Tuesday, November 25, 2014

String Bridge by Jessica Bell #review

Title: String Bridge
Author: Jessica Bell
Publisher: Vine Leaves Press, 2013

Let me start this review by saying this book resonated with me hard, from the moment I picked it up. Melody gave up what could possibly have been a highly successful music career in order to get married and have a baby. Now thirty, she is involved in educational publishing while her husband is an events organiser. Her four-year-old daughter Tessa is the apple of her eye.

Yet Mel is consumed by a nagging discontent of what might've been if she'd not given up her music. Not only that, but she's also looking at further career opportunities that might require her to leave Athens. And this is a source of conflict between her and Alex.

Things certainly don't become easier for Mel, as her attempts to regain her mojo result in her life becoming more and more complicated. Every decision she makes will result in further problems. Must she be sensible or dare she risk it all for her dreams that have been put on hold for four years?

On top of it all, Alex's behaviour – see-sawing between brutish and caring – makes things incredibly difficult for Mel. Though she wants to find herself on her own terms, she can't escape the fact that she still loves her husband and must acknowledge the bond between them in their daughter.

Jessica Bell writes from the heart. She made me care about Mel and her loved ones right from the get go. Mel is completely relate-able, and her turmoil was immediate. I wanted her to succeed in all spheres of her life. I wanted her hurt and confusion to be resolved. Just when I thought things were fixed, Bell then went and pulled the figurative rug from beneath my feet – and I hurt some more, along with Mel.

This is a beautiful, tragic and inspiring story. If you've got a dry eye by the time you reach the end, you probably don't have a heart. But then, I definitely think I was the intended reader, especially as someone who sits with one foot in the publishing industry, and the other in music. And now I'm going to stop gushing otherwise I'll sound like a complete frothing fangrrrrl. If you love music: *THIS BOOK*. That is all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Outlander by Diana Gabaldone #review

Author: Diana Gabaldone
Title: Outlander
Publisher: Dell, 2005

I must state from the get go that I read this book mainly because many of my friends and fellow authors have – so I wanted to see what all the hype was about. (And this is very much like that time all those years ago when I inflicted the Twilight* books on myself.)

First off, Outlander wasn’t horrible. Far from it. Gabaldone has done a really good job bringing the past to life, and the sheer amount of detail goes a long way to making me feel that the setting is authentic. The characters are fun, and many of the interactions between them provided me with sufficient entertainment.

But… and I’m sorry, there are going to be several buts (and not the Kardashian kind, either).

The protest I hear the most often from Outlander fans is: “B-b-but… Jamie…” (Followed by lip-trembling.)

Here’s my take on it. It’s a pure case of BBFS (book boyfriend syndrome). The same way female readers gush and get moist panties over the Edwards, Jacobs, Wraths and Christians out there. They’re not the kind of guy we’d date, but we’d like to fool ourselves into thinking they’d make good life partners because they’re soooo not like the men we ended up with. Oh, and washboard abs.

So, I suppose if you’re only looking for an unlikely hawt twenty-three-year-old virgin, be my guest. And nope, I didn’t buy that shtick about Jamie waiting one day until he got married…

One of the initial problems I had with the story was its pacing. About halfway through the book I was still waiting to find out what was going to happen – was it going to be a massive showdown involving Randall  or was it all going to be about Claire trying to go home to her own time. Both are equally good premises that, by the time we reached the end, felt to me as if they could have been executed with a bit more oomph and focus in order to heighten a sense of urgency, which I felt was lacking throughout.

Perhaps my biggest gripe was Claire herself. Okay, so we suspend disbelief that she’s somehow fallen back in time – but she takes her changed circumstances way too calmly. No panic. No freaking out. More like, “Oh, look, this is Scotland during the 1700s, now ooh, look, pretty red-haired man in kilt… Washboard abs...”

I get that things between her and her husband of seven years back in post-WWII England weren’t that exciting, but not once throughout the book did I gain the impression that she was overly concerned about being separated from him. In addition, the effortlessness in her getting married to Jamie on a relatively flimsy pretext irked me. Washboard abs much?

The whole vibe with Claire nearly getting raped numerous times didn’t bother me nearly as much as how she dealt with the Very Bad Thing that happens near the end. A lot of what goes on with her seems too convenient – like how she’s apparently unable to conceive, which is just peachy keen for a woman of modern social mores in an environment that lacks adequate birth control. Added to that, she’s a nurse too. Wow. Clan of the Cave Bear much? (For anyone who remembers Ayla’s doings back in the Palaeolithic.) Super, super convenient.

And possibly a case of washboard abs.

But, jawellnofine. Don’t mind me. I finished the book. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t want to throw my iPad at the wall (okay, well, that’s just stupid but I’m sure you get what I mean). But I spent a large portion of my time reading muttering, “Oh, really?” under my breath. I’ll also most likely watch the TV series because I admit I have a thing for men in kilts. And washboard abs. ** And, yes, I have a passing fondness for Scotsmen. Some things are unavoidable, like the need to rubberneck when driving past road accidents.

* And in case you were wondering, no, I did not read the Fifty Shades of Grey books. That’s a bridge too far, IMO.
** And yes, I’m a sad, sad puppy.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Books of Khepera special offer until December 1

Here's your chance to read *both* my Books of Khepera for free, gratis, sweet fark-all. All you need to do is visit the books at Smashwords, and enter the coupon codes below.

Khepera Rising (#1)
Coupon: VN99J

Khepera Redeemed (#2)
Coupon: JW66C

And, if you loved the books, all I ask in return is that if you have the time, please go rate and review them on Amazon and Goodreads.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This Day by Tiah Beautement #review

Title: This Day
Author: Tiah Beautement
Publisher: Modjaji Books, 2014
Reviewer: Nerine Dorman

Possibly the worst has happened to Ella. Not only has she lost her small son Kai under tragic circumstances, but she has also lost her husband. Bart might be there physically, but his spirit is locked away in a profound depression. Though the couple wants for nothing when it comes to their material needs, they no longer have much in the way of a relationship. Ella sits by helpless as Bart seems to drift further and further away, and the therapist isn’t helping.

At the heart of the matter, Ella is lonely, and at her wits’ end. In her self-imposed exile caring for Bart and his depression, she has become incapable of connecting meaningfully with other people. On top of that, she is unable to process her own grief and look after her own needs – simply going through the motions though on the outside she seems to be coping better than her husband.

Some of Ella’s behaviour might, to an outside observer, even seem bizarre – for instance her habit of digging in portions of her son’s cremated remains with the vegetables that she grows. In her own way, Ella is trying to bring Kai back to life.

She might be lonely, but Ella is not completely alone. Her friends care, and in their own ways try to get Ella to reach beyond herself and her diminishing orbit around Bart. His depression is an almost palpable entity that has taken on a life of its own, and has displaced their relationship. Bart uses Ella as a shield between himself and the real world, and Ella enables him by constantly trying to anticipate his needs.

No one talks about Bart’s depression, but they’re all aware of it.

Threaded throughout the novel is the theme of water – at first benign and life-giving, but then the separator, that takes her son away from her. The ocean is forbidding and a barrier that prevents Ella from confronting herself. It is something vast that she must face, and immerse herself before she can attain acceptance.

Ella must let slip some of her need to control before she can make peace with the fact that there are aspects of her life that remain forever altered – her son’s death and her husband’s psychological state. It’s how she chooses to engage with the ebb and flow of the tides that matters.

This Day is a bittersweet moment in time that Tiah Beautement has captured beautifully. Although the story is slow-moving, it is beautifully rendered and, like water, is reflective and steeped in emotion.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The City by Stella Gemmell #review

Title: The City
Author: Stella Gemmell
Publisher: Transworld Publishers, 2013

Some may have already encountered Stella Gemmell’s writing – she is known for having helped complete her husband, David Gemmell’s, Troy: Fall of Kings, after his death. The City is her first solo effort, and this tome is a big book in more ways than one.

The City, ruled by a supposedly immortal emperor, has been at war with neighbouring nations for so long no one truly remembers a time when there was peace. The City has stood for eons, with each age building on the ruins of the past. An air of decay and dissolution permeates everything, with the sense of a golden age that has passed.

The Reds try their utmost to defend the City from the invading Blues, and there are those on both sides who realise that this constant warfare must come to an end. But no only does no one really know who the emperor is, he is also ably defended by his guards and protected by the ruling families who lord it over the common folk.

The story unfolds over years, as we follow in the footsteps of a large, varied cast that includes sewer dwellers, disgraced soldiers and an exiled general – all who are fighting for survival and for a way to end the conflict.

Gemmell’s ability to hold together so many narrative threads is masterful. Not only that, but her attention to detail paints a vivid picture of the setting and its people, that unfolds gradually to create a magnificent tapestry of a saga. Even the tiniest detail is important, and Gemmell shows that she can hop from a tension-filled battle to a tender moment between lovers without faltering.

Mostly, The City is a story about those who are called to heroic acts, that on their own might seem like they don’t amount to much. When considered in their combined effect, these acts illustrate that these sacrifices do make a difference.

The only downside that I can think of is that readers don’t get enough time to deeply identify with any particular character, as there is so much going on. That being said, this novel is, as its title suggests, more about the war for a city’s heart rather than the individuals who bleed for it.

Lovers of epic military fantasy will be right at home with The City, which will toy with readers’ loyalties as characters’ allegiances shift, and battles are lost and won. The ending itself brings with it mingling disappointment. I asked myself, “Is this all?” but then I thought about the turn of events, and the fates of those who lived, and felt satisfied by the outcome.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Dead Days Omnibus by Marcus Sedgwick #review

Title: The Dead Days Omnibus (The Book of Dead Days and The Dark Flight Down)
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books, 2006

Although this is marketed as two books, I’m going to treat it as one volume, since that’s how I read it – a nice-looking hardcover edition too.

Boy lives in the City, which exists as an amalgamation of a number of different European cities, presided over by a distant emperor. Boy has no idea who his parents are, and for the first few years of his young life, grows up on the streets. This is until the stage magician Valerian takes him in.

For a while, Boy is Valerian’s assistant for his show, which he gives as a highlight of a slightly down-at-heel theatre in the city. This is also where Boy encounters a girl – Willow – who assists one of the other performers. A hesitant friendship develops.

Of course if this were to be just a story about what happens at the theatre, there wouldn’t be much of a book. Soon enough, there’s a murder, and Boy, Willow and Valerian embark on a quest after a McGuffin – and the clock is ticking. They have until midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Marcus Sedgwick introduces us to a host of fascinating characters in a suitably gloomy and gothic setting. There really isn’t much substance to book one other than their quest, and an examination of the complicated relationship between Boy and Valerian. In my not so humble opinion, this relationship is straight-out exploitation.

As for the ending of book one, I gained the impression that Sedgwick wasn’t quite certain *how* he was going to finish, so the conclusion felt a bit convenient to me. Cataclysmic, yes, but I felt it was a bit abrupt. Ditto for the second book.

Boy and Willow are swept along by the adults’ machinations, and don’t seem to be all that active in affecting change around them – though they certainly aid or hinder the adult secondary characters.

That Boy is somehow special, there is little doubt, but it is only in book two, where I saw the final revelation coming from a mile away, that we realise exactly how special he is. More than that I won’t say (for the sake of spoilers).

In essence, we mix a dangerous McGuffin with a mad emperor, ambitious men, a whiff of brimstone and a suitably scary “Phantom”, and you end up with a bunch of disparate elements that are vaguely linked and don’t *quite* hang together.

So I’m basically sitting on the fence with this story. The Dead Days Omnibus is not a bad tale – not in the least. Though he has a tendency to randomly wander into omniscient third person (a personal bugaboo for me) he holds my interest, and I thoroughly enjoyed the mood and setting. I just felt that throughout this story that Boy was too accepting of his lot (I mean, he’s fifteen, and I remember all too well what I was like at that age) and that the plot of this story itself did not go beyond the obvious, linear. Elements like the Phantom could have been tied in stronger (this threat remains hanging around the edges but never quite resolved until the end).

Yet this *is* a lovely read, however, and especially thanks to the imagery, though I couldn’t truly engage with the characters in a meaningful way. But if a taste of the gothic is what you’re after, then you’ll gobble this up nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Write the Fight Right by Alan Baxter #review

Title: Write the Fight Right
Author: Alan Baxter, 2011

Short and to the point, Write the Fight Right says exactly what it does, and Alan Baxter offers a valuable resource to any author who might need to write combat scenes.

Though real-life experience will always beat theory hands down, there is enough information here, presented in a highly accessible, no-nonsense style, that clears up many areas that might be an issue in fiction.

Baxter really takes a broad view – talking about movement, blocking and how fighters’ physical attributes matter. He gives a breakdown on how a real fight is not the same sort of clean, linear type of situation as one expects after having seen movies. Fighters’ concerns are not limited to opponents, but also to the potential dangers apparent in their environment.

People who fight get hurt. If you take a hard enough knock to the head, there’s a chance you might experience concussion – and you’re certainly not going to bounce right up like a jack-in-the-box to carry on fighting as if nothing is the matter.

Baxter touches on the psychology of fighting, and also how the addition of weapons can change the game considerably.

Having hung out with martial arts and weapons enthusiasts, I already see much of what Baxter shares as common sense. What I did like was how he’s ordered the information, so this slim volume is a good refresher, and it certainly helps to have all the information laid out so clearly.

If you’re looking for a *very* basic introduction to hand-to-hand combat, then I recommend this book. It’s certainly proved to be a useful reminder because there’s no way in hell I’m going to try any combat classes – I’m much too much of a shrinking violet for that. (And, besides, getting beaten up is what the characters in my novels are for.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: The Bro-Magnet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Title: The Bro-Magnet (Nice Guy #1)
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Publisher: TKA Distribution, 2011

Johnny Smith’s the guy who gets asked to be the best man at his mates’ weddings, and always seems to say or do the right things so far as they’re concerned. But when it comes to the fairer sex, it would seem that his luck has permanently run out.

Basically, Johnny is very much a man’s man. He loves his sport – and specifically supports supports the Mets, who seem to be experiencing a losing streak. Johnny’s regular poker evenings with the boys are, from what I gather, pretty legendary.

Just when Johnny fears that he will never find the right woman, chance lets him cross paths with the rather vivacious Helen Troy, a district attorney. From the outset, the pair seem to be completely incompatible. Johnny is a painter and Helen is at the top of her game in the legal profession.

Yet… Despite this, there is a spark, and Johnny isn’t one to let their vastly different backgrounds act as an impediment on the path to true love. He is way out of his depth, however, and so doesn’t want to muck up this opportunity the same way he’s wrecked previous attempts at having a long-term relationship.

Johnny’s a resourceful kinda guy, even if his solutions can be unorthodox (just ask Fluffy the cat about learning to walk on a leash like a dog). Johnny therefore enlists the help of his friends, and based on their advice sets about changing himself into the man he thinks would snag Helen’s heart.

Already there I could see trouble brewing, and some of the unintentionally hilarious and cringe-worthy results of Johnny’s quest to be Mr Right make this book.

For someone who is every dude’s best friend, Johnny is gloriously inept when it comes to his own affairs – yet his intentions are in the right place. He is not a bad bloke, and I was rooting for something to eventually go right for the guy.

All I will say further is that I saw hints of the final outcome from quite far off, even if Johnny remained maddeningly oblivious, and was happy with how the author resolved everything. Yeah, yeah, I know, this is so not my usual reading fodder, but I totally enjoyed this light-hearted, humorous romp.