Monthly Archives:: May 2015

‘The Fire Mages’ FREE today only!

May 24, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 0

Yes, you can get The Fire Mages completely free, from all Amazons worldwide. This offer is only for today, Sunday 24th June.

Click here to buy from your local Amazon.

You can still get The Mages of Bennamore for just $0.99 (or equivalent) but only for a couple more days. After that, it will be at its normal price of $3.99 (or equivalent).

Readers in the US and UK will also be able to pick up The Plains of Kallanash for just $0.99 or £0.99 from 1st – 7th June.

So many special offers! And if you already have the books – thank you, but please tell your friends about these deals.

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Mystery Review: ‘The House At Sea’s End’ by Elly Griffiths

May 22, 2015 Review 0

This is the third in the series of murder mysteries featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway, a somewhat grumpy, overweight, wine-guzzling, cat-loving lady, and one of my favourite characters. Once again, there’s a mysterious set of bones unearthed which our trusty heroine has to help to identify with her scientific skill.

This time the bones are war-time era, buried during the dark days when an invasion by Hitler was believed to be imminent. But the coast is being eroded by time and tide, and the bones are exposed to twenty first century science. Now, to be honest, the science part of the investigation is perfunctory, at best. There are some police investigations ongoing, but I never found that aspect of the story compelling, or even particularly interesting.

No, it’s the characters that make this book come alive. Ruth, the frumpy almost-middle-aged new mum. Nelson the grumpy cop. Michelle, his perfect wife. Cathbad the new age druid. And, of course, the Big Secret – that Nelson is the father of Ruth’s baby. When the story focused on the soapy aspects of the relationships (and this time some of the side characters got their own soapy subplots, too), I was engrossed and read on merrily. When things got back to the war-time bodies or, even more depressing, Ruth’s friend with a tragic history in Serbia, I found myself losing interest.

The endings of these books are terribly weak. There’s always some kind of grave peril for Ruth, involving someone trying to kill her and (usually) a lot of water. It really isn’t necessary to do this, especially when it requires an otherwise intelligent character to make stupid decisions to end up at that point. So my eyes were rolling wildly.

Still, the books are well written, with a wonderfully evocative setting on the Norfolk marshes and coast, there’s masses of laugh-out-loud British humour, and if you don’t mind a certain amount of angsting about the difficulties of single parenthood, the developing personal stories are fun to follow along. Especially as the author has set up a nice opening for the next book. This just about scrapes four stars.

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Regency romance review: ‘The Secret History of the Pink Carnation’ by Lauren Willig

May 18, 2015 Review 0

This was recommended by a friend when I lamented the difficulty of finding decent Regency romances these days that have some modicum of connection to the actual era, and don’t play fast and loose with historical details. And it’s true enough that the historical details do feel very realistic. The author has obviously done her research.

Unfortunately, while the settings are very credible, the characters simply aren’t. Now, this is partly my problem: I just find it very hard to read about Regency ladies clambering in and out of windows at night, and having almost-sexy-times with rakish blokes in masks and otherwise behaving recklessly, without comparing them with Jane Austen’s much more sedate heroines. Or even Georgette Heyer’s, whose characters were always spirited, but never, ever silly. So your mileage may vary, but for me I had trouble believing any of this.

The premise: in an era of Englishmen secretly spying and otherwise interfering with the plans of dastardly French leader Bonaparte, a young lady sets off for France determined to help out. And in the present day, a university researcher follows the story through the young lady’s journals. Now, I’ll be honest, the framing device of the present day researcher felt too contrived for words. It was also very jarring when the story was flowing along nicely, to be forced to stop and try to remember the modern-day characters and the paper-thin plot developments. So I could have done without that part altogether.

The Regency elements were much better, but again, credibility was stretched. Is it possible to get to know a man, and yet not recognise him when he turns up in an unexpected place – and wearing a mask! Surely when he talks, the voice would be recognisable? But no, apparently not, for heroine Amy is completely fooled. But then Amy must be one of the silliest heroines ever. I’m all in favour of spirited heroines who don’t meekly submit to the whims of fate, men and their mothers, but going out to meet a total stranger, alone, in the middle of the night, is just out and out stupid. Time after time she does things that, in real life, would have got her killed or raped or (at best) would destroy her reputation, but somehow, miraculously, she survives unscathed (a man rescues her from her own stupidity, usually).

Now, I kind of get the tone the author was going for – with humour to remove any element of real risk. And it’s true that there are some very funny, laugh out loud moments. Even so, as Amy’s capers became ever more ludicrous, my suspension of disbelief was tested to the limits. And that scene in the boat on the Seine? That was where it broke altogether.

If you can set aside all memory of more realistic Regency fiction, and just go with the flow, you might well enjoy this. I never found any of it believable, however, so for me it only rates as two stars.

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And it’s launched!

May 16, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Mages of Bennamore 3

The-Mages-of-Bennamore-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalYes, The Mages of Bennamore is on its way, down the slipway and into the vast ocean that is Amazon. The analogy isn’t so far wrong, since this book, the third of the Brightmoon Annals, is set on the southern coast and ships play a big part in the story.

Things got off to a great start, with 34 pre-orders, almost double the number for The Fire Mages in January. Thank you to everyone who pre-ordered! I hope the book arrived safely in your Kindle or device, and that you enjoy the read.

If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, it’s still at a special introductory price of just $0.99 (or equivalent) for the next week or so. For those who have Kindle Unlimited or Prime, you can download and read absolutely FREE. The paperback will be available soon, priced at $12.99 (or equivalent), and if you buy the paperback, you can download the ebook completely free (I don’t believe anyone should pay twice for the same product).

To buy or download: click here and you’ll be taken to your local Amazon.

When you’ve finished reading, please consider posting a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog, to help other readers decide if they would enjoy the book.

Here’s what people are saying about The Mages of Bennamore:

“Fast paced and psychologically tantalizing. Intriguing twists and turns throughout the book causing the characters to continually to reveal more of their intriguing and often colorful histories.” [Wanda, 5* Goodreads review]

“I really, really liked the premise of this book.” [Kayla Bashe, 4* Goodreads review]

“The first person narrative is well done and pulls you slowly further into the mind of the main character as she admits more and more of her own reasons to herself. The action was perfectly paced and gripping. The side characters are well written, and the romance threads itself throughout the book as the backbone of the story. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an intelligent main character and complex plot. Highly recommended!” [J.R. 5* Goodreads review]

I celebrated the release with cake and champagne and turkey dinosaurs (not pictured):

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It seems like no time since I was announcing the release of The Plains of Kallanash back in September 2014, and now it has two younger siblings joining it at Amazon. And the fourth book, The Magic Mines of Asharim, will, all being well, hit the virtual shelves later this year. Thank you for your support and good wishes.

Happy reading!

 

 

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Fantasy Romance Review: ‘The Coup’ by Erica Dakin

May 14, 2015 Review 0

I positively inhaled this book – I just couldn’t read it fast enough. This is the third book in the Theft and Sorcery series. I really enjoyed the first two, but this one is the best of the lot, for me. Although each book can be read independently of the others, there are some characters from the earlier books that turn up here. Big, big warning for those who might find it problematic: there’s a heap of graphic sex in the book, bordering on erotica, and there’s also some robust language.

One of the enjoyable aspects of this series is that there’s a time-skip from one book to the next. This opens up the possibilities for interesting social changes. In the first book, half-elves were slaves, the lowest rung on the social ladder (after full-blooded elves, the aristocracy, and humans, effectively the middle classes). In the second book, the enlightened new queen had freed all the slaves, and half-elves were coming to terms with full citizenship. Another generation on, and there seems to be no social distinction at all. It’s rather nice to see this progression. However, not everything is rosy: there are still those who would divide society down the middle.

The main character this time is Miko, also known as Badger, a half-elf in training at an academy for sorcerers. He’s an unusually powerful sorcerer, and creative with his magic, so not only can he do more than most, but he invents new and ingenious spells too. Oh, and he can do all this by the power of his mind, without using the normal incantation and gesture to trigger the magic. I liked Miko very much, despite his grumpiness (I found it quite endearing) and his unusual background is very intriguing.

The love interest is Aya, also a sorcerer, although less powerful than Miko. This seems like a straightforward boy-meets-girl and away-we-go romance, but the obstacles to happiness are quite major ones, and it’s very understandable that things don’t run smoothly. Miko is naturally pretty upset about… well, many things (not wanting to give anything away). But even though it seems the romance is faltering, the two are still thrown together and the attraction is undeniable. In previous books in the series, the sex has possibly been a more significant element than the plot, but here the pacing works perfectly: the sexual tension builds beautifully and resolves itself at just the right moment. Perfectly judged.

The plot (the coup of the title) is gradually revealed, and then comes the attempt to thwart it without disrupting the delicate balance of court politics. Again, this is all perfectly believable, and I loved the way Miko’s innovation comes to the fore, creating new magical functions as needed. Everything builds to a dramatic climax, but (of course) things don’t go quite according to plan, and this part of the book was even more of a page-turner than the rest. Great stuff.

This was a terrific read, and a great finale to the series, with walk-on roles for all the favourite characters from the previous two books. Five stars for the sheer enjoyment of the read, and the inventive ways Miko finds to exploit his powers.

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Coming soon! More magic, adventure and a little romance

May 10, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Mages of Bennamore 3

It’s almost time! The Mages of Bennamore, the third book set in the Brightmoon world, will be published on Friday, May 15th. The price will be just $0.99 for a short time; the normal price will be $3.99.

You can pre-order at your local Amazon right now and have the book delivered direct to your Kindle or device of choice at midnight. Kindle Unlimited subscribers will be able to download and read for free from Friday onwards.

As always, a review after you’ve read the book would be very much appreciated, to help other readers decide whether they would like it. Reviews can be posted to Amazon, Goodreads or your own blog.

The story starts just a few months after the events of The Fire Mages, but it’s a stand-alone book, with a completely different location and a new set of characters; you don’t need to have read either The Plains of Kallanash or The Fire Mages first. However, if you have read one or both of the other books, you can have fun spotting some familiar references in the story!

I’m really excited about this tale, because the two main characters are quite unusual. Fen is a forty-year-old woman with an interesting past and some strange habits. And yes, that glowing ball she’s holding on the cover is a bit special. What’s that all about? Mal is the relentlessly flirting mage guard who fixes his sights on her. And there’s a strange tower, and a disappearing mage, and plenty of trouble afoot for our heroes, with magic at the heart of things. I hope you like it!

You can read the first four chapters here.

 A fragile peace. A clash of magic. A woman with secrets.

The war between Bennamore and the coastal region was over almost before it began. But the uniquely powerful mage who forged the alliance is dead, and the coastal folk are restless. Now the victors are bringing their spellcraft to the Port Holdings, unaware that the locals have their own less conspicuous magical ability.

Fen’s new job with the mages of Bennamore seems pleasant enough, but their powers threaten to expose her shady little habits. And then she can’t shake off the attentions of the flirtatious and uneducated guard, Mal. Nothing, it seems, will deter him.

The mysterious disappearance of a mage uncovers a dragon’s nest of deceit. Mal needs Fen’s help to figure it out, but she has divided loyalties and her past drags everyone into the middle of a violent conspiracy. Yet she may be the only one who can stand between the two countries, and stop them plunging back into a war which, this time, would destroy all of them.

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Fantasy Review: ‘Dragon’s Debt’ by H L Burke

May 6, 2015 Review 1

This is the second in the Dragon and the Scholar quartet, and follows on with the story of Ewan (the dragon) and Shannon (the scholar). The first book ended with the two of them flying off into the sunset, but it was a long way from being a happy ending, what with him being a dragon and all.

So naturally, after a pleasant interlude together, things start to go downhill. There’s trouble afoot in the Kingdom of Westshire, which borders our heroes’ own kingdom of Regone. Strange beasties have been snatching young girls from their homes, and Ryan, the heir to the Westshire throne, is set on putting an end to it. Into the midst of this comes Ewan’s brother Edmond, now King of Regone, bent on wooing Ryan’s sister Brighid. Her father, King Riley, isn’t at all happy about it. When things come to a duel, Ewan and Shannon are summoned to help sort things out.

You’ll have guessed from this that the setting is very much the standard pseudo-medieval affair, where men run kingdoms, save maidens from monsters and wave swords around, while women wear pretty frocks and strive to be beautiful. Shannon, fortunately, is the exception to the rule, a trouser-wearing, intelligent, oh-I’ll-do-it-myself competent female, and hooray for that. It’s a pity that Brighid is much more the conventional princess-figure, behaving emotionally and being kidnapped so that the men (and Shannon) can rescue her.

So this is no trope-busting feminist treatise, but it’s a very enjoyable, light read for those moments when you just can’t face another heavyweight grimdark monster of a book. The plot isn’t complex but there’s enough action to keep things bubbling along nicely. And the ending sees a rather neat solution to the political problem by Edmond, which I liked very much.

There’s also a darker, more tragic tone beneath the froth. Ewan and Shannon love each other, but they have the slight problem that Ewan is a dragon. A human under a dragon enchantment, sure, but still a dragon. Ewan’s dilemma is that he wants Shannon to stay with him, but he feels it’s morally wrong to ask, since he can’t offer her any of the sort of things a woman might expect from a lover. He won’t even tell her how he feels, because it might sway her. This is a very real tragedy for both of them, and Ewan’s handling of the situation is truly heroic. A large part of the attraction in this series, for me, is finding out how this situation gets resolved. If indeed it does. My money at the moment is on a happy ending, but it would be brave indeed to take a different route.

An entertaining, light read. Recommended for those in the mood for a traditional-style fantasy, with plenty of humour. Bonus points for the strong ending, and not shying away from the dragon/human problem. Four stars.

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Western Fantasy Review: ‘The Rancher’s Daughter’ by Kyra Halland

May 3, 2015 Review 0

The Daughter of the Wildings series is possibly my favourite reading at the moment. This is book 3, and the author’s getting into her stride now. The characters are charming and heroic, the villains are exceedingly villainous (or just plain stupid), the setting is wonderfully detailed with a bit more revealed with every book, and the stories are just out and out good, rollicking fun.

The two main characters, Silas and Lainie, are (unusually for fantasy, but not for this author) a married couple. Theirs isn’t a straightforward relationship, which allows for a bit of angsting along the way, but they still get along fine. I’m usually critical of books where the characters fall headlong into stereotypical gender roles, but here it works really well. Silas has a gentlemanly desire to protect Lainie from… well, everything, basically. She still blushes at any mention of sex.

Yet they still have total respect for each other’s capabilities. So when they come to do business with a rich rancher, Lainie stands back and lets the more experienced Silas deal with it. And when they encounter the strange blue-skinned A’ayimat, he leaves it to Lainie, who has an affinity with their kind of magic. This kind of character detail is lovely.

The plot this time centres on the disappearance of the daughter of a the aforementioned rich rancher, kidnapped by the A’ayimat. Even though Silas and Lainie are manipulated into taking on the search, and even though they’re quite sure that the rancher isn’t telling them some important details, they need the money too much to refuse. And off we go into another fast-paced adventure, and it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the rancher was hiding a lot. But then, he’s not the only one. Knowing who to trust and who’s telling the truth is a big part of the plot.

I’ve been looking forward to meeting the A’ayimat up close, and here we get right into the midst of them and their magic, which isn’t quite like either Silas’s or Lainie’s. The subtle variation in magics is a big attraction for me in this world. Once again matters are resolved with both guns and magic, with heroism and luck, and a big dose of love to keep the evil at bay. And if perhaps our heroes manage to survive an improbable amount of beating up, gunshot wounds and arrows (sometimes all at once!), it would be churlish to complain (this is fantasy, after all).

Another charming and entertaining adventure in this series of good old-fashioned western fantasy tales. It’s so much fun I can’t give it less than five stars.

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Fantasy Review: ‘All The Paths of Shadow’ by Frank Tuttle

May 1, 2015 Review 0

This is one of those books that ticks all the right boxes for me. Spunky female lead – check. Detailed world building – check. Interesting magic system – check. Humour – check. A bit of a romance – check. Talking plant – check. Wait, what? A talking plant? OK, whatever. And yet, somehow… it doesn’t quite work.

The premise is a good one. The kingdom’s first female royal sorcerer (called a thaumaturge here) is given an unusual challenge by the king: ensure that his speech to the coming Accords (a sort of international summit meeting) is not shadowed by the massive bulk of the centuries-old tower looming nearby. It’s a bit of a tricky one: can Meralda either move the tower (no) or move the sun (no again) or bend light to shift the shadow (possibly…). She sets to work with her calculations and research to come up with a way in the impossibly short time she has.

And here’s the first problem. Why is there only one royal thaumaturge? Why can’t the king call upon the combined skills of all his kingdom’s thaumaturges? Because it wouldn’t be nearly so interesting a story if he could, that’s why. So already I’m seeing contrivance at work.

The world-building is hugely detailed. As Meralda walks through the capital in the opening chapter, every street and shop and type of transportation and occupation is name-checked in an endless stream of trivia that a) I’ll never, ever remember, and b) probably won’t even need. This smacks of an author trying too hard, or possibly just showing off. Look at me! I know all the shops at every intersection! It’s all a little too over-the-top for my taste, but it would win every world-building contest hands down.

And another niggle. The out-of-the-blue foreigners who seem so mysterious and alien when they first arrive, turn out to be very familiar indeed. In fact, they place this otherwise interesting setting right here on mother earth, and frankly that’s far less appealing to me than a fully realised secondary world. Bah humbug.

The magic system is another aspect that ought to appeal to me, but in reality falls a bit flat. I loved the idea of working out the principles of a spell mathematically first, then setting it up in situ (a process known as ‘latching’) and only releasing it later, as needed. There’s so much potential to that, and I really enjoyed how it was used. Unfortunately, when things get tricky towards the end, all pretence at a rational magic system is thrown away, and a variety of magical objects are dredged up out of nowhere to provide a solution. At times, it seemed that Meralda had only to walk down her laboratory to find another device which was just what was needed. Gah. Can we say deus ex machina?

So what did work well? The talking plant, believe it or not. Mug was both cute and smart at the same time, providing most of the humour and a lot of the common sense. For instance, the love interest is handsome and charming, and Meralda trusts him implicitly from the start. Mug’s the one who voiced the note of caution that the oh-so-intelligent Meralda was too weak at the knees swooning over her new love to think of. And the tower was completely awesome, right from the start, when it’s just a creepy tower, and later, as all its little secrets are gradually revealed. I do love a magical building.

This sounds like a fairly critical evaluation, but actually this is pretty good book. My issues are nitpicky, rather than substantive, and the plot rolls along merrily to its dramatic climax. It’s not mind-blowingly awesome stuff, the author tries too hard and crams in too many melodramatic and humorous touches, and there are way too many moments that are perilously close to deus ex machina. But it’s funny and readable and I can recommend it to anyone less picky than me (which is almost everyone). Three stars, and a merit award for the talking plant (I adore sentient greenery – there should be far more of it in fantasy).

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