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.

Looking at the Month of June

My month began with what is now a six monthly visit to the nearby cancer department, to be told, yet again, that there's nothing wrong with me. It's a trek I don't mind it at all. It's nice to have it confirmed each time if nothing else.

For a long time I didn't talk about the subject. After all, who needs to hear depressing stuff like that anyway. I certainly didn't. nor did I like being fussed over or made to feel self conscious. I didn't even let it out to the people I spent my first Milford with, though I was going 'under the knife' the following week.

Now, though, it's a fait accompli, something that's dealt with and finished. Cancer made a lot of noise but it didn't follow through. Cancer, as an adversary, is a loser.

I suspect I always expected it to be, optimistic or not. I approached the topic as a nuisance I had to live with till it went away again, and in the end it did just that. Does positive thinking make a difference? Who knows, but it didn't do any harm.

I suspect it also made me a bit more stubborn about writing. I had the germ of a story in my head, but no one liked even the idea of it. Once upon a time I might have thought 'Oh well, it's got no chance' and given up on it. This time? I wanted to write the thing, and I was **** going to write it. The opening pages took me 5, yes 5, drafts to get to something that feels about right, but that's always the worst part. I almost have the rest now.

Will anyone like it in the end? Who knows. But I do, which is sort of the point. And since 'Ashamet' originally seemed equally 'unlikeable', and is now getting 5 star reviews and some staggering comments, maybe in the end this one will turn out not to be so awful as some people thought?

Fingers crossed. And keep going, regardless?

Sunday 7 June 2015

Review: Two for the price of one: 'How We Learn', Benedict Carey 5* + 'Transgender Lives', Kirsten Cronn-Mills 5* :)

Both these books are non fiction. In many ways they only other thing they have in common is their five star rating, but since I seldom review nonfiction I decided to put them together.

'How We Learn', by Benedict Carey, 5*
Pub Random House

"A practical, playful... guide to what we really know about learning and memory today - and how we can apply it to our lives."

Science reporter Carey's proposal: what if there was a way to achieve more [learning] with less effort? He explores this subject with an entertaining style and a personal touch that lifts this book well out of textbook status.

As a teacher myself - though now outside the school environment - I found this easy to read, informative, and something of a relief, as it confirmed many of the methods I and those around me already used. Except we were basing what we did on experience - or should that be trial and error?
Either way, this is a great book for anyone involved in or concerned about learning.

Maybe we should recommend it to some of those politicians who keep interfering in our education system???

'Transgender Lives', by Kirsten Cronn-Mills, 5*
pub Lerner Publicity

This covers the accounts of seven Trans people in the USA, their daily lives, their struggles and decisions, how they see themselves and how others see them.

I was frankly surprised by how easy to read this little book was, and can honestly say I found it both enjoyable and illuminating. Due, undoubtedly, to the honesty of the 'subjects', and the concise wrting style.
Thanks for this one.

I Don't Want to Brag - But Hey, Why Not For Once? I Have Reviews Coming In.

So 'Ashamet' is out, and has sold some copies, though I have no idea how many. I do know that a few nice people have been generous on Goodreads, either giving it 4+ stars or tagging it 'want to read'. And I'm fine with the one person I saw there who wasn't keen - that's free speech, and it was never going to be a story everyone would approve of, was it?

But I'm even more pleased about the more extensive review on sfcrowsnest. No, of course it isn't saying the book is perfect. Hell, nor would I. But some of the things it did say made my eyes widen, especially since when my publisher chose to quote "Fascinating" my mind immediately began to invent possible contexts for what they hadn't included.

Things like, say, "Fascinating... misuse of adverbs"?
or maybe "Fascinating in its awfulness"?

So it was a relief to read that it actually said "fascinating setting" instead. Not to mention

"very engaging voice"

"For all Ashamet's flaws, I really liked him!"

"I thought about [the story] when not reading it and made time to get back to it."

"When it was finished I wanted to know what happened next."

I really appreciate the remarks in this review, both the pros and the cons, and the time and effort it had obviously taken. Reviews are personal things, and no two people will react to a story in exactly the same way, but reasoned, balanced feedback, that's invaluable. And for now, until someone tells me otherwise, I'll make believe I've been lucky and pleased more people than not.

It was FREE - and You Missed It?

Last Saturday  was the annual mini-con that incorporates the BSFA and BSF AGMs - such a lot of initials. Which, being friendly people, they turn into an all day event by sandwiching the AGMs between two panels and two author interviews.

Guess what? The guests interviewed this year were:

drum roll please...




-and you missed it? [Disbelief] A chance to hear not one but two literary luminaries, both of them, incidentally, amusing as well as engrossing. [Sigh.]

As an extra bonus the BSFA meeting discussed their awards criteria, with special reference to people who attempt to influence votes for reasons personal or political. Sad Puppies can stay sad - they're still not welcome and won't be tolerated.
[If, by any rare chance you are not aware of the Hugo Award being under attack by fools who apparently believe cheating their way to awards means something, just search 'sad puppies' and 'hugo award'. If by any chance you should have voted for the Hugos, but didn't bother, maybe next year you might?]

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Apologies, as usual, but there's this thing called a Blog Tour..

Yet again I promise myself I will remember to make regular posts here, especially since I have a long list of books I really do want to tell people about - and then I get sidetracked, diverted, sent off course...
But Ashamet is almost out there at last. In fact I'm told that one sneaky person over here [the UK] has managed to buy an early copy on the American site, so they have it almost the same day I received 'advance' copies.
I've now signed three, yes three, hard copies for different buyers too, so it's definitely out

And to be fair I haven't been entirely lazy. I was taking part in a Blog Tour.

Interesting experience. I had exchanged info about Ashamet with a few people over here who had mentioned or included it on their blogs or their facebook entries etc. But my publisher has a publicist, who was in touch a while ago about a proper tour, ie appearing as a guest blogger on about a dozen other sites interested in my kind of book. What was interesting was how different the sites were in their approach. some asked for a short essay - easy - others wielded a daunting list of questions, as long as two pages. And one even asked for answers from the character in the book instead of the writer. That, as you'll guess, was fun, especially becoming Ash for the duration.

I'll come back later with a list of the sites I know about, for anyone who fancies trolling for the various posts. No two alike.

Monday 11 May 2015

Review: Dream London, by Tony Ballantyne, 5* :)

Dream London, by Tony Ballantyne 5 stars
originally published by Solaris, reprint by Rebellion Publishing

Chris Beckett is quoted on the cover of this book as saying: "A real feat of the imagination... unlike anything I've read before."

And he's not wrong!

I almost missed this one because as you'll be aware there have been a few 'London' fantasy novels about recently. And if you've read one, or two, you could be forgiven for thinking why read more.


Captain Jim Wedderburn isn't so much an outrageously lovable rogue as a thorough-going rogue who manages to deceive even himself into seeing him as lovable, and even a leader. The result: he strides through the book as if he owns it and everything in it, supported by a host of other vivid characters.

But the real star of this novel has to be the setting. The world building here is amazing; bizarre, sometimes totally crazy, yet entirely credible.

So as I said at the start, I almost missed this book - but I'm really glad I didn't. It will stick in my mind for a long time. Not to be missed!

Monday 27 April 2015

Cover Reveal; 'Ashamet, Desert-Born' - At Last!

And here it is. Not the first cover, but the last and I think the best.

I hope you like it as much as I do.

Who knew cover art was such an adventure.  Frankly at the start I was expecting the worst. Well, one hears horror stories. And I knew at least  two of them were true because I knew the authors, with two different publishers, who were horrified by what they got as illustration for their books.

So I figured there was now way I was going to get any say in what went on.

But an email asked if I had any thoughts about the cover, and from that question came a host of other emails, as ideas were trolled through, till we had a cover. Sorted. On schedule. Done.

Except then my eagle-eyed publishers spotted another book with a very similar cover, one they said they didn't want Ashamet to be in any way associated with! [I never did find out why, and wasn't asking] So it was back to the drawing board. And no time to lose.

In the UK, that meant yours truly entering discussions with a cover designer a pal recommended. We were starting to get somewhere, to the point of advance payment in fact, when in the USA said publishers came up with another option, the one above, and I liked it at once. So I said no thanks very politely to a company I'd have been happy to go with - and said so - and we were almost there, after a few tweaks to make it our own.

It's nothing at all like the first, which was now a good thing. It's quirky, which was something I wanted, noticeable but different. [Like Ashamet himself] It's not yet another hooded figure, or hair blowing in the wind, or face staring out at the reader, all of which are being done to death right now. It's... Ashamet's world. Not quite real, like something in your mind more than something you can touch. And it's only delayed the launch by mere weeks.

So I hope you like it too. Please tell me if you think it's right. Or wrong. I'd love to hear.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Review: Beyond Hercules, by Paul Bussard, 4* :)

Beyond Hercules, by Paul Bussard - 4*
pub Montag Press
out August 11th

A wealthy inventor, his teenage girlfriend, an astronomer and a Russian cosmonaut face the thrill, and the danger, of discovering anti-gravity. and not all those dangers lie within their own world. [In fact that aspect delivered some of my favourite bits!]

This one is definitely hard SF with the science content one might expect, but for the non-scientific reader, like me, it is happily wrapped in an adventure story coating that still keeps it enjoyable. Whether the science content is reliable, or merely 'creative' I wouldn't know. No doubt other, better-qualified readers will decide. But the adventure was fun and I wouldn't at all mind finding out what happens next. And I have to figure any hard SF book I find enjoyable must be better than average, right?

Review: A Creature of Moonlight, by Rebecca Hahn, 5* :)

A Creature of Moonlight, by Rebecca Hahn -5*
pub Houghton Harcourt Muffin Children's Books
out May 6th 2015

The Flower Girl, rightful heir to the kingdom, lives with her Gramps the deposed king at the edge of the woods - where strange creatures live and other girls are lured away, never to be seen again. add in a castle and court, a dragon and a very feisty young heroine and you've got the recipe for a fairytale - and this one doesn't disappoint.

There are books you label exciting, or complex, or just a fun read. All good. There aren't so many for which the word that comes to mind is 'magical' but this is one.
 The story is deceptively simple, beautifully written, and the POV character has a fresh, distinctive voice from page one. Definitely one to look out for.

 Though maybe not what many people are in the habit of reading I'd say try it anyway and be surprised. It's unique and that's always worth a look?

Eastercon; After The Fact

I am, as usual, catching up with my life. Where the days go I have no idea, then suddenly I'm thinking, "When was the last time I blogged?"

So I hope you found Eastercon enjoyable. I know I did, helped along by the fact the hotel this time was MUCH better than previous Heathrow venues. Even the prices were, for London, very reasonable.

Meeting friends is a bonus prize for me at cons but I confess I'm unfashionable enough I really go for the panels etc. And Dysprosium was no exception. Naturally I sat in on the agenting panel, and most of the items where Jim Butcher was involved, being a Dresden fan. Laughed through Professor Elemental's performance, frowned through 'Asymmetric Warfare', listened to Jaine Fenn and Al Robertson read, snuck in to hear Jacey Bedford discuss game of Thrones - which I still haven't read but gather with some relief I'm not alone at.

Sunday was mainly about critting, since I joined the Tea Party for the second time on the pre-booked critique sessions. The crittees were receptive and polite about being mauled. My fellow critters were impressive. As always, listening to other crits gave me insights as well. One can always learn.

Monday was my journey north, so I only had time to attend the Milford meeting before heading out. Sadly I've had to drop out from my booking this year and lose my deposit, but I hope to get back there again for another. It's one of the best writing experiences. If you haven't heard about it it's worth checking out, though you need to have a sale to qualify.

Well, that's a race through dysprosium. Since then I've been off to a NorthwriteSF meeting as well, and, ah yes, that's why I haven't been blogging!

I've been roughing out a line of guest blogs before Ashamet comes out. So I have been blogging. That's a relief.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

And m ore Eastercon thoughts... How About the Less Obvious Things?

The Dysprosium 'final' programme is available [Cos we all know, don't we, that things can change due to those unforeseen circumstances.]

All I've had time to glance at so far is Friday's listings, but there are already several panel items I'll definitely get to.

But what about the not-so-panel items? Ever really considered stepping out of the groove?

Maybe a reading? I've promised myself to hear more of those. They're usually shorter, and will hopefully either tell me which writers I should look out for, or show me what my already-known writers have coming out new.

And how about taking in a performance? 'Professor Elemental', for instance, in the evening.

Or a game, like 'Vote with Your Arse'!!!

Or have you ever dropped into a Filk? It doesn't hurt, honest.
The term 'filk' is said to stem from a printing error. It was supposed to be 'folk'. Ah, now you've guessed it, filk means folk music - though that can be very broadly defined. A bunch of musical people turn up with songs, instruments etc. and just jam for a while. It's OK to just listen, to wander in and out again, the idea is to relaxed about it. Of course that means you have no idea what sort of session it is, but that's OK too. If it's not for you, then vote with... :-)

But hey, this Eastercon, make a resolution to try something new?

And if you should see a rather pretty card on the freebie table with my name on it, take a look at the cover for Ashamet before it comes out in May? And even stop long enough to read the short 'blurb' on the back?

Saturday 21 March 2015

Eastercon: Easter isn't Easter without one?

It's that time again, the annual SF/Fantasy convention that is the largest of its type in the UK, and that, like a Worldcon, moves to a different location each year.

Haven't tried it yet?
 If you like speculative fiction then you should should at least spend a day there and see of it suits. Panels, readings, workshops, book stalls [that often include second hand bargains and newer books at special rates] craft stalls, food, drink and conversation, and the chance to meet with people you can't get together with every day. What's not to like?

My aim is to have fun, but also to pay back a little. Or pay forward, who knows. I owe a lot to other people in the setting. So:

I'll spend some time if I can on the BSFA table where people can renew memberships or check out what's on offer, like the excellent magazines we produce. Including the booklet with all the short story finalists printed prior to the BSFA Awards.

I'll drop in to the Milford meeting on the Monday morning to say hello, and a special thanks to the people there who encouraged me over Ashamet.

I'll spend a chunk of Sunday critting at the Writers' Workshop, which is really a Tea Party event, but I joined them for it at Worldcon, enjoyed it and am repeating the experience with them again.

And I'll look for panels to listen in on, or readings, and catch up with friends. And I'll leave some fliers on the table to warn folk that Ashamet will be out May 30th. In case they're interested.

If you're there, and spot me, come and say Hi?

Review, Hangtown, by Karen Sandler. 5* :-)

Hangtown, by Karen Sandler, 5*
published by Angry Robot

"Marooned in her despised hometown, Greenville, California, PI Janelle Watkins only wants to make enough money to move back out. The fact her ex-partner/ ex[lover is now the local Sheriff hasn't changed her mind, nor his teenage niece, who looks up to her.
 But then the suicides and 'accidents' start to mount up, and it's Janelle who sees connections."

This is a small town murder mystery with a suitably flawed heroine [an abused history plus a bad limp from the bullet that ended her previous career]

The characters are just a touch cranky, and very credible with it. The plot was very well built. Simple answer: I really enjoyed the read and will look for more from the writer. So maybe you will too?

Friday 13 March 2015

Review: Nobel Metals, by L A Witt, 4* :-)

Noble Metals, by L A Witt, 4*
published by Riptide Publishing.

Picture the Klondike and gold rush fever. One young prospector, down on his luck, is surviving by keeping bar and being a prostitute in a local saloon. Till an unusually academic stranger, an inventor no less, offers him a way to hunt the gold he came for in return for being  hired help.

But of course nothing's ever that simple. The inventor isn't searching for gold but for platinum. Still, the device he intends to use to find it will find gold just as well - which naturally puts them both in danger from any less scrupulous gold-digger.

An easy-read, gay romance plus historical adventure. The main characters are likeable and refreshingly not-heroic; the challenges are considerable, and only a slightly too easy ending dropped this from a 5 star rating. So worth a read.

Friday 6 March 2015

Review: The Table of Less Valued Knights, 4*, but almost 5* :-)

The Table of Less Valued Knights, Marie Phillips, 4*
published Random House/Vintage.

Sit Humphrey du Val, of Camelot's least prestigious table, is tempted out of his enforced retirement to help the Lady Elaine rescue her kidnapped fiance.
In the next kingdom, the new young queen, appalled by her prospective husband, decides to disguise herself as a boy and run away.

Sounds like a standard fairytale? But nothing here as quite what it seems, and the two quests collide, with hilarious results.

For me this was a 4 star that was very nearly a 5 star rating, one of the closest potential successors to Sir Terry Pratchett I've seen in a while. It didn't quite get me laughing out loud but was chuckling. So do take a look?

One for any reader with a sense of the ridiculous.

Friday 27 February 2015

Review, Masks, E M Prazeman, 5* :-)

As said, I still have a stack of good reads in the queue, so I'm trying to be a better blogger, if only to get them out there, while I sit here contemplating the arrival of my own debut offering. With that very much in mind, here's a debut novel I really enjoyed recently:

Masks, E M Prazemen, 5*
published Wryd Goat Press LLC

These jesters don't wear bells any more - so you won't hear them coming!

Mark, orphaned and destitute, is bought into a nobleman's house where he becomes both a catamite and a student. When he is nineteen his patron's Jester, Gutter, gifts him a living Jester's mask. But Mark hesitates to wear it, unsure of the new life it could offer and of the motives behind it. A jester's mask really does change things.

How far can he trust Gutter's generosity?
Who really murdered his mother?
Why is another Jester telling him to run and hide?

This is a brilliant debut novel, well written, well paced and with characters I loved. I've bought the sequel. So do take a look.

Hopefully I won't take so long to add more next time.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Review, Inspector Hobbes and the Curse, Wilkie Martin, 5* :-)

Inspector Hobbes and the Curse, Wilkie Martin, 5*
published by The Witcherley Book Company.

"A humorous mystery series titled Unhuman... suitable for a wide readership from teen upwards."

the disaster-prone Andy, currently lodging with the oversized Inspector, his elderly, tooth-collecting housekeeper and a delinquent hound, will have to stumble his way through sheep deaths, missing pheasants, big cat sightings and ruthless big business interests to survive this story.

Oh, and he thinks he's falling in love, there's something very worrying lurking in the woods, and he's a bit worried his less-than-human Inspector might take the law into his own huge hands.

As all this suggests, this book is an urban fantasy with a twist, built around an eccentric protagonist and a tongue in cheek humour worthy of Pratchett or Holt.

I'll definitely look for more.

And that concludes the promised 5x5 stars, and catches me up - a bit. Trouble is, I still have a stack more really good reviews to pass along.
But I guess they'll wait a little longer.

Monday 23 February 2015

Review, Magic City, Recent Spells, edited by Paula Guran, 5* :-)

Magic City - Recent Spells, an anthology, edited by Paula Guran. 5*
published by Prime Books.

I don't generally feel the urge to read a lot of short stories, so if I can really recommend one I figure it has to be good.

This collection is a positive smorgasbord of Urban Fantasy. Hey, it includes work by Charles de Lint, Jim Butcher, Nancy Kress and Simon R Green. Obviously I was going to read it. And it delivered, every bit as well as one might expect it to - a series of good to great stories that will provide me with some new names I can look out for in novel form as well.

What more could one ask?

Sunday 22 February 2015

Review, Lock In, By John Scalzi, 5* :-)

Lock In, by John Scalzi, 5*
published by Tor

Lock In is the end result of a new virus. 4% of victims suffer meningitis, 1% end up 'locked in'; aware, but unable to move or respond. But that 1% equals 1.7 million Americans so new laws, government research and support systems are instituted. Result: the sufferers can now 'live' in automaton bodies and lead 'normal' lives again.

Among the best known victim is a Senator's son, Chris Shane, afflicted when two years old and  grown up as the poster boy for his kind. But Chris wants to do a real job and joins the FBI - facing this challenge just as it looks like the government is about to pull the plug on the funding that makes life 'livable' for his less-wealthy fellows.

This is a near future SF novel that manages to be credible, intricate and at times even humorous. As a fan of television's Almost Human I was probably the target audience, and this does seem to be the time for the concept to surface. Even so, the characters are strong, so is the plot, and the world building. Honestly, it was a clear 5 star rating from the first page.

My only gripe: I can't quite see how Scalzi could write a sequel - and I'd dearly love to meet these characters - all of them - again.

Gripping read.

Saturday 21 February 2015

review: Zac and Mia, by A J Betts 5* :-)

Zac and Mia, by A J Betts
pub Houghton Muffin Harcourt.

Teen Zac is in an isolation ward, again, enduring treatment for leukemia and ably supported, always enthusiastically, by his mother. The ward area is generally quiet, even hushed. mother and son play a humouring game, trying to stay cheerful. But when Mia arrives everyone knows it - music plays, full blast, on the other side of Zac's wall, there's shouting between Mia and her mother... and thus begins an unusual, unlikely and frankly unforgettable story.

Told in the two teen 'voices', this is a beautiful novel; well told, peppered with detail and with a slow-build climax well worth getting to.

I initially hesitated over whether to review this one or not.
 Don't stop and think, just grab it and read. It's a winner .

Friday 20 February 2015

Review: Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge, 5* :-)

"When Triss wakes after an accident she knows something is wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her, and her parents whisper a lot behind closed doors. She looks in her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out."

What should I say? I was hooked from page one. This one is magical, and a must-read for anyone who likes subtle dark fantasy - or possibly Stephen King?

It may be listed as a children's book but don't believe it. This is younger fiction meets horror, in the way some Victorian children's books managed. I could imagine sharp-beaked Arthur Rackham crows as illustrations much more than today's fluffy kittens.

Maybe not for the very young, but it isn't marketed for them. For teen to adult though, it's a beautifully written, imaginative tale. Well worth a look even if you don't normally try something a bit younger sounding.

New Year, already? Ouch, my life is caught up but my book reviews are way behind.

Yeah, so it's already well into February too. It's just taken me a while to catch up, that's all, and  I'm sure anyone reading this has been busy too.

It appears, however, that I'm now officially a NetGalley Top Reviewer - who knew? I wouldn't have, except I suddenly noticed the logo on my NetGalley page a couple days ago. Made me feel quite proud. Though it's possible one or two people I've reviewed this year wouldn't agree. ;-)

It made me think though. For one thing, I'd got bogged down and hadn't passed on my reviews as much as I should have. For another, I know I'm now looking at finding out what people have to say about my own novel which will be available to review here and there any day. Ah well. People will love it or hate it, or possibly both at once. I'm reminding myself that a British publisher said the story would be "too difficult to market" - and trying not to expect too much.

If you do read it, please give me a comment, either way. I'd really like to hear them.

In the meantime I see I have a stack of 4 or 5 star books in my reviewed stack, so to make things up a bit I'm going to blog 5 5-star reviews over the next 5 days for anyone looking for a really good read.