Review: Robyn Schneider – Extraordinary Means

Extraordinary Means
Robyn Schneider

Lane has been shipped off to boarding school with very little warning. He’s in the middle of preparing for college, and now is stuck in enforced rest – for who knows how long? When he runs into an old acquaintance, who knows what the future will hold for them?

25443389You don’t immediately realise what is wrong with Lane, and I felt myself impatiently waiting for the reveal. The interaction between what I consider the two main characters was shy and tentative, just how I like my romance to be in a young adult novel.

The two perspectives of the novel didn’t feel clearly defined. Most of the time I could tell who was narrating, but at some points I would have been confused if not for the signposting. It’s something that an author can always improve on, and I think we’re going to see more good things from Schneider.

One of the key points to take away from this novel is that being busy to prove yourself sometimes means that you miss out on the finer points of life. Even if you think you’re doing what you want to do, sometimes it’s just nice to sit down – even if it takes awhile for you to get used to it.

The ending of this was bittersweet. Honestly, I couldn’t have seen it ending any other way, but it was still shocking and painful. I found myself reminiscing about the last chapter for a while after I had read it, which is always a good sign.

This novel made me make a new category of fiction. I wouldn’t consider it ‘Dystopian’ because the entire would hasn’t fallen apart. And equally, it doesn’t contain travel into other worlds with other creatures, so I wouldn’t call it ‘Science Fiction’. Instead, I’m thinking that I’ll call it ‘Future Fiction’.

I was sent this novel for review, which always surprises me when it’s a novel with over 200 reviews already on GoodReads. Is this perhaps a new cover? I’m happy to add some more talk about it to the internet – I think anything bringing highlights to antibiotics and infectious diseases deserves some time in the spotlight.

It’s something a little bit different from other things out there at the moment, and that makes me give it 4 stars. I won’t be rereading it any time soon though – I have way too many books on my plate, and I don’t think this one has enough to offer for a second reading.

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Review: J.D. Watt – Burnt

Burnt
J.D. Watt

Michael meets Simone at a bar, and finds himself suddenly smitten with her, despite being 20 years older. Their relationship develops through text messages, skype and emails, until Michael finds himself deeply in love with her. There’s a rival for Simone’s affections though, and what the men don’t know could harm them both irrevocably.

burntHow much do you love this cover? I absolutely loved it! It’s one that is going to get people talking, particularly if you’re reading the novel out in public. That can only be a good thing. There’s plenty of talking points to be gotten from this novel, particularly that both men and women can be unfaithful, even if it always seems to be the man’s fault to other popular fiction! These days, I think it’s equally likely in both sexes, even if men have gotten away with it with a pat on the back so far.

The blurb is probably what destroyed the novel for me. I found myself completely uninterested in the early dating stages of Michael and Simone, simply because I was promised that things would get messy and there was no chance this was actually going to work out. I wanted to see the ‘train-wreck’ happening faster! Particularly since once I worked out what was going on, it was obvious what the next stages would be.

The text message dialogue didn’t work for me at all. I found myself skimming over it, which is never a good sign. It seemed highly repetitive, and I would have much preferred traditional text. Even emails would have been preferable, as the text wouldn’t have jumped around so much, and I would have gotten more out of each dialogue exchange. Also, the sex scenes could have just been left out – they weren’t necessary to the text and I felt vaguely offended that they had been included without a real purpose.

I came away from this novel wishing that it had just somehow been ‘more’ in a way. I didn’t connect enough with the main character. I feel like that in the writing, the author’s attempts to continue distancing himself from his painful past hindered the reader’s understanding of it. Maybe it would have worked better had it not been so autobiographical?

I was lucky enough to receive this copy in return for a review. Despite my complaints about this novel, I think there is still some real writing potential and I can’t wait to see how the future pans out. 2.5 stars from me. I can’t tell you not to read it, because it truly is a one-of-a-kind book, particularly in Australian fiction, and there’s a good chance it will resonate better with someone else.

2star

Review: Paul Collins – Wardragon

Wardragon
Paul Collins

Jelindel is never given a break to rest and study. Although she might like to relax as a mage, she always has more to do – new evils and old evils arrse, including those that she thought were dead. With her old friends and companions tricking her intentionally or unintentionally, she needs to find a clear way through to win the day (and the series).

Something that confused me was that in the first book, I had thought that after Jelindel pulled her trick on the mailshirt, she hadn’t completely finished it, but when it comes up again in this novel it is. So I don’t know? Maybe it has magical properties to get itself away from dead ground and make its way back into living hands?

Whoever thought of the flying chicken/bats and growing house was marvellous! Just goes to show that everyday items, infused with a bit of magic, can do wonderful and new things.

This novel focusses on the importance of magic vs cold science. As it is, Q’zar is a very magical place, and that allows for hope. With cold science, things are too sterile, and too fated towards those that are lucky to be rich at the right time.

I loved the Farvenu! I mean, yes they’re nightmares, but the explanation for their fear inspiring properties is clear and sensible. This is one of the stronger parts of a series that I would have liked to see more of.

This isn’t as strong a novel as the first in this series, Dragonlinks, but it’s a no-brainer that you’ll want to finish the series off. For an ‘additional’ novel to a trilogy, it fits in well enough.

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Review: Brandon Sanderson – Firefight

Firefight
Brandon Sanderson

David has overcome Steelheart but continues to track Epics – mainly because they seem intent on killing him. When a new threat is identified, David and Prof travel to the next nearest city. There, David needs to find himself again and redefine what he believes.

20945146David! You’re such a nutter! And it makes me love you all the more that you’re so gullible and transparent, yet clever and quick-thinking at the same time. Ah, betrayal. Nothing like it. And it takes David’s wiliness he has developed through Epic hunting to deal with those that seem to be on his side.

Ah, Firefight! I love you! Please don’t die on me again, and again, and again. Especially with what David works out about weaknesses and their significance to all Epics… And how powers are gained too…

There was so much suspense near the end that it near killed me! All the things happening at once, everyone deceiving everyone else, people being discovered. Not to mention the great reveal of.. well, if I told you, it wouldn’t be much of a reveal. Get out there, buy this book.

Just like when I had finished reading the first novel in this trilogy, Steelheart, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. My brain was left wondering with more questions than answers.

My one sadness is that the third book in this trilogy doesn’t come out until March 2016. Arg! I can’t wait! I’d love to get my hands on an ARC, but since his work is so popular, I wouldn’t be surprised if ARCs only went to ‘professional reviewers’. Now if only I had that job for a living…

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Interview with John Lauricella

Continuing along in my new interview series today I have been able to interview John Lauricella. I’ve reviewed one of his two novels, the dystopian fiction 2094. Despite not having much love for the novel it pays homage to (1984), this novel was a good one.

45458e7bJMelmoth1. Q: I’ve read your novel, 2094, and loved it a while ago. I was a bit hesitant at first, but really got into it. Why would I read your other novel, Hunting Old Sammie?

A: First, a million thanks for taking a chance on 2094. It’s a novel that nibbled at my imagination for a very long time – possibly since I first read Brave New World and 1984 many years ago – and I’m very lucky to have been able to write it and grateful that a few people have read it.

Hunting Old Sammie you might read if you were in the mood for a piece of realistic fiction depicting some fairly bizarre events – with these happening right next-door! The novel dramatizes what can happen when psychological and emotional stress grow terribly large and paranoia rages day and night. The novel also shows how something can seem comic to one person and tragic to another – not to make sport of varieties of craziness, but to illustrate how different persons are more or less imprisoned by their respective assumptions, prejudices, fear, love, hate, and so forth.

Sammie is set just few years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in NYC and Washington, D.C., during a very rough and discouraging phase of the United States’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The neighborly conflict that is the novel’s story is pretty obviously a manifestation of how carnage, destruction, and death occurring thousands of miles away distort the perceptions, and the minds, of these isolated characters ruinously caught up in fighting private battles, real and imagined. If most of this sounds interesting to you, you might like to visit GoodReads, where the first 50 pages or so are readable for free, no obligation, no sign-in required, no questions asked. If you enjoy those chapters you’ll probably like the book because it gets better as it goes along.

2. Q: The title of your next book might cause trouble. How am I going to explain to people that I’m not actually studying to become ‘The Pornographer’s Apprentice’?

A: That title has raised eyebrows among the few who’ve seen it. What you tell anyone inquisitive enough to ask, is, “It’s a novel, not an instructional manual!” At that point you might find yourself enmeshed:

— Oh sure. What’s it about?

— It’s about what can happen when immoderate desire cancels good judgment – as well as personal integrity, human decency, and all sense of fair play.

— Huh! Sounds to me like a dirty book.

— It’s not! This author uses sex in all his novels to enrich the characterizations and complicate the story.

— That’s what they all say, all them porn fiends.

— Do I look like a porn fiend?

— Not you. That writer. What’s his name?

[holds up book to show author’s name]

— John … something. Unpronounceable. Whoever heard of a novelist with such a name?

— Never judge a book by its author’s name! You’ll miss out on some really good stuff.

— That’s all right. I don’t care to read smut, myself.

— It’s not smut, it’s thoughtful, well-crafted fiction.

— Imagine you, talking such nonsense and reading smut in public where children can see.

— I’ve told you once, it’s not smut.

— Well then, what’s its redeeming social value?

[pondering …] It does what good novels do: shows us that all human beings, even people superficially very different from us, have fantastically rich and complex inner lives that are every bit as real and present and intense and precious to them as ours are to us.

— Huh! Hoity-toity! Think I need some damn dastardly dirty book to tell me that?

— Well it sounds as if you could use some reminding.

“Or you could just say that The Pornographer’s Apprentice is a story about sex and death, art and money, poetry and pornography, life’s brevity and our yearning for permanence.”

3. Q: When you were younger, did you know you would be an author? Did you study at university because it was expected, or because you enjoyed it?

A: I think I knew, or maybe sensed is more accurate, from about age 13 that I was a writer. That’s different than knowing I’d become an author, which I assume we’re defining as a writer whose writing is published by some means and eventually paid for by readers. I never knew, in the sense of, “was certain,” that I’d make it to author status, although I wanted very much to do so, until I discovered it was possible to take control of the publishing part of the endeavor. Up to that point, I was always a writer who was trying to become an author. It was very frustrating; all I could control was the writing, which I believed I could do well – certainly well enough to qualify as an author – and continued to do well without much encouragement and no support whatsoever from agents and editors.

As for university, I attended several degree programs over the course of many years and earned those degrees because I wanted to learn. I was and am greedy for knowledge, some of which finds its way into my fiction.

4. Q: How does writing fit in with your day job? What does your writing process look like? How do you fit it in around what sounds like inevitable other work?

A: Writing fiction is not compatible with working a job. That is my experience and I would be astonished if any novelist claimed otherwise. It’s very simple: every hour you spend on the job is an hour you cannot spend writing. Time-wise, life is a zero-sum game. Everyone knows this. Everyone also knows that money is necessary to live and that the only licit means of getting money is to earn it by doing something someone else considers worth paying you to do. I’ve made a little money from things I’ve written but those were mostly commercial writing projects done on contract. From fiction I’ve earned very little; taken all together, it’s not enough to starve on. So it’s fair to say that my day job helps to keep me alive and therefore facilitates my writing because I cannot write if I am dead.

My writing process is terrifically protracted and insanely painstaking and entirely wonderful. It calls upon pen and ink, several typewriters, and the inevitable computer running Word. A story begins with a sentence; I do not know where these sentences come from but, one day, like something strange in Telly-Tubbie Land, they appear:

“Airpods gleam in the skyways as the century dwindles and men like J Melmoth are amazed to be alive.”   ~ 2094
“Soul-lonely days of stay-at-home plant Luke Robideau in Dad’s old chair.” ~ Hunting Old Sammie

The first sentence of Sammie turned out to be the opening line of the novel’s second chapter but it got the ball rolling.

Usually I compose the first draft with pen on paper. No outline, no notes, no pre-fabbed character sketches, no canned set pieces. Typically there’s some background research to do, just to confirm facts and understand physical settings and other nuts-and-bolts matters, and I might have to fill-in with more of this as the book develops, but for the most part I write and the story grows. I like to think it happens organically but the process might actually be something psychotic. In any case, I rewrite and tinker as I go along and when the number of paper pages starts making me nervous (because paper has a way of getting lost or recycled when that’s not what you wanted), I start typing up the manuscript using whichever typewriter seems appropriate for that story’s mood and texture. I rewrite as I type, all in flow. This business of typewriters is irrational and impossible to explain, especially as the choice of typewriter changes as I transcribe handwritten paper to typewritten pages. It’s a little embarrassing to have multiple typewriters crowded into my little room and to alternate amongst two or three and sometimes four of them during one book but as it hurts no one I just trust it.

A long (sometimes very long) period of composition ensues – two years, three years; more. At some point the stack of typewritten pages starts making me nervous (because paper, etc.) and then I begin transcribing/rewriting the whole thing into a Word document. Then I write back-and-forth from typewriter to computer to typewriter and so forth until the manuscript is complete in terms of beginning, middle, and end, and the whole thing is in Word. Then I commence to rethink, rewrite, revise, copyedit, etc., until it’s polished-up as smooth and gleaming as I can make it. Then I proofread and correct typos; then do it again.

The time required to accomplish all this is dismaying. As you’ve probably guessed, this process does not fit well with that day job, which returns us to the top of the column.

5. Q: Can you tell me about a typical week? Have you ever been on a scheduled writing retreat?

A: My standard week is not interesting, as it’s basically just me in my office, toiling away at my job and wishing I were elsewhere. On a good day, we get through dinner and clean-up by 7:00 or 7:30 and I beat a retreat to my little room and try to coax my mind to go the place where stories live. This effort is not always successful. If it does succeed and everyone leaves me in peace, I can work for two or three hours. At that point the energy’s gone and if I’m lucky I’ve gotten something down that isn’t completely stupid and useless. It’ll almost surely have to be rewritten, or maybe just refined a bit. That’s a very good day. On a bad day, dinner’s deferred and there are chores to do or trips to make or the household is in some degree of relative chaos and I don’t get within ten feet of my desk. Weekends are a bit better but somehow there are always more chores and trips with kids that empty-out the hours. In nice weather there’s golf, which at this point I guess I have to consider a vice because it, too, keeps me from writing.

No, I’ve never been on a scheduled writing retreat – unless we count the two years I spent in the M.F.A. fiction-writing program at Cornell University. It might legitimately be considered a writing retreat scheduled for two years’ duration. It’s a great program and I recommend it. Several very talented and productive fiction-writers have come out of it, namely Lorrie Moore, Junot Díaz and Stewart O’Nan. There are others – Susan Choi, Paul Cody, Julie Schumacher, Melissa Bank, others whose names are eluding me, which is unconscionable – but I guess Lorrie and Junot and Stew are the most well-known.

6. Q: Why did you go for self-publishing? You say you got blocked by some traditional publishers – do you feel comfortable divulging some of the reasons for that?

A: I self-published Hunting Old Sammie in April 2013 because for several years I had been trying to get agents interested in it and felt I had no more time to waste on people who mostly were not responding. I mean they were actually not responding, as in not answering in any way query letters or emails addressed to them, despite advertising themselves as accepting queries. Almost no one was interested reading Sammie, and I’m not sure how many of those agents read even the query letter. Rejection signaled by no-response and based on a query letter is still rejection but it is not a persuasive argument that book itself is a poor piece of work. So, yes, I felt as though I were being blocked – by agents, not by publishers, as no publisher or editor ever saw the manuscript.

The breaking point came when an agent who did read the manuscript telephoned me to say how much he enjoyed it. I was more than ready to believe the best and figured that here at last was my reckoning – because what literary agent telephones an unknown writer whose manuscript he’s picked from the slush pile unless it’s to say that he thinks the book is terrific and would love to represent it? The first part was accurate, even to the point of some very complimentary and encouraging comments about Sammie. I won’t repeat the agent’s praise just I will not state his name because he is not here to confirm; and in the end it was all for naught. Because the next thing he said was, “I’m calling to explain why I can’t offer to represent your novel.”

Oh, why?

“I have no idea where I could sell it.”

Even now, I don’t quite understand. I wanted to say, “If the novel’s so fine, why don’t you try selling it to Knopf? Or Viking? Or FSG?” The problem, as he explained it, was that he had 15 manuscripts in hand that he couldn’t sell, and as he had already committed to those authors, he could not also commit to me. Well, I guess that’s right – he certainly thought so – but it seems to me that a really good first novel usually gets its chance, even if with a small print run of a “testing-the-waters” type. But it seems neither he nor any editor he knew had any interest in a project of that sort.

If I’d had a connection to traditional publishing – someone to introduce or refer or recommend me to a suitable agent – maybe the manuscript would have gotten under the eyes of someone who would have known where he or she could sell it. But I had no one I felt I could ask for such a favor, and so I did not ask. That was my fault; if I’d maintained certain relationships I had at Cornell, one of those authors might have been willing to help me (as they themselves have been successfully published) and together we might have succeeded in getting someone to pay attention to Sammie. Maybe the outcome would have been different, or maybe not. But lacking such assistance, I was, I felt, out of options and so I had to do it myself.

When 2094 was ready it seemed very sellable so I began again to write queries to agents. I wrote and sent maybe six queries, and after roughly a month had gotten no replies. As I began the next round, I realized I did not want to go through this process for another few years or few months or at all. So I stopped trying to pitch to agents and began working instead on designing the book’s interior pages and covers, and in a few months published 2094 as I had published Hunting Old Sammie. For The Pornographer’s Apprentice I haven’t queried anyone. I figured from the start that I’d publish it myself; and in a few weeks, I will.

The very steep downside of self-publishing a novel is the challenge of persuading potential readers that it is a legitimate piece of fictional prose. The assumption, which is not wholly unwarranted, is that self-published novels are generally sub-standard and sometimes (often?) just amateur work, a kind of unsophisticated folk-art. I’ve tried to counter that assumption by making samples of my novels readable for free. Anyone who enjoys the samples, which are fairly substantial, will almost surely enjoy the novels.

7. Q: You’ve commented that 2094 risks being misunderstood. Do you feel that most reviewers are inattentive and perform ‘skim-jobs’? How can you tell the difference between a ‘bad’ review, and a ‘badly thought out’ review?

A: Most reviewers start out with every good intention, I believe, of reading a book attentively and writing a judicious review. Some succeed very well or well enough, others fail more or less obviously. The reasons for failure are probably as various as the reviewers and the circumstances, which sometimes are very difficult, under which they’re working. It does seem, however, that some reviewers either do not read attentively (but think they are) or possibly do not quite understand how to read a novel.

The main problem, I think, is the expectation that within every novel is a character or set of characters who act and speak and think, etc., as the author’s surrogate(s). It’s not an unreasonable assumption and many, perhaps most, readers share it. Many novels do feature a character who seems to represent the author and his or her beliefs, opinions, concerns, world-view, and so forth (I’m thinking of works as dissimilar in other respects as Great Expectations and Moby-Dick). Trouble begins when a reader brings that assumption to a novel in which the characters speak and act only for themselves, as in 2094. In that sort of novel, the author is effaced, invisible, “refined,” as Joyce memorably wrote, “out of existence.” The outstanding recent example of such a novel is Atonement, by Ian McEwan, which also is one of the greatest novels ever. If a reader of Atonement insists on aligning this or that character with the author, his understanding of the story can hardly avoid being skewed dramatically away from the novel’s manifest meaning.

What I call “skim-jobs” typically lead to what I consider “badly thought-out” reviews for the obvious reason that no one can represent any book justly on the basis of a selective, fragmented reading. If you have not actually read the book, you cannot think about the book astutely enough to write a smart, relevant review. Even when a skim-job review cherry-picks details or quotations, it does so in ignorance of the greater context in which those details and lines have their existence and create meaning. Taken in isolation, almost any sentence can be made to seem ridiculous – especially if a reviewer is intent on making it seem so. Every element of a novel needs to be read and interpreted as part of the narrative to which it belongs: the coherent, internally-consistent fictive world that describes and implies a cosmos in small. To pick sentences, characters, and scenes out of context for the purpose of denigrating the novel to which they belong is not just critical malfeasance. It is intellectually dishonest.

2094 risks being misunderstood because it does not deliver platitudes and easy morals through a simple “good guy vs. bad guy” scenario. Its characters are complicated and their motives are often ambiguous and conflicted. The main challenge of reading it is to recognize that the author is not purely aligned with any character or point-of-view. The author is not anyone’s advocate. He is not passing judgment on any character. He is a presenter whose job is to represent plausible characters and actions in sufficient, significant detail for the reader to understand the nature of those characters and actions. The author presents the story. It is the reader who interprets it and passes judgment. Who acts justly? Whose beliefs and assumptions are life-giving and whose are death-dealing? Who demonstrates faith and integrity? Who evinces cynicism, opportunism, and greed? Then, complicating the model, who succeeds and who fails? Who survives and who dies? Yes, the author is responsible for all this but only as a function of pursuing these characters and the various workings-out of their respective stories, not because he is grinding some personal axe. Given the narrative’s specific conditions and observing its outcome, the reader might ask, “With whom do I sympathize? Whose actions do I endorse and whose do I despise? Do I believe that each character gets his just desserts or do I feel that injustice has prevailed?” If the author has presented the story without bias and represented the characters even-handedly, without favoritism, different readers should be able to reach different conclusions about what the novel is “saying” and what it “means.”

“2094 is not an easy book. Maybe it seems simple but, really, it is not. It is not a comforting book. It is a disquieting book that challenges pretty much every assumption a reader might bring to it at the present time. And so it risks being misunderstood – especially by readers who skim it.”

8. Q: I love this quote: “Feeling the need to write is like having an itch,” Fred Busch said. “Scratch that itch.” Can you explain it more to my readers?

A: Fred Busch was my teacher in college many years ago. Sadly, he passed away in 2006. He was a tremendously fine writer, particularly of short stories, and his collected stories have recently been published in hardcover by Norton. His novel, A Memory of War (Norton, 2003), is brilliant and moving and completely wonderful. If you want a quick idea of the kind of man and writer Fred Busch was, just read the dedication to A Memory of War. All you have to know going in is that Judy is his wife.

Fred was respected by every writer I’ve ever met, known, or read about, and with good reason because he was a craftsman in prose, fiercely intelligent, aggressively honest, and purely and deeply committed to reading and writing and other writers, whom he did a great deal to encourage and assist and promote and just plain help.

The quotation I attribute to him was something he said in one of his fiction-writing workshops at Colgate University (the undergraduate college I attended) when I was his student there. He probably said it at other times, in other settings, to other young, wannabe writers, and what he meant was that the desire to write is something natural and real and physically compelling. It’s that last part, physically compelling, that most beginners maybe do not recognize, but when he likened the writing-desire to an itch that needed to be scratched, I completely understood because even then and, really, before then, from the time I was a teenager, I felt this weird need to put words on paper. I ignored it for awhile, tried to, because I did not understand the point or the reason, but the more time I spent ignoring it, the more miserable I felt because something was telling me that I was meant to be writing, that I should be writing, was supposed to write, that writing was in some mysterious way my duty or assigned work. Assigned by whom, I had no idea; nor did I know what I was supposed to write. I was just a kid! A kid with an itch to write, he knew not what.

Fred Busch was encouraging us to get on with it. Just write. Right? That’s the only thing you can control: whether or not you write. Don’t worry what it’s about or what anyone might think. Even you won’t know what to make of it until you’ve worked on it for awhile. So get going. Scratch that itch, it feels good to scratch it and to ignore it, to try to, is torment. So: write. You know? If writing’s what you’re meant to do and you know that or just sense it, to do so lends a beautiful satisfaction to the core of your being.

9. Q: You’ve given only one other interview that I could find, at Smashwords. Where does maintaining an online presence and social media outlets, as well as ongoing promotion of your novels, come into your never-ending hierarchy of mundane tasks?

A: Maintaining a Web presence and promoting one’s books are definitely necessary chores. But they are chores. I do as much of both as I feel is within my capabilities of time, energy (psychic and otherwise), and money. Speaking from my own experience, I’ll say that novel-promotion can be costly and also completely ineffective. Buying a listing from Publisher’s Weekly, commissioning a review from IndieReader or KirkusIndie, paying to have one’s novels listed on BookBuzz by way of offering review copies to potential reader/reviewers are all fine & good but you do not necessarily get what you assume you’re getting and in some cases you get very little or nothing for your money. The worst was the so-called review from KirkusIndie: $425 for 340 words, most of which summarized the plot simplistically and inaccurately, and committed errors of fact. And it was poorly-written.

Social media has been, for me, not hugely effective as a means of selling books. People notice that the books exist but they don’t buy them. I quit Facebook some months back because I began to realize that my posts about my novels’ being published or reviewed, or myself being interviewed, were probably being regarded by the few dozen people who saw them as pathetic self-advertisements and no more important or interesting that the standard sort of post about, “Now I’m eating lunch in a great new deli,” or “Today I bought a cool pair of running shoes,” or whatever. Trivial stuff everyone feels happy to ignore. Now I limit my Web presence to sites whose viewers might be at least potentially interested in the books.

10. Q: Are there any questions you wish people would ask, or wouldn’t ask?

A: Any question that is mainly about the books is fine by me. I’m not so interested in answering questions about myself – autobiographical details, personal background, likes and dislikes, that kind of thing. And people generally don’t ask me such questions, so we get along fine.

For me, it’s about the books – the stories. I, personally, am not important. I’m just the writer who happened to bring certain stories into the world. In 50 years I’ll barely be a memory, assuming my children live that long. But my books might, with a lot of luck, still be alive in the hands and minds of readers.

You can find John on a range of platforms:

See my review of 2094 and go read this book!
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Review: Mercedes Lackey – Elementary, All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters

Elementary, All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters
Mercedes Lackey
This collection of short stories is a combination of new tales in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters world, with a weird injection of some authors who have no idea what the Elements should be like.

“Fire-Water” by Samuel Conway brings a fishhawk to a rabbit to stop a small war. I found this entertaining because it was from a different perspective, and it was not what I was expecting from this short story collection at all.

“Fire Song” by Diana L. Paxson takes a young boy out of the city with his family. Fascinating bit of history to be had this one. it was predictable though, of course the son was able to do wonderful things. Masters of the elements do tend to be a bit strange, particularly double masters. I wanted to know more about the future of that child though.

“Sails of the Armada” by Kristen Schwengel forces a Galician sailor into the Spanish Armada. I did know the background for this one. The ending wasn’t quite what was typical for novels, which was actually pretty good. I only wish I knew more about his earlier life.

“The Wild Rogue” by Fiona Patton puts a young water mage into the drunk tank. This one – complete loss. I had no idea what was going on.

“Feathers and Foundations” by Elizabeth A. Vaughan induces an earth mage to seek a rift. This was more like what I would hope from a story! Yes, it had the history element, but it was also well-written and fitting in with the way Lackey writes her stories. I was just waiting for the ‘ah-ha’ moment the whole time. I wish it has been a novel.

“Hearth and Family” by Dayle A. Dermatis solves a problem for a woman without a family. This was just as good as the previous short story. This reminded me of a fairytale for some reason, but its basing in history worked well.

“Secret Friends” by Louisa Swann draws unexpected assistance to a girl who is about to lose her brother. This was perfect for a short story.

“Fire’s Daughter” by Elizabeth Waters musters new friends for Eleanora.  This would work well as a longer story. It was right within the vein of Lackey’s works. I did have a moment thinking she was trans, but she wasn’t.

“Picking Up the Pieces” by Cedric Johnson introduces another victim of Marco. I think this had Pearl and Garnet in it, and ugh, they were just too tidy and annoying.

“The Price of Family” by Jennifer Brozek presents Josie with a problem of ethics. I don’t appear to have written notes about this one…

“Arms of the Sea” by Tanya Huff challenges a crippled water master. I loved it – it highlighted stupid menfolk and the power of healing.

“London Falling” by Ben Ohlander leads a fire mage to his missing brother. This was powerful and disturbing, but I don’t think it was canon within Lackey’s works…

“The King of the River Rats” by Michele Lang involves a fire mage reporter in multiple disappearances of young women. This had the potential to be bigger, but I was personally frustrated by Jane’s minor role. Not to mention I was confused by the ending.

“Air of Deception” by Jody Lynn Nye mixes an apprentice parfumeuse with a spy. This was excellent. I feel sure however that I have previously read this or something very similar.

“Fly or Fall” by Stephanie Shaver compels an air mage with a bitter choice. This was well-written and quirky.

“Bone Dance” by Rosemary Edghill & Rebecca Fox follows an earth master in a desperate hunt. I’m not sure why it was called this. It was very good and I enjoyed the different perspective and empathised with the Captain.

“The Flying Contraption” by Ron Collins guides a young air mage into the workshop of the Wright brothers. Arg! Why was she not taught air magic responsibly? This was an interesting take on the Wright brother legend.

“A Peony Amongst Roses” by Gail Sanders & Michael Z. Williamson relates the trials of a young earth mage whose talent is growing flowers. I felt like I had read this before, but it was enjoyable and crafty all the same. It could have been a good start to a novel.

“Into the Woods” by Mercedes Lackey tells the adventures of a young earth mage in her red riding hood. This was the Mercedes Lackey original. However it didn’t have much substance and ended the way I expected – a fairy tale! Absolutely online with her other stories but nothing new, and certainly nothing exciting. This is just the beginning of Blood Red.

I read this selection of short stories a very long time ago now. While some of them were good, others failed miserably. I waited so long on posting the review because I didn’t have all the story names and authors. Even now, I think I have two of the stories mixed up…

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Review: A.C. Burch – The HomePort Journals

The HomePort Journals
A.C. Burch

Marc longs to be an author, but the words never seem to come to him in the city. After he breaks up with his abusive partner, he flees to Provincetown, where he’s taken in by an old woman and her enigmatic companions.

25244093The novel is well realised, with scenery which I can vividly picture right now. There was only one inconsistency towards the end of the novel, when the Captain’s journals appeared in two places at once. I can see them walking down the beach, and Marc trying to write in his tower, complete with the art workshop on one of the middle floors.

I like that in this novel, all of the characters are ok with being one form of queer or another. This is a world I dream of, where it’s ok to be yourself! Everyone in the novel has a role somewhere, even if it’s not where you expect. They were lovely, three dimensional characters that reached out to me through just Marc’s perspective – a mark of a strong writer.

I spent most of the novel in suspense that Brandon would track down Marc. I knew he would eventually, but I didn’t know how much Marc was going to be able to stand up against him. Marc draws people to him without even knowing it, and those people think he’s worth a lot more than he gives himself credit for.

The romance that occurs in this novel is subtly layered and sort of incidental. What threw me was some of the comments of Marc to himself about being extrainged from love. He had been so badly hurt (which is mainly just alluded to intriguingly through the novel), and yet he can’t open up when someone else is trying to help! If the romance was the main theme, the reader wouldn’t keep going.

Instead, the mystery and suspense of the plot grips the reader. I wanted to know the history, and how all the competing interests would be served. I loved the ending. So happy, and yet, bittersweet, and arg, why didn’t they fix things earlier.

At some point recently in my reading, I have moved into the pure fiction genre. I never expected it to happen, usually finding those sort of novels boring and repeditive. But add a hint of mystery and a strong queer element, and you’ve got an avid reader on your hands.

I give this novel a very solid 4 stars, moving up to 5 stars. It’s just not a 5-stars for me because I don’t have a strong desire to read it again. But by all means, go out there and buy it, it’s awesome!

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Review: N.R. Bates – At the Sharp End of Lightening

At the Sharp End of Lightening
N.R. Bates

Something poisonous is happening throughout the worlds. The sprites and humans of Oceanlight and Earth need to cross the Interface and work out what is going on, before it’s too late for themselves and their family.

25324761There are simply too many perspectives going on in this novel for me to be interested in all of them. The human I could feel empathy with, the sprites I felt completely disconnected from. Half the time I couldn’t care less whether they lived or died. And I also wondered why the human didn’t have better treatment – this is modern times – it’s really rare to have blood disorders now that can’t be treated efficiently.

The internal dialogue of the characters and the forced interactions spoiled this novel for me. I simply started reading it and immediately wanted to put it down. True to my word though, I kept reading it. By about a third of the way in, my interest was stirred a bit more, enough that i was pretty much immersed in it, but all the other books around me were just as tempting to read.

It took half the novel to even start covering part of the blurb, and it didn’t even cover the Goodreads notes. I felt like I had gained nothing from reading the text, and could have just wiki-ed it for a less painful progress. Then towards the end the jump in time periods left me grasping for purpose.

I signed up for this novel as part of a tour, thinking that someone with a strong science background would have amazing things to offer in a novel. Sadly, I was left wanting for the writing style, as firm as the novel’s progression was. This is the first novel in the series ‘Oceanlight’, so I’m ever hopeful that the author might still find his stride to start speaking through the characters rather than

I feel betrayed by the rest of Goodread’s positive reviews. I always start wondering if I’m reading the same novel. For me, this novel gets a mark of 2 stars. Is it perhaps not aimed at me? Can anyone else tell me what I missed?

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NR Bates was born in London, grew up in Wales, and lived in Canada and Bermuda. He shares his life with his wife,seven cats, one dog and the tropical wildlife of lizards, wolf spiders and ant colonies that seek out a better life indoors. He is an oceanographer and scientist, and has published more than one hundred and twenty scientific papers on ocean chemistry, climate change and ocean acidification.

He is a Senior Scientist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences and Professor of Ocean Biogeochemistry at the University of Southampton, UK. His novels focus on epic fantasy and magic realism, and inspired by his deep love of the ocean and environmental sciences.

Website: nrbates.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/NR-Bates/1536689869946441
Twitter: https://twitter.com/NRBatesAuthor

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Review: Holly Golderg Sloan – I’ll Be There

I’ll Be There
Holly Goldberg Sloan

Sam and Riddle have lived with their father for a long time. They are closely knit into one fabric, yet their father keeps tearing holes in it. When Sam sees Emily for the first time, about to throw up from a forced singing recital, something stirs in his heart for someone other than his brother.

9415957Why did the book grab me? Well, Sam seemed pretty cool, and Clarence had something wrong with him that I could relate to. But then again, Emily. Ok, so Emily could have been a character to hate. She’s completely trusting, naive, no idea. And her parents? Well, you think that they could be a bit more chill. Everything is a bit see-through.

I guess that that could be to contrast Sam. Sam hides so many things, and yet at the same time, he doesn’t know that it’s ok to talk to some people. It’s made clear how this situation came about, but I find it difficult to believe that life was like that for a long time. Something I didn’t understand was why Sam was still with his father even though he was 17. I understand wanting to look after his brother. But really? Something should have twigged that there was something more seriously wrong with their father and that something might need to be done about it.

I’m not sure how I felt about Clarence. It’s easy to push him into the bad guy role, it’s true he’s not nice to his kids and he’s a thief, but he has other things going on. It sounded to me exactly like he had schizophrenia. And if he did, then he wasn’t in control of himself at all really. Who knows? He could have been nice if he had been on medication.

I would have loved to have seen more done with music. Being recognised as a genius doesn’t mean much unless you’re able to write music, performing is not enough in my opinion. It started off as a theme, and could have been used to link more of the text together.

There were some jolting parts for me, such as Riddle’s asthma. Sam didn’t know about it before. No-one knew about it before. But suddenly it becomes all-important. And funnily enough, it’s not Riddle’s fault that things are going to hell! He’s survived so long in his life so far, I don’t see what all the upset is about. Maybe it is to show his growing relationship with his ‘mother’.

I couldn’t decide if I liked the ending or not. I certainly felt all the feels while I was reading it. It seemed like the happily ever after would never come. But the simplicity of it urked me, even if that was entirely proving Emily’s point that everything happens for a reason.

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Review: Lizzie Wilcock – Thirst

Thirst
Lizzie Wilcock

Karanda has passed through 5 foster homes, and it’s not exactly clear why. But the thing is, her behaviour has been getting worse over time. She’s snarky and completely wary of people – so when she gets the desert all to herself, it seems like the best thing for her. Sol is used to being abandoned – in fact, if you were to count foster homes, he’s been through more than her! But he craves human contact – and Karanda is all he has left.

24866854There is a lot of ‘Auzzie’-ness in this novel that is going to appeal to locals and overseas people alike. Who doesn’t love cute possums? Something that I felt was an inconsistency was how Karanda’s blood lust rose and fell. Is it just the environment, the challenges, allowing her to cry? It doesn’t seem like something she does very often.

Even as their lives entwine, Sol and Karanda have a past together that only one of them knows. The thing that got me going was that I didn’t know what colour their skins were – I assume Caucasian – but it didn’t matter to them. The adversity exposes their secrets, even if all the reader usually hears is from Karanda’s perspective.

It urked me that the author kept referring to Sol and Karanda as ‘children’. Both of them have seen enough of life to no longer be considered children in my mind, and most of their behaviour was as adult-like as it could be in the situation. Otherwise they simply wouldn’t survive.

The ending was very satisfying, right in line with the rest of the novel. What I enjoyed best was that things were never predictable. I fully felt that one of them could die at any point, they could starve, they could die from infection. It adds a bit of spice to a novel which could otherwise because just another bush-survival tale, just pointed at children.

Did I think it was coincidence about the helicopter coming at that point in time? No. Now that I think about it, it’s obvious that it is the natural events going on, not the two kids.  And the car? I don’t even know.

Was I blown away by this? Not really. But for the right audience? For sure. It’s pleasurable, light reading. 3-stars for adult readers, a generous 4 for it’s designated audience of younger teens.

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