Fantasy review: ‘The Fairytale Curse’ by Marina Finlayson

May 22, 2016 Review 0

I’ve loved everything the author has written to date, so this was right at the top of my reading list. It’s not my usual fare (YA? High school? Proms? Really not my thing) but Finlayson achieved the seemingly impossible and taught me to love werewolves, so I was pretty confident she could work the same magic again.

Here’s the premise: 17-year-old twin sisters CJ (the pretty one) and Violet (the other one) wake up after a party to find they’ve been cursed. Whenever they speak, they spit diamonds (CJ) or frogs (Violet) from their mouths. And they’re not the only ones to find themselves on the wrong end of a fairytale curse. But strangely, Mum and Dad aren’t quite as surprised as might be expected. Turns out they’re part of a whole organisation devoted to keeping the unpleasant fairies (Sidhe) harmlessly locked away. And wouldn’t you just know it, those evil fairies are breaking out and looking for revenge.

Cue all sorts of mayhem and dramatic goings on, and (since this is YA) there’s a hefty dollop of romance in the background too. This was a lot of fun, and I loved that the schoolkids were, in the end, instrumental in restoring some semblance of normality, with only a little help from the grown-ups. There are a bunch of unanswered questions left dangling for the next book in the series, but the immediate threat was resolved very neatly. This felt just a tad too YA for my personal taste, but that’s the only thing keeping this to four stars.

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Book release: ‘The Dragon’s Egg’ is now available!

May 10, 2016 The Dragon's Egg 0

Well, blow me down, I forgot to post an announcement about this! Why did I forget? Because I’m an idiot! But also because this is the first book that didn’t have a pre-order set up, so when it was ready, I just – pushed the button. And, of course, forgot to do a lot of the usual things.

My sixth book set in the Brightmoon world is now available at your local Amazon. You can buy it for $3.99 (or equivalent) or borrow it for free, if you have a subscription to Prime or Kindle Unlimited. If you’d like to buy it in paperback, you’ll need to wait just a little longer but anyone buying the paperback will be able to download the Kindle version free of charge.

Click here to go to your local Amazon to buy or borrow.

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Authors answer #13: Can you recommend an author who is not well known?

May 7, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

Good grief, how much time have you got? Unknown authors are my specialist subject. Not for me the residents of bestseller lists or airport bookshops or the type of book that’s stacked high on tables near the door at Waterstones. In fact, most of my favourite authors don’t make it onto the shelves of bookstores at all. I could go on all day, but here are just a few that I love.

H Anthe Davis: an American who writes epic fantasy with a hint of horror, compelling characters and industrial-strength world-building. The first of the War of Memory series is The Light of Kerrindryr. She’s a slow-brew kind of writer, so the series is as yet incomplete, with three books out so far.

Marina Finlayson: an Australian who writes fast-paced urban fantasy of the werewolf variety, with added dragons and just a touch of romance, and loads of Aussie humour. Her The Proving trilogy is now complete; start with Twiceborn.

Claire Frank: an American author of wonderful epic fantasy with a great magic system, some intriguing characters with an unusual history, and a shed-load of all-action magely battles. The Echoes of Imara series will be complete soon; start with To Whatever End.

S E Robertson: a single-book author, but what a book! The Healers’ Road can only be described as literary fantasy; two healers, one using magic and one not, have to spend a year travelling about with a caravan of merchants, coming to terms with each other’s very different personalities and methods.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

 

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Urban fantasy review: ‘Grim Haven’ by Jen Rasmussen

May 6, 2016 Review 0

I don’t read a whole heap of urban fantasy, being more of an epic sort of reader myself, but this is a fun, just-one-more-chapter type of read. It’s my kind of book – quirky, original, with a surprise round every corner. When I tell you that the scene that sent shivers up and down my spine involved the bad guys simply walking around a building, you’ll understand that this isn’t your average let’s-hurl-thunderbolts-around urban fantasy. This is Hitchcockian (is that a word?) levels of tension.

Here’s the plot: Verity has her own form of magic, a quiet type that involves writing spells on paper, which she uses for self-protection. She likes to keep a low profile, but an accidental encounter with some unpleasantness of the non-human variety draws her into a centuries-old war. She seeks refuge in her home town, where she’s just inherited an old hotel, but this is not your average American town. Cue all sorts of magicky weirdness.

And then there’s Cooper. Yes, let’s talk about Cooper, who’s hot, has muscles in all the right places, is very cute and – is a chef. OK, that’s unusual but boy, isn’t this better than werewolves and demons and all that other bad boy stuff? What could be sexier than a man who can run up a steak diane and a pavlova at times of crisis? Or, let’s be honest, at any time. And if he happens to be good in bed, too – result!

OK, Cooper is distracting me from the plot… actually, I’m OK with that. The plot unfurls in the usual way, with plenty of twists and turns and a finale that had me holding my breath, it was so tense. And the romance weaves in and out of it all beautifully. Sigh. And there’s a neat twist at the end that sets things up for book 2 in the series rather well. This is a solid, entertaining start to the series, with enough intriguing backstory to both the main characters to keep me reading. A good four stars.

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Regency review: ‘The Lucases of Lucas Lodge’ by Clara Benson

May 6, 2016 Review 0

This is a real treat for Janeites, or anyone who read Pride and Prejudice and wondered what happened to Maria Lucas after big sister Charlotte married Mr Collins, and three of the Bennet sisters all found husbands. Clara Benson wondered, too, and this is her imagined answer. It’s a charming and light-hearted tale of muddles and misunderstandings, written in a style that any Janeite will love.

There are no Bennets in sight, just Maria Lucas, her parents, Miss King (the heiress saved from Wickham’s clutches in P&P) and some new characters renting Netherfield Park. I found all the characters (except one!) to be rather too nice, and perhaps not as quirky as genuine Austen characters, but this just made them all the more realistic. I particularly liked the way Miss King, a tiny bit-part in P&P, is given a great deal of depth here. Nicely done.

The setting is quite confined, just Lucas Lodge, Meryton, Netherfield Park and a rather puddly lane nearby, which has a starring role in a number of scenes. I was a little surprised that Maria is at home so much, when she has so many rich friends and relations now who could invite her to stay, but the author does explain this.

This is a wonderful, readable book with a delightful romance, lots of humour and all the charm of a Jane Austen novel. I couldn’t put it down! One word of warning: the book is an excellent pastiche of Regency wordiness, with no concessions to modern language, so anyone who finds Jane Austen’s phraseology tricky will have the same problem here. A very good four stars.

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Fantasy review: ‘The Strength To Serve’ by Claire Frank

May 5, 2016 Review 0

This is the third part of the Echoes of Imara series, which started with To Whatever End and An Altered Fate. It’s truly epic fantasy, with an array of characters pursuing their own agendas and plenty of world-threatening events in prospect. Our ‘heroes’, husband and wife Daro and Cecily and their friends are still dealing with the aftermath of the altered wielders (magic users). Pathius, the son of the former king, is in Imara while the Imarans help him to recover some stability. Meanwhile, the Lyceum loses a valuable artifact and asks Cecily to recover it. And across the sea in Attalon, Isley is imprisoned by the Emperor, as he plans an invasion.

One of the highlights of the second book was Daro’s stay in Imara, and this time it’s Pathius learning about the Imaran ways. The Imarans have a wonderfully ‘other’ feel to them, and everything about them and their land is strange, exotic and beautiful. There is a depth of characterisation in this section that really appealed to me, as Pathius and Ara inch towards an understanding.

Pathius is such a complex character. He’s the son of the king deposed (that is, killed) by Daro and his pals in an uprising that took place before the start of the first book. Pathius was believed to be dead too, and his reappearance is hugely awkward for the new king, Rogan, and everyone else. In book 2, he was dabbling in an uprising against Rogan, but that was defeated and in this book he has to decide whether he will continue to pursue a course as rightful heir to the throne or become a loyal subject of Rogan. He’s conflicted by his own history, and also by Cecily, with whom he shares a small part of the Imaran bond between Daro and Cecily. The book’s title, The Strength To Serve, gives a clue to which way it will go, even though the other characters are still suspicious of him. I very much want Pathius to be one of the ‘good guys’ but it’s obvious that he carries around a lot of baggage and could easily go to the bad at any time.

Daro and Cecily and their pals are (I presume) the people we’re supposed to be rooting for. I’ve always had a huge problem with that, hence the quotes round the ‘heroes’ up above. These are people who treasonably bumped off the previous king, and yes, he sounds like a pretty unpleasant guy but still — king! And here they are again in this book, behaving in very questionable ways. Callum, Daro and Cecily all do things towards the end of the book that have me questioning both their judgement and their ethics. The actions of Callum and Cecily I can just about accept as being necessary for the greater good, but Daro’s actions were completely beyond the pale, risking huge numbers of lives for a personal vendetta. I’m comfortable with grey morality, but to me this was not the action of a hero.

This is ironic, because earlier in the book, there’s an event which paints him very different colours, as a man undertaking a very difficult and dangerous task for the good of his people. His battle in Thaya is a great action set-piece, Daro at his masterful best. In fact, all the action scenes are superbly done, and anyone who enjoys mage battles or more traditional sword-and-spear work should read these books.

I suppose I should mention Isley. Poor Isley, held as both prisoner and revered favourite of the Emperor, a gloriously mixed-up situation. She has all the self-deluded pathos that should elicit sympathy, but somehow I can’t quite forget how evil she was in the previous book. She feels a little like a plot device — someone positioned so that the reader can discover just what the Emperor is up to, and (possibly) to link to some dramatic revelation in the final book.

This is a beautifully written book, with interesting characters, great action scenes, a well-thought-out plot and excellent pacing. There are some huge reveals at the end that I just didn’t see coming, including one that made me cheer and one that had me open-mouthed with shock. So why only four stars? It really comes down to personal preference. I’m not a huge fan of long-drawn-out battles. With the escalation in the war, it was inevitable that the battles would be intense, but I found there was a little too much describing who was doing what to whom. With wielders, there’s no end of Pushing and Pulling and Reaching, and sometimes I just wanted to know what the characters were feeling. In general, I wanted a stronger emotional engagement. There were times when I got it — the exhibition in Thaya, for instance, and Pathius and Ara in Imara — but there were also times when I felt detached from what was going on, and moments when I should have been affected by an event, but really wasn’t. But that’s just me, and it shouldn’t put anyone off reading an excellent book. A good four stars. I highly recommend this series.

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Let’s go camping!

May 2, 2016 Writing musings 1

I’ve never joined in a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) before — it just never fitted it with what I was working on, and I didn’t feel I could manage to write 50,000 words in a month. So each November the good ship NaNoWriMo went sailing past without me. But this year the moons aligned sufficiently for me to give Camp NaNoWriMo a go.

What changed? The first difference was that I actually planned to start a new book anyway last month. I know some people just carry on with whatever project they’re already working on, but I’ve always liked the idea of having a NaNo project – something written from scratch in NaNo month. I finished my last epic fantasy at the end of March, and April was pencilled in for the second of my Regency romance series. It was planned to be 50,000 words, a perfect NaNo length.

The other difference was that I’m now writing fast enough to be confident of getting through that amount of writing in a month. Camp NaNo doesn’t set a fixed writing target, but 50K seemed about right. At the moment, I’m managing to write pretty much every day, and I’m getting 2,000+ words down each day, so a 50K month seemed very doable.

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And… I made it! After starting on the 3rd April, I still managed to get 50,000 words down by the 27th. In fact, I wrote on, and the book is now finished, weighing in at 61K words, and written in just 28 days (an average of 2,200 words per day).

So what’s next? On to the next book, that’s what. Regency 3, here we go…

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One to watch out for: ‘Six Celestial Swords’ by T A Miles

May 1, 2016 Books that caught my eye 0

I haven’t read this one but wow, look at that cover! And for everyone who grumbles that all fantasy is set in a pseudo-medieval European world, this one is very definitely not! You can find it on Amazon.

Here’s the blurb:

Inspired by the rising chaos in Sheng Fan, Xu Liang, mystic and officer of the Imperial Court, leaves his homeland for the barbarian outer lands in search of four magical blades to unite with two sacred weapons already in the possession of the Empire. His plan is to bring all of the blades together and return them to Sheng Fan’s Empress as a symbol of unity that will bolster the people’s faith in the Imperial family and assist against the surge of dark forces.

Complicating his plan is not the finding of the blades, but finding them with bearers; foreigners who have no intention of parting with them and less intention of serving an Empire they’ve scarcely heard of. It becomes Xu Liang’s task to ally himself with these barbarians of the outer realms and unite them with his cause, as well as with one another. Only the complete reunion of all six blades and their fated bearers can stand against chaos, rising like a dragon from slumber beneath the foundation of a nation unprepared.

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One to watch out for: ‘The Fairytale Curse’ by Marina Finlayson

April 27, 2016 Books that caught my eye 0

The Fairytale CurseI don’t normally post about books I haven’t read, but sometimes I just have to tell the world about something that’s coming soon. I’m a huge fan of Marina Finlayson’s writing, I loved The Proving series, which started with Twiceborn, and even her short story, The Family Business, was terrific. So you can believe me when I say I’m really excited about her next book, due out May 8th. And isn’t that the most awesome cover? You can pre-order the book now at Amazon. Here’s the blurb:

Most people only wake up with hangovers after parties. Seventeen-year-old Violet wakes up with frogs falling out of her mouth whenever she speaks, and her twin sister CJ’s dripping diamonds with every word. As if starting at a new high school wasn’t hellish enough, they’ve been hit with a curse straight out of a fairy tale, with not a handsome prince in sight.

Apparently Mum and Dad don’t work for the military after all, but for a secret organisation dedicated to keeping the magical denizens of the world safely locked away. These are not the harmless fairies of children’s tales, but powerful beings with a score to settle for their long years of imprisonment. Now the barriers are failing, and if Vi can’t find answers fast the world will be overrun with vengeful fairies. And then there’ll be no happily ever after for anyone.

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Mystery review: ‘Dead Wake’ by Dawn Lee McKenna

April 25, 2016 Review 0

This is the fifth book in the Forgotten Coast suspense series, and the author is nicely into her stride now. Although there’s a crime-of-the-week element, there’s also a depth of backstory developing in the history of main character Maggie and her family. Fortunately, these aspects are woven elegantly and seamlessly into the story, and never overwhelm it.

The plot is a straightforward one: a long-dead body turns up in a wall during renovations. The local crime lord is implicated, and Maggie and almost-boyfriend Wyatt are the two cops investigating, and finding themselves with differing opinions on the case. Complications ensue, and there are all sorts of murky shenanigans to dig up before the case is resolved.

The characters are a huge attraction of this series, being eccentric without veering into too much silliness, and McKenna’s deft hand with dialogue is always a joy to read. Wyatt is my favourite, but Boudreaux isn’t far behind. And then there’s the glorious atmosphere of the location (the Florida panhandle). I’ve never been there, but I feel I know the place intimately. Reading this book, I can almost smell the salt in the air, and taste the oysters as they slide down. Mmm, oysters. And I don’t even like oysters.

Another excellent chapter in the series, as Maggie and Wyatt inch towards a proper relationship. Five stars. Can’t wait for the next installment – please write faster, Ms McKenna.

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