Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Bristolcon 2015 - another great weekend

Yes, I know I keep saying this, but it's true. Bristolcon is one of the friendliest, best-run cons I've come across. It even has a good venue, with a large bar, all the panel rooms on the ground floor, and a really attractive restaurant - built in a giant brick kiln!

I managed to get there for the Friday evening 'Open Mike' this year. Beginners were invited along early to practise reading their own work, and get some helpful tips on timing, pace, and connecting with an audience. Since they only got five minutes to do so, it was impossible to get too bogged down or too panicked. I noticed that when the same people read for a second time an hour later the result was an immediate improvement.

This is a great idea for anyone who wants - or needs - to learn how to manage standing in front of others, even if it's only at the day job. I went along to warm up before doing a reading from 'Ashamet' on the Saturday.

What else? I started the day running a workshop on self-editing, then managed to hear Jaine Fenn read, always a good experience. Had a look at the art exhibition. Joined in a panel discussion on what made a "good dystopia", which was fun because all the other panellists had obviously thought about the subject in advance [not at all like those times when people seem to think they can 'wing it' we've all seen?]. Then I confess I spent some time in the bar, but I was chatting rather than drinking, honest.

There was a film in the evening, but my other half, who doesn't favour SF, had been sightseeing all day and found a great restaurant only minutes from the hotel. So it seemed only fair to let him take me out. And then it was Sunday and time to go, already thinking about going back next year!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Catching up with Life - Yet Again.

'Ashamet' is out in the world now, and while the odd review hates it - mainly, unsurprisingly on 'moral' grounds, most of them like it, or really like it, to the tune of giving it five stars and wanting more! This is of course very gratifying. It's also, to be honest, rather a shock. I hoped for quite good, I seem to have got a lot more. Result: it feels unreal, but then I suspect it always will, I never have quite trusted compliments.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to Bristolcon at the weekend. I finally got there a couple years ago, after being told repeatedly how nice a con it was, to find the advice was dead on, it's a very friendly, and very well run, convention. So off I go again, but this time with books to sell. Do look for them in the dealer room?

This time round I'm doing an editing workshop, a whole 45 minutes of pick up your pen and have a go. Also sitting in on the panel on dystopian fiction. Jan Edwards our moderator asks what hat we'll be wearing; what position we'll be coming from. I guess I'll be 1] reader 2] critiquer/editor and 3] writer. 'Ashamet', it occurs to me, could easily have been a dystopian story but isn't. Which makes me wonder why I wrote it the other way round. Maybe I'm just not pessimistic enough? If you're curious, I'll also be reading a short excerpt at the end of the panel session.

Apart from all that I hope to see old friends, and maybe meet new ones, which is also what a con is all about. And listen to panels, readings... I might even manage someone else's workshop if I'm lucky. I can never get my head around the notion that people only go to cons to sit in the bar. I always want to make the most of what's on offer?

Maybe see you there?

Review: The Death House, Sarah Pinborough 5* :)

Review: The Death House         5*
by Sarah Pinborough
pub Orbit

described in the blurb as "an exceptional, contemporary, heartbreaking novel" and it's all true.

16 year old Toby is in the Death House. Any sign of the dreaded sickness and Matron will move them to the sanitorium, from where no one ever returns. So everyone watches everyone else for any changes. but maybe death isn't the worst thing they need to deal with.

Honestly, I loved every page of this book. It was a spell binder, leaving behind that sense of wonder, that 'wow' factor only the best fantasy can. It's one of the very very few books in recent months I'd totally vote for in an award list.

Do try it out!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Review: Dark Prayer, Natasha Mostert 5* :)

Review: Dark Prayer, by Natasha Mostert   5*
pub Portable Magic Ltd.  out Oct 2014

"Eloise Blake is on the run 0 from a life she can no longer remember."

And for once that's all I'm going to tell you about this one. Find out more by the usual methods?

I found it a fascinating story, a thriller that hooked me right from the start then surprised me by gripping tighter and tighter as the story became darker and more intense than it first appeared. The characters are quirky yet convincing, the writing fluid, and where the plot could easily have strayed into mysticism and straight magic-fantasy, it didn't, and that definitely added to the effect.

For me this is definitely one to read. :)

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Review: 'Undercity', Catherine Asaro - 5* :)

Review: 'Undercity' by Catherine Asaro   5*
pub Baen Books, Dec 2014

Bhaajan, former major in the Skolian Space Command, is now a hard-bitten private eye. But the kidnapping of a prince brings back to the past she deliberately left behind - the Undercity. Only there can she find the clues to solve this crime - and a lot more.

Despite her pedigree Asaro was a new writer to me, but now I'm hooked, both on her writing and the Skolian universe. I already have another loaded on my ereader.

Basically this book had everything I wanted: strong characters, a new, unique world and a plot that wasn't as simple as it first appeared. Plus a great sense of pace, without which everything else falters?

Wish I'd written this one, and I don't honestly think that often. So consider trying it out?

Saturday, 27 June 2015

And Now For Something Completely Different? - Review: 'Twisted Miracles', A J Larrieu 4* :)

Review: 'Twisted Miracles' by A J Larrieu      4*
pub Carina Press, April 2015


After the planet-bound space opera of the last post here, this was a walk on the lighter side.

A reluctant telekinetic is drawn back to New Orleans' supernatural underworld when her best friend goes missing, but once there she finds her powers, and her feelings for an ex, are stronger than before.

This one is a YA paranormal murder mystery, with a dash of romance - something for everyone. I especially liked the way this story jumped right in, adding just enough background to colour things but not worrying to much about explaining more. YA or adult, we none of us like being lectured, do we?

The plot was interesting, the characters likeable and it's nicely targetted as YA. OK, some characters are weaker than others, and I guessed who-dunnit in advance of the climax, But the premis and paranormal 'rules' were well conceived and credible.

And I enjoyed guessing and being right!

Review: 'Frontier Resistance', Leonie Rogers, 4* :)

Review: 'Frontier Resistance', by Leonie Rogers.         4*
pub Hague Publishing, out October 2014

a YA sequel to 'Frontier Incursion.'

This continues the tale of adults and near-adults making a life on the hostile planet they crashed on, now facing aliens intent on enslaving them. The key human characters are teamed up with panther-like creatures with empathic abilities, and in this book the humans start to learn more about these allies, and the effect they are having on humans.

The second book is very successful at introducing just enough plot etc to make it readable without knowing the first story, a sign of a good writer. I liked the plot and I enjoyed most of the characters, including the aliens. And the last quarter of the book ramped up the tension and came to a very good conclusion.

It's not the first time the idea has been written but it is a very nice effort, and I like stories that deal with aliens as real characters rather than 'the enemy'. If I'm disappointed it's for two reasons. The rather homogenous portrayal of the felines compared to the other characters [though I'll accept it was a big ask to distinguish so many characters]. But mostly it was pace. For three quarters of this book I found myself skim-reading to speed it up. But I kept reading. I wanted to know what happened, plot-wise, enough to put up with that.

So you might try a sample and see? Because if not for those two factors I might well have ended up giving it 5 stars instead.