Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Arcadia's Gift by Jesi Lea Ryan #review #ya #contemporary #fantasy

Title: Arcadia’s Gift (Arcadia Trilogy #1)
Author: Jesi Lea Ryan, 2012

Arcadia (Cady) and Avalon Day are twin sisters, and their family – although under strain with their parents’ separation – is a typical American family. The girls face all the usual trials and tribulations one can expect for their age – school, friends, boys. Everything seems on track until Cady’s sister dies in a tragic accident, irrevocably throwing the surviving twin’s life out of kilter.

Not only must Cady deal with the grief, but she finds herself being the strong one in her family when her mother falls into the bleakest of depressions. Added to that is Cady’s discovery that she is an empath, which brings with it other, less pleasant developments when she discovers that she is at the mercy of everyone else’s emotions in addition to her own.

A new boy at school, Bryan, offers a glimmer of hope – as do Cady’s friends – and Cady is not along as she tries to come to terms with how her circumstances have changed. Despite all the difficulties, she comes across as a generally happy and spirited teen, and she’s willing to face her challenges despite the hurt.

Arcadia’s Gift by Jesi Lea Ryan is the first book in what looks like a series. It’s slow paced but thorough, and Ryan has used this to good purpose in order to build a solid setting populated by characters who feel authentic, and who have to deal with real issues.

What I especially enjoyed about the story was Ryan’s understanding of death, and the way the grieving process can cast a pall over a person’s life. Also, she approached the supernatural elements in the story in a manner that felt plausible. Actions have consequences, and though I could see where Ryan was headed with certain premises, the execution was nonetheless satisfying, even though it wasn’t overly dramatic as in “we’re going to save the world from itself” epic. Which is also fine. Sometimes heroes don’t need to move mountains, but work quiet miracles among the people they love.

While Arcadia’s Gift does take a while to get off the ground – and this clearly the author laying groundwork – I nonetheless enjoyed the story. Ryan has a light yet engaging tone, and she writes with a great love for her characters and subject matter, and I can imagine that this story will appeal to those who enjoyed all the obvious bestsellers in the YA paranormal/urban fantasy genres.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured author: Alisse Lee Goldeberg

A big welcome to today's featured author, Alisse Lee Goldenberg, who is an author of horror and young adult fantasy fiction. She has her bachelors of education and a fine arts degree, and has studied fantasy and folk lore since she was a child. Alisse lives in Toronto with her husband Brian, their triplets Joseph, Phillip, and Hailey, and their rambunctious Goldendoodle Sebastian.

Find Alisse on her website, and Twitter.

About The Dybbuk's Mirror
It has been nearly two years since the events in The Strings of the Violin, and Carrie has adjusted to life as a university student far from her friends. However, when the path to Hadariah is sealed, she starts to fear malevolent forces may be behind the other strange occurrences around her. Trying to contact Lindsay and Rebecca to get help in unraveling the mystery, Carrie discovers that her friends are in fact missing. With no way of knowing who to trust, Carrie must find a way back to the land she once saved to rescue her friends from the dybbuks’ clutches.

Reuniting with the dybbuk princess Emilia, and finding a new friend in the mysterious farmer Mikhail, Carrie must once again do battle with Asmodeus’s forces, and help stop the chaos that threatens to overtake the land while striving to save both Lindsay and Rebecca. For the first time, Carrie is working without the two friends who have helped her through every major decision in her life. Carrie must learn to rely on herself, and find her own strengths to save those she holds dear.

Genre classification: YA Fantasy

200-word excerpt from The Strings of the Violin
Carrie stared at the small collection of leaves. How could she possibly fit through that? She hesitated, and one of her hands sought her necklace. She gave a small shrug and got down on all fours. As she approached the bush she heard her dog barking hysterically from the house. “Bye, Finn,” she whispered and crawled forward. 
Was she shrinking? Was the bush getting larger? Whatever was happening, it was clearly magic. Carrie crawled onward. Branches and leaves caught in her hair, tore at her pack. The tunnel (for she was now sure there was a tunnel in that collection of twigs) seemed to go on forever. Carrie was keenly aware of everything around her. Her eyes sharply saw each leaf in stark detail, the way the light filtered through the holes in the foliage and dappled everything in a mossy green. She heard every breaking branch under her knees and hands with a sharp, resounding crack that seemed to stab the silence in the air around her. She felt their sharp ends scratch her hands through the velvety moss that carpeted the ground she crawled over. Her lungs breathed in the moist air—cleaner than the air of cities and suburbs. More real, more nourishing than anything she was used to. 
She smelled rain, grass, soil, devoid of all those man-made smells from home. The overabundance of oxygen made her head heavy; her heart felt as if it would burst.
Just as she thought she would never reach the end of her journey, she abruptly found her-self kneeling under a night sky, surrounded by a primeval forest, the likes of which she had never seen before. Carrie stood up on shaky legs, speechless, in another world.
Buy The Dybbuk's Mirror on Amazon or directly from Prizm Books.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Guardian's Wyrd launch event

While it's darn satisfying releasing a new novel out in the wilds, nothing quite beats holding a print version in one's grubby mitts, and I've worked long and hard to bring you the dead-tree version of The Guardian's Wyrd, which was initially released by Wordsmack as an ebook. So, if you can't make my book launch, and you're yet to read the book, I urge you to support this wonderful South African SFF epublisher. Without them this book wouldn't be half as good as it is now (thank you, Kim McCarthy, you're an awesome editor).

But back to the launch event. I was chatting to my illustrator, Daniël Hugo, and he was keen on the idea that we set up a joint signing so that folks can get copies of the novel, in addition to some of Daniël's other artwork, and get stuff signed.

So I've printed off a box of books (as it appears in this blog) and we'll be at Metal Machine in the Cape Town CBD on September 27 between 10am and 12.30pm. If you're in town on the day, do swing past to say hi, get a biscuit and pick up your print copy. It's going to be really chillaxed, so I'm not going to talk in funny voices or do a reading or anything.

But we will be shooting the breeze and having a few laughs, and generally just enjoying the fact that we've unleashed another good book.

Please RSVP at the Facebook event so I know how many snacks to get hold of.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

If it sounds too good to be true…

An author recently mailed me to warn me off a certain publisher because they were a crook. So I did a little digging, and it didn't take me longer than a minute to discover that said author's publisher was a notorious vanity press.

But I'd like to point out this salient fact: it took me less than a minute to call up the information I needed on my cellphone. At the time I had been sitting in my car parked outside a shopping centre. It is *that* quick and easy to do a background check, folks. And it's been so for years, thanks to our friend Google.

So, for those of you who're not in the know… What is a vanity press, you might ask… Here's the rub: any "publisher" that offers to bring out your book but then charges you, the author, for that pleasure, is a vanity publisher. These companies fool unsuspecting authors into parting with hundreds, if not thousands of clams – with all sorts of heartache attached to the aftermath.

Here's the thing. A publisher (generally) *should* have an idea of what novels will sell to readers. They will solicit and accept submissions, and contract works that they deem as having merit.

The publisher will then pay professionals to edit a book and design the cover. The publisher is naturally going to be picky about what they will bring out, therefore they will only offer a contract on high-quality content. (In a perfect world, that is.) They are, of course, taking a calculated risk that they will sell enough copies of said novel in order to recoup their costs.

And the vanity publisher? Let me tell you, the vanity publisher doesn't give a warthog's left testicle about the quality of the writing. Why? Because the author is the one throwing the money at the publisher, and the publisher is going to tell the author her dog's runny turds do in fact taste like a double-thick chocolate Oreo milkshake.

Here are a few links on the old interwebz…

It's a scam…

What you should know… 

Or this… 

Now while in theory, companies that offer legitimate services to self-publishing authors, such as editing, design and layout aren't necessarily a bad thing – these folks, if they're charging reasonable, industry-relevant rates, take a huge load off. But I don't think these sorts of service providers should ever fool themselves (and others) into thinking that they're an actual, honest to dogness publisher.

If in doubt, remember this: money should always flow to the author; not the other way round.

At the heart of the matter, the onus is on you, the author, to do a thorough background check on every agent, editor and publisher you decide to entrust your work to. As I keep telling everyone, Google is your friend.

The first place I stop is a useful site called Preditors and Editors. After that, I run a search on the Absolute Write forums which will often deliver up to date information from your peers. This entire site is a goldmine. Last, but not least, there's Writer Beware.

These resources are freely available. Use them. Don't use them. But don't come crying to the interwebz if you get schnaaied and you didn't do your homework.

To finish off, I'd like to remind you that if someone is offering you something that sounds far too good to be true, it probably is. You spent months, if not years of your life working on your manuscript. What's an hour or two spent on research to make sure you find a good home for your story?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Colossus by Alexander Cole #military #historical #review

Title: Colossus
Author: Alexander Cole
Publisher: Corvus, 2014

Many great stories begin when an author asks “What if…” and Colossus by Alexander Cole is one of those. In this case, Cole’s question is: “What if Alexander the Great survives an attempt on his life in 323 BC?” and we go from there, as Alexander casts his eye towards Carthage and, eventually, Europe.

Central to the story is the role Alexander’s war elephants play in this alternative history, which is told primarily from the viewpoints of Gajendra, who starts out as merely an elephant boy, and Mara, the daughter of the Carthaginian general Hanno. The elephant, Colossus, is as his name suggests, massive, and only Gajendra can control him. This enigmatic beast also displays quirks, which make for quite a number of fascinating scenes; in fact I would have loved to have seen more involving the pachyderms.

Gajendra is ambitious, and will go to great lengths to prove his worth. His work with the war elephants lends Alexander a great advantage in battle, and he soon enjoys a meteoric rise within the ranks of the army. This does not, however, come without cost. Alexander is painted out as a capricious, often fickle man, who is prone to discarding his favourites at whim as fast as he elevates them in status. Gajendra’s success may well prove ephemeral.

Mara has suffered great personal loss and seeks solace as a priestess of the goddess Tanith. When Carthage falls, Mara must disguise herself as a boy in order to avoid the inevitable fate many women suffer during war times. Her path crosses Gajendra’s and though their friendship is far from smooth, their dynamics are nonetheless engaging.

While this novel is mostly military fiction, with focus on tactics, there are some romantic elements. I found myself almost unconsciously wanting to compare this to the writings of Mary Renault, in which case Cole’s prose falls short of that benchmark. Cole’s decision to write in third person present tense is jarring at times, the narration clunky; the overall offering could have been a bit more polished.

That being said, this is still an enjoyable tale and is filled with interesting characters (including a little person, which should please fans of Tyrion Lannister), as well as plenty of action. Lovers of historical and military fiction will be in for a perfectly satisfying read.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Quick update, September 2014

Basically, I’m tardy, and I haven’t actually done a proper blog about some of my recent doings. I keep meaning to, but then invariably something else comes up.

First on the agenda is that The Guardian’s Wyrd now has its print version available overseas and here in South Africa. If you’re in Cape Town on September 27, do join us at the launch/signing thingie, which will be held at Metal Machine in the CBD. Do RSVP over at the Facebook page so I can decide how many cupcakes to order.

Daniël Hugo and I will be available to sign copies, so you can be a proud owner of a collector’s issue at the hugely discounted price of R80 a copy. How many opportunities like this will exist, where you can own a copy that has both author and illustrator’s signatures within?

Don’t forget that the ebook version is available from Amazon, Kobo and Kalahari.

Dawn’s Bright Talons is hitting the mark with readers, some of whom have even claimed that I nearly caused them to miss their stops while they were travelling by train. At the time of writing, I am busy proofing the print version, which should be available soon.

One of my favourite authors ever – Storm Constantine – has graciously agreed to writing a blurb, and I’m over the moon with what she’s had to say:

Nerine Dorman's bright clear prose is at the forefront of modern fantasy

I’m really looking forward to holding physical copies of this novel, as this is one of my “heart” projects. If, however, you’re yet to feed your chosen reading device, Dawn’s Bright Talons is available in a range of formats from the likes of Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

I’ve also recently collected a few of my short stories that have slipped between the cracks. Lost Children is the result, and in this slim volume you’ll find a little bit of everything, from fantasy to out-and-out horror. At the time of writing, I’ve yet to put up the print version, but you can purch
ase digital copies at Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

Last, but not least, my Dangerous Beasts stories are underway (writing as Therése von Willegen, of course) and if you’re looking for fantasy that’s a bit… erm… saucy… well… There you go, Killer Torsos available at Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

That’s the gist of it. Editing-wise I’m busy with some super projects, which are keeping me out of mischief but are making my dark, twisted little heart very happy, even if I’m not able to devote more time to my actual writing. But more on that later.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Betrayal's Shadow by Dave-Brendon de Burgh #fantasy #review

Title: Betrayal’s Shadow (book one of the Mahaelian Chronicles)
Author: Dave-Brendon de Burgh
Publisher: Fox & Raven, 2014

Exciting things are happening for genre fiction in South Africa. Not only are locals making waves overseas, but we can now celebrate yet another fantasy author to make his debut. Betrayal’s Shadow is book one of Pretoria-based Dave-Brendon de Burgh’s Mahaelian Chronicles. In addition to this, he has also released a prequel short story, A Song of Sacrifice, which is available electronically.

Much like Steven Erikson’s epics, which De Burgh cites as among his influences, the story is told by a large cast of assorted characters. We are introduced to High General Brice Serholm; the Blade Knight Alun; the royal courtesan Seira; the Elvayn Khyber; scheming mastermind Cobinian; King Jarlath, who possesses near godlike powers – but at a price; and Del’Ahrid, an ambitious first advisor to the king.

Throw all these folks together and you have the ingredients for a suitably violent, intrigue-soaked plot. All characters have ambitions and secrets, which lead them into conflict as a bigger, ages-old saga plays itself out.

De Burgh throws readers right into the thick of things – a quality I appreciate, considering the fantasy genre’s tendency to indulge in exposition. Readers are faced with events that transpire after a war between humans and an elf-like, magic-wielding race known as the Elvayn. The latter have been reduced to slave status, but King Jarlath has plans for them, which may not be to the liking of those who prefer the status quo.

Battle-scarred Alun and young Khyber must both learn to work with their powers, for each has a role to play, and greater threat to face when the zombie-esque Reavers make their first appearance. For those who’d like a little back story, do pick up the prequel, which will help clarify events occurring in book one.

While De Burgh is definitely a South African voice in fantasy to keep an eye on, both novel and prequel could have benefitted from more stringent editing, not only to catch a number typos, but perhaps also to develop some of the characters further. At times I felt his writing flowed a bit too fast, which begged for deeper insights into characters’ motivations, especially with the large cast in this book.

That being said, this is still a worthy read, which should appeal to those who enjoy epic fantasy with a high body count, mounting tension and a fascinating setting.