I’ve finished reading it – always a sure sign that it’s something a bit special that’s delivered above and beyond the engrossing story that held me throughout. Highly recommended for fans of enjoyable YA science fiction, this is the best of the series so far.
10/10

Sunday Post – 23rd December, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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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.

It’s been another whirlwind week. I’ve been rushing around like a blue-bottomed fly getting presents wrapped, writing and sending off cards and organising the food for Christmas, which isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds, given that my son is vegan and we are vegetarian.

On Monday, I travelled to my daughter’s house to deliver the Christmas cards and pressies as I wouldn’t be seeing them over the Christmas break. I had great fun playing with baby Eliza, who is growing at a rate of knots. She fell asleep in my arms and once more I was swept with that painful wave of love which stops the breath in my lungs and makes each heartbeat hurt – a now-familiar sensation since the birth of my first grandchild. They’ll say something, or tilt their head in a particular way – and I’m suffused with that fierce feeling all over again. We went out for lunch together and then I made my way back home when Rebecca had to leave for the school run.

My son arrived on Wednesday and will be staying until after Christmas, which is a great treat, given that I don’t get a chance to see him all that often. Yesterday, I attended a lovely party where we sang seasonal songs around the piano and today, after we did the final supermarket run, we Skyped my mother-in-law, who is celebrating her birthday today. Other than food, I now have all the other Christmas chores completed – yippee!

Last week I read:
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe – Book 1 of The Salvagers series by Alex White
Boots Elsworth was a famous treasure hunter in another life, but now she’s washed up. She makes her meager living faking salvage legends and selling them to the highest bidder, but this time she might have stumbled on something real–the story of the Harrow, a famous warship, capable of untold destruction. Nilah Brio is the top driver in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation and the darling of the racing world–until she witnesses the murder of a fellow racer. Framed for the murder and on the hunt to clear her name, Nilah only has one lead: the killer also hunts a woman named Boots.
I really enjoyed this magical, futuristic adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world, recovering after a brutal pan-galactic war. There is plenty of action-packed mayhem, which didn’t prevent me from steadily bonding with the main protagonists.

 

Hurricane – Book 3 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards
Eighteen-year-old Amber is the youngest of the five telepaths who protect the hundred million citizens of one of the great hive cities of twenty-sixth century Earth. Her job is hunting down criminals before they commit their crimes, but this time a simple case leads on to something far bigger. This is a case where Amber’s team have to face the unknown and break all the rules they usually follow, while Amber has extra burdens she can’t share with anyone. She has a personal mystery to solve, and questions she wants answered, but curiosity is a dangerous trait in a telepath.
I’ve enjoyed this series from Edwards – but this is the best book so far. It answers questions about this world that have been niggling since the first one of the series, while the crime investigation provides plenty of tension and action. Review to follow.

 

There Will Be Hell to Pay by Benjamin Gilad
They say those who get deep into the Kabbalah’s mystical text of the celestial spheres can lose their minds. But one man discovers the celestial spheres are far from saintly. The man, Jack Merriman, is a Seer sucked into the celestial realm against his better judgment. He finds out Satan is a beautiful female with a keen sense of justice. Archangel Michael sounds just like James Earl Jones and the Cherubs fill the Celestial spheres with heavenly elevator music. But underneath, the Celestial Spheres are as political and incompetent as a big government agency.
This quirky paranormal investigative story has an interesting premise. I shall be reviewing it in due course.

My posts last week:

Review of Academic Curveball – Book 1 of the Braxton Campus mysteries by James J. Cudney

Teaser Tuesday featuring Hurricane – Book 3 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards

Christmas-Holiday Gifts – Science Fiction and Fantasy for Everyone

Review of The Death Chamber – Book 6 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson

Friday Face-Off featuring Hogfather – Book 20 of The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

Review of How To Steal a Dragon’s Sword – Book 9 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

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

Friday Face-Off: Seasonal “Ho, Ho, Ho.” https://perfectlytolerable.com/2018/12/21/friday-face-off-seasonal/ This is my favourite meme and Brittany nails it this week by featuring
How The Grinch Stole Christmas – which is your favourite cover?

Echo of Love https://thelonelyauthorblog.com/2018/12/21/echo-of-love/ This time of year is particularly tough on those grieving or lonely – and this beautiful, thoughtful poem reminds us of this…

How The Left Hand of Darkness Changed Everything by Becky Chambers https://lithub.com/how-the-left-hand-of-darkness-changed-everything/ The Lit Hub featured this wonderful article by one of our most talented science fiction authors…

Indian Tea/ Chai Walla(भारतीय चाय, चाई वाल्ला) https://historyofkingpanwars.wordpress.com/2018/12/19/indian-tea-chai-walla This fascinating and detailed article includes videos and a history of growing and drinking tea on the Indian continent.

Things We Say Today Which We Owe to Shakespeare https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/things-we-say-today-which-we-owe-to-shakespeare/ My blogging pal, Rae Longest reblogged this post. It’s a response to all those who claim Shakespeare is no longer relevant to modern life.

In the meantime, many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – have a wonderful holiday, whatever your beliefs and wherever you are…

Friday Faceoff – A crown it is a hollow thing… Brainfluffbookblog

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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 subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a CROWN, so I’ve selected Three Dark Crowns – Book 1 of the Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake.

 

This edition was produced by HarperTeen in September 2016. I really like the idea of this one – three crowns all different, interspersed with the title. But I’m less impressed with the execution. Who decided that the backdrop had to be so flipping dark? Or that the gloom should all but engulf the images, so that in thumbnail, all you can see is the black cover and even the title is swallowed up. What a shame – because I feel that if only the backdrop had been just a bit brighter, this default cover would have really popped.

 

Published in September 2016 by Macmillan Children’s Books, this one is slightly better, although in thumbnail it is still difficult to make out anything other than the gold and red. However, I do prefer this as the contrast between the red roses and gold gives it visual impact and I also very much like the styling of the red font against the black background.

 

Der Schwarze ThronDie Schwestern von Kendare Blake

This German edition, published by Penhaligon in May 2017 has decided to make a feature out of the crown, rather than the dark, which is far more eye-catching in thumbnail. I love the smoky effect surrounding the crown, along with the wheeling birds, giving a real sense of menace. And I also like the embossed effect gold finish on the title font that gives it a nifty 3-D effect. My niggle is with that nasty red blob in the middle of the artwork – why couldn’t it have gone in a corner, or at bottom where it wouldn’t have interfered so jarringly with the design?

 

Produced by Pan Macmillan in September 2016, this one is my favourite. While I still think the black is rather too pervasive, that bright green snake curled around the crown really leaps out and is nicely complemented by the matching title font. Punchy and simple, I think that this is the most successful of all the covers, perhaps with the exception of the bottom one, which is also my favourite… Yep – this time around, I simply can’t choose between these two.

 

This Chinese edition, published by 臉譜 in July 2016, features the three queens fighting for the crown. I love the strong anime influence in the artwork, revealing their individual strengths. It’s busier than the stripped-back approach of the other examples, but I think it’s certainly more successful than some of the gloomiest examples and I can’t make up my mind between this one and the previous cover featuring the snake. Which is your favourite?

#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?

Interview with JEAN LEE – Author of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN #Brainfluffauthorinterview #JeanLeeauthorinterview

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I’d like to welcome Jean Lee, author of the recently released Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN which blew me away – see my review here. I’ve been reading Jean’s amazing blog for a while now and it’s always a pleasure so I was delighted to have a chance to chat to her about her writing.

How does Wisconsin inspire you as a writer?

Wisconsin breeds the fantastic.

We are home to peculiar, toothsome beasts like the Hodag, devourer of all-white bulldogs.

We are home to unique, word-some writers like Neil Gaiman: “There’s that tiny off-kilter nature in the Midwest that’s in the details,” he says when asked about writing…

Neil Gaiman says ‘American Gods’ is

rooted in Minnesota-Wisconsin weirdness

The writer found a strange quality in the Midwest that fuels his “American Gods.”

We are home to hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Picturesque, perhaps? Plainfield was indeed picturesque once—until Ed Gein was arrested in November of 1957. You may know the rest. Basically, Gein inspired many of the fictional horror icons we know today: Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill are all rooted in the reality of Ed Gein.
We drove through the wild patches between the hidden towns often when I was a child. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In the small farming town of my youth, I could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Wisconsin is filled with hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Rock Springs was a town of 600 when I was a child, a little grain-fill stop for the railroad. We didn’t even have a gas station until I turned 5, and our library, a small portion of the town’s community center, could fit in a utility closet (it probably was a utility closet at one point). Farms and wild wood filled the gaps between towns. Unless, of course, you went towards Wisconsin Dells, where the wilderness is trimmed and prepped and ready for its mandatory close-up before the tourist rushes to the proper civilization of water parks and casinos.

We drove through those wild patches often. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In Rock Springs, one could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Both Charlotte and Liam, the Fallen Prince, are strong, nuanced characters – when you first started writing this book whose story did you most want to tell?

At the outset, the story was all about Charlotte. It was strictly in her point of view, the story opened with more of Charlotte and her sister’s life before boarding the bus, and so on. I wanted Charlotte to escape her wretched life and fly. But once I got her into River Vine, I began to see an ensemble take shape, a family of characters bearing their own shames and despairs, all struggling to free themselves and find hope in the future.

Liam wasn’t much to me at the outset–just a pompous artist who had some growing up to do. It was Arlen, the teacher, that got me to slow down and see what he saw: a kind heart that had been brutalized so often it had forgotten what it meant to feel. The more I drafted, the more I came to see Liam’s inner struggle to grow beyond his cage.

When did you start writing Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?

2010. Yup, that’s a while ago, but life tends to fill the years, and in my case, I had just become a mom. Postpartum depression hit hard. Very, very hard. I felt very cut-off from life. I couldn’t feel the joy of motherhood. I found myself often staring out a window, trapped in walls yet somehow exiled outside of feeling. I’d look upon my sleeping baby and feel nothing but guilt because I couldn’t feel complete with motherhood. Then a friend introduced me to the awesome challenge that is National Novel Writing Month. From November 1st-30th, you are to write 50,000 words of a story not yet started (that’s cheating. Outlines are permissible, though.). The story may need more than 50K words, but what matters is that you reach that length in thirty days.

I swung it that year, and felt AMAZING. I was escaping the trap, driven to feel with characters outside of this world. I couldn’t just sit and dwell on individual lines or plot points—I had to keep going, and because I had to march on in the narrative, I found myself marching on in real life, too. I wasn’t staring out the window waiting for minutes to pass. I was…I was back, you know?

I felt a part of life again, enjoying the touch of my daughter’s tiny hands around my finger and her boundless grey-blue eyes. I reveled in these things. I felt…complete.

How did you figure out the names of your characters?

Charlotte’s name came from a baby book in the long, long, LONG process of choosing a name for our firstborn. After weeks of highlighting and crossing out names, we had narrowed ourselves down to Charlotte and ____. Well, we went with ____ for our kid, so I kept the name Charlotte for my heroine. I’d grown attached to the name over those weeks. It carries both feminine and masculine traits, both delicacy and strength. A perfect fit.

Nature was ripe for names, since this small society has been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries. From this I uprooted names like Poppy, Ember, and even Campion (it’s a kind of rose). Many of the other names I chose after studying The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. I loved having this broad overview of names across various cultures. It’s through this book I discovered names that fit some aspect of my characters’ nature, such as Dorjan—“Dark Man” and Liam—“strong-willed warrior.” It’s important to have names that matter. Be it the history, the meaning, or because my child almost carried it—the name needs to matter.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing’s a must. When I write, I channel the depression away from my family and into a universe where my characters can fight it.

It’s never completely gone, you know, depression. We can slay it, burn it, bury it—but it never dies. Only by spinning stories can I transplant some of that darkness into villains, heroes, and worlds. From the darkness grows the adventure and the hope.

What has it been like – juggling writing, teaching and three kids?

Three years ago, you may as well have asked what it’s like to juggle three bowling pins with spikes on fire. Back when I was trying to write in bedlam, I stole whatever time I could before dawn. The television usually bought me at least an hour in the day to outline, draft dialogue, or keep up with my blog. The children’s naptime never felt long enough, but I made due.

Once the boys began preschool, I could at least promise myself one hour of writing time a day. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But that’s the thing about writing and keeping a job and running a household: every minute to write’s a blessing. Sometimes those days crash and burn. Other times—like when the boys didn’t have school—we found other ways to be creative.

Now that Blondie, Biff, and Bash are in school all day, I always have time for writing, be it for the blog, editing, drafting, etc. Granted, summer’s still a trial, but because I didn’t give up on writing when time was scarce, I have many stories to share here in the daylight hours.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Research can feel like a big time-suck, but when it comes to publishing, DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are so many scammers out there with their “author services” and “exclusive anthologies.” They’re going to talk you up, make you feel amazing, and before you know it you’ve paid four digits for lousy editing on a slap-dash affair no one’s going to see. Scope out the small presses. Join author groups online to gather recommendations for editors, book designers, and cover artists. Your story deserves to be seen, but when it’s ready.

Yes, an author platform really does help. Don’t think of it as yet another time suck; rather, treat it as the regimented prose exercise. Reading countless other voices, writing tight posts on a regular basis—all helps the craft, not hinders it. No, it’s not the novel you dream hitting the best-seller list, but making a website, commenting on social media—these simple actions give your name an author’s history. Other writers/publishers/agents/readers can trace your name back to studies, comments, and whatever else you write. You build that platform, you build a writer’s resume for the publishing business to see.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

When my sons’ principal calls. Nothing f***s over the creative mindset when you have to come and talk about one son, or the other, or both. Again.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I do write under a pseudonym, actually. When you’re a preacher’s kid, all your actions and talents are scrutinized—“you play piano just like your mom!” “You sing just like your dad!” “You write just like your father.” “You should be just like your mom and become a teacher.”

There comes a time when you get sick of all the comparisons, and just want to be known for something YOU do, not what your parents do. So when I started my site Jean Lee’s World, I wanted to see who’d like my writing for my writing, NOT because of who I am or whomever I’m related to. Writing under another name’s also allowed me to work through past traumas and current depressions without bringing any family members under fire, which is important to me. These are my demons, not theirs.

How did you begin writing the short stories that accompany your novel?
The short stories began as a writing experiment last year. My husband had been listening to John Carpenter’s Lost Themes, and a story began to shape in my head of a child dying at the hands of a cuddly creature before a dark skulking thing gets involved. When I showed the short story to my publishers, they encouraged me to write more short stories as little introductions to the universe of Charlotte and these imprisoned shapeshifters. Thus Tales of the River Vine was born, with stories following both antagonists and protagonists across the years.

The challenge with such “prequels,” as they are, was to find emotional centers without chipping away at the emotional arc of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Take the last story of the collection, “Tattered Rhapsody.” Originally I intended the story to be called “Dirty Charlie,” featuring Charlotte the Wise-Ass taking on some gang members at her high school for profit. Girl’s got to earn bus money somehow, right?

But the story felt wrong. I couldn’t pin it at first. Charlotte’s there, she’s showing her strength, her protective instincts for her kid sister. And yet, the story felt…heartless.
Then it hit me: Charlotte’s heart doesn’t speak with her fists. It speaks with her music.
And just like that, the story’s heart found a pulse, a rhythm both despairing yet defiant. Just like Charlotte.

I hope you enjoy reading “Tattered Rhapsody” and the other Tales of the River Vine and telling me what you think. They’re all FREE on Kindle, Nook, and other publishing platforms!

 

 

 

Sunday Post – 4th November, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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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.

November – really? This year has sped past in a blur. Everyone says that as I get older, the years will go on speeding up. All I can think is that if I make it to my 70s without ending up under the proverbial bus, I’ll probably be unable to function… too giddy with the rate at which my days and weeks are whipping by.

I had a wonderful time at Bristolcon last week, which now feels like a distant memory, but one that is warming with all the friendliness on encountering folk I hadn’t seen for far too long. Thankfully, the journey there and back again on the trains went like clockwork, so Mhairi and I arrived home mid-afternoon on Sunday, having felt like we’d been away for much longer.

This has been another busy week – Himself has spent a fair chunk of it coping with his deafness until we made a major breakthrough on Friday. After syringing his ears yet again – he finally found he could hear. A huge relief – I’m startled at how much it impacted on our relationship with both of us feeling grumpy and insecure because of his hearing loss. It’s lovely to have my funny, witty companion back again.

Other than that, it’s been a week of catching up and teaching – I’m now halfway through this term at Northbrook, which is going well. Poor Tim had to have a toenail removed last Wednesday, so I caught up with Sally instead of teaching him on Thursday. I’ve also been announcing to everyone that I was off this weekend for a writing course – only to discover halfway through Friday that it’s in a fortnight, instead… So not only is Time speeding up, it’s now also playing tricks on me. Thank goodness, I’m not going to be a Timelord – I’d probably have the timeline looping back on itself with the human race heading back towards the Industrial Revolution and good old Queen Victoria’s reign… It is Wednesday, isn’t it? Whatever it is, have a great monthday… week, everyone!

Last week I read:

Survivor in Death – Book 20 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb
The only thing that kept young Nixie Swisher from suffering the same fate as her parents, brother, housekeeper, and young sleepover companion was the impulsive nine-year-old’s desire for an illicit orange fizzy at 2 a.m. Taking the bereft girl under her wing, Eve is determined to make sure the killers don’t get the chance to finish their lethal job. From the first, however, the investigation is baffling. The Swishers were a nice family, living on the Upper West Side in a house with an excellent security system. Ordinary almost to a fault, they seemed unlikely victims for this carefully planned and executed crime. Valuables at the scene were left untouched, there was no sign of vandalism — just the corpses of five people murdered in their sleep.
I tried this series once before, but couldn’t get to grips with it. Himself recommended this particular story – and I was hooked. At last I have fathomed his passion for this series of near-future murder mystery thrillers…

 

Satellite by Nick Lake
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. But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma?
Once I got used to the text-prose Lake has used to write this YA space-based adventure, I became engrossed in this powerful and emotional read.

 

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan
After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew. From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.
I found this saga, following a family cursed with the gift of magic through the ages, a real page-turner. And the angle Morgan takes on WW2 was fascinating…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 28th October 2018

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Muse of Nightmares – Book 2 of the Srange the Dreamer series by Laini Taylor

Teaser Tuesday featuring Satellite by Nick Lake

Authoring Annals 3 – Bristolcon 2018

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of arc Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN by Jean Lee

Friday Face-off featuring Secret Seven Bonfire – Book 11 of the Secret Seven series Enid Blyton

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Fury – Book 3 of the Menagerie series by Rachel Vincent

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

Leopard: Fast and Beautiful http://chechewinnie.com/leopard-fast-and-beautiful/ I always look forward to reading Cheche’s fascinating articles on African wildlife and this one featuring leopards is packed full of wonderful pics along with all sorts of information I didn’t know…

Get to Know Ya Book Tag https://readerwitch.com/2018/11/03/different-books/ Alexandra tagged me for this one – thank you Alexandra! – and I loved both the questions and answers.

Winterwood Chapter 1 – Read It Here https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2018/11/03/winterwood-chapter-one-read-it-here/ I am two-thirds through Jacey Bedford’s entertaining space opera series, so was delighted to read this start to her fantasy trilogy…

New Poem Featured in Fall 2018 Issue of The Muddy River Poetry Review https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2018/10/31/fall-2018-muddy-river-poetry-review/ Fellow blogger and talented writer Sara Letourneau sent a link to this beautiful poem…

Britain by the Book: The Curious Origins of Mother Hubbard https://interestingliterature.com/2018/11/02/britain-by-the-book-the-curious-origins-of-mother-hubbard/ One of those menacing nursery rhymes we chant to our children, without necessarily thinking too much about those words…

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN by Jean Lee #Brainfluffbookreview #FallenPrinceborn:STOLENbookreview

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Jean Lee writes excellent articles on her blog – slices of her family and writing life that leap off the page. So when she asked me if I would be interested in reviewing her first full-length fantasy book, I jumped at the opportunity. I will be posting her fantastic interview on Monday…

In rural Wisconsin, an old stone wall is all that separates the world of magic from the world of man—a wall that keeps the shifters inside. When something gets out, people disappear. Completely.

Escaping from an abusive uncle, eighteen-year-old Charlotte is running away with her younger sister Anna. Together they board a bus. Little do they know that they’re bound for River Vine—a shrouded hinterland where dark magic devours and ancient shapeshifters feed, and where the seed of love sets root among the ashes of the dying.

This one starts with a bang. I love Lee’s immersive style as we immediately are caught up in Charlotte’s concerns once the bus comes to a stop and the passengers spill out. As well as keeping a firm eye on Anna, her rebellious teenage sister, Charlotte is busy checking out the reason why they’ve broken down… their fellow passengers… their surroundings… the odd behaviour of the local wildlife, particularly a certain raven… It’s clear she has a heightened sense of smell – and that while she is alert and apprehensive, she isn’t afraid. Lee does a masterful job of establishing Charlotte’s difference and concerns from the very first line. I loved her.

The worldbuilding is brilliant. Lee’s snappy prose style gives us a real sense of the surroundings – and thanks to Charlotte’s enhanced olfactory abilities, we not only get to see the world, we get to smell it, too. Once the turning point in the book occurs, Charlotte finds herself in a completely different place with different rules. We get to see her propensity to act first and consider later, even if she isn’t always sure that’s the best strategy. During her troubled and often violent past, this has proved to be successful and it also provides her with release for the simmering anger that drives her. I loved watching her progression as she very slowly starts to let her guard down – only for all her suspicions surge once more when she becomes convinced that she is being double-crossed.

The other main protagonist is Liam, the Bloody Prince, who makes a dramatic entrance thanks to Charlotte’s intervention. He is also an interesting mixture. Imbued with a great deal of innate power, his abilities have been compromised over the years by his tendency to use them for his own baser ends. I really liked this aspect – far too often protagonists pitch up with major abilities they have only used for the greater good, with only the baddies who give in to the darker side… But what if a main character’s upbringing is sufficiently skewed to lead him down some dark paths? Can he pull themselves free of such a compromised past and redeem himself? This is one of the main questions Jean asks.

And the clash of cultures between entitled, mesmerising Liam and embattled, bitter Charlotte ensures that plenty of sparks fly. His assumption that he can schmooze her with his usual mix of flattery and mind-power elicits her contemptuous fury, beginning to make him reconsider what he is doing.

He isn’t the only nuanced, interesting character – all the supporting cast have their own tales. I particularly love Arlen, who had the thankless task of raising Liam and his own gifted and powerful nephew and is still trying to hold everything together.

Those violet-eyed, murdering creatures are also fascinating, with their own tragic stories. Like the grief-stricken, trapped fae who has seen his children blown apart, and is intent on slaughtering any human he can get hold of. While he clearly shouldn’t prevail, I liked knowing why his behaviour is so savage. How refreshing to be sympathetic to the antagonists, especially given what they have done and what they are planning to do to humanity.

After the initial tension-filled opening and flurry of action, the pace eases up as we are given a ringside seat into Charlotte’s struggle to acclimatise and discover exactly what is going on. I didn’t mind – I was hooked. Once the story picked up again, gathering momentum for the final denouement I simply didn’t bother to put this one down. Lee’s spin on some of the classical mythical tropes, such as the Tree of Life and a usurped prince, is beautifully handled. There are a couple of short story collections set in this world, but I am hoping for another full-length book of more adventures in this savage, strange place.

Highly recommended for fans of quality, character-led fantasy.
10/10