Monthly Archives:: November 2015

Authors Answer 2: is there an author often criticised that you love to read?

November 30, 2015 AuthorsAnswer 2

Not really. I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey, for instance. I’ve never read Barbara Cartland. I actually have more of the opposite problem: widely lauded books that I absolutely hate. I don’t know why this should be. I’m just contrary, I suppose. Or I look for something odd or quirky in my reading. But it’s happened to me many times over the years: a book receives rave reviews, but when I come to read it, I really don’t enjoy it at all.

Examples? The Black Prism by Brent Weeks. So many people rave about it, and there were elements I loved – the magic system was awesome, for instance, and there were a few moments that just took my breath away. But then there was Karris, the main female character, who was super-strong and the first woman to do something or other, but… what drove her to that was that her betrothed had a fling while off fighting a war and conceived a bastard. I mean, pur-lease, just get over it. Then there was Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott, which introduced a wonderful, vibrant, intelligent female character, and then turned her into nothing but motivation for the male character. Or we can mention Wolf Hall, which was exquisitely written award-winning tedium, for me.

The one that really broke my heart was Daughter of the Empire by Janny Wurts and Raymond E Feist. Janny’s one of those wonderful authors who pops up all over the place on blogs and forums. She’s a generous contributor, always thoughtful and interesting, a lovely person, and I was so excited to be reading one of her books. It had great reviews, everybody loved it, feisty female main character, right up my alley. And I hated it. The problem was that the main character was just as ruthless, conniving and plain evil as the bad guys. That was the whole point of it, because the society was set up that way, but I really can’t root for someone who’s indistinguishable from the villain.

If, at this point, you were to say: but Pauline, that’s just you being awkward and cussed and finding fault for some trivial little detail that doesn’t really affect the story, I can only agree. Yes, I’m awkward and cussed and some really odd little things trip me up. But then I only have limited time to read, and I don’t want to spend even ten seconds of it tutting and fussing and muttering, “Well, really!” at every verse end. So as soon as I start getting cross, however irrational, out it goes.

I do have some guilty pleasure reads, though. Mostly, these are light, genre books that provide a quick, easy read as a palate-cleanser between bouts of epic fantasy. I enjoy Regency romance, for instance, or cozy mysteries of the Agatha Christie kind (not the modern trend of eccentric quilting/baking/cat-loving amateur sleuth, which tend to be more about the quirks of the main character than the mystery).

And sometimes my guilty pleasure is in reading anything at all, given the half-completed books awaiting my attention. I should be writing, dammit! The twin pulls of reading and writing: if only there were more hours in the day.

The original set of answers to this question are here. And Erica Dakin’s answer is here.


Fiction review: ‘The Beginner’s Goodbye’ by Anne Tyler

November 29, 2015 Review 0

Aaron is a man with a withered arm and leg after a childhood illness. His family and friends fuss around him, but he won’t be cosseted, and has become a curmudgeonly adult, grumpy at everyone and unable to interact sociably with the world. He works in the family’s small publishing business, a vanity press which also publishes a series of how-to books, The Beginner’s (whatever). Aaron marries a woman just as socially inept as he is, and when she dies suddenly, he begins to encounter her ghost. The plot, such as it is, involves Aaron coming to terms with Dorothy’s death, and beginning to move on with his life (hence the title).

I found this book a very easy read. There’s quite a bit of humour, and, as something of a curmudgeon myself, I very much enjoyed Aaron’s snappishness and passive resistance. With his house damaged by a fallen tree (which also killed his wife), he simply continues to live in the undamaged part until the rain collapses the roof and forces him out. Even then, he has to be pushed into getting things fixed. To say the story is flimsy would be a gross understatement – there really isn’t any plot to speak of, the whole premise is Aaron’s quirky character – but it still flowed along quite gently to its resolution.

An odd sort of book, very readable and entertaining, but it left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied. Like meringue, it looks and tastes good, but isn’t very substantial. Still, I enjoyed it as a lightweight, very quick read (I read it from cover to cover during a single short-haul flight). Four stars.


Authors Answer 1: If you could design your dream writing studio/office, what would it be like?

November 21, 2015 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

A little over a year ago, blogger Jay Dee Archer, of the I Read Encyclopedias For Fun blog, had an idea: why not gather together an eclectic bunch of authors and ask them to answer an interesting question every week? And so Authors Answer was born. I discovered it rather late in the day, but when Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, and author of the raunchy fantasy trilogy of the same name, decided to revive the questions to answer on her own blog, I thought – why not do the same?

So here goes: the first Authors Answer question is:

Question 1: If you could design your dream writing studio/office, what would it be like?

The study I have is pretty close, actually. It already has space for a nice big desk and plenty of bookcases. It has a big picture window looking out to the Moray Firth, and the mountains in the distance. It just needs a bit or reorganisation, and decluttering. Where does all this stuff come from anyway? It’s astonishing how it accumulates.

If I could start from scratch, then, I’d keep the room, and move everything out. Yes, even my husband, who has half the space at the moment. I want it ALL. One wall would be built-in bookshelves, for all my writing books and favourite reads (for inspiration). A swanky new desk, one of those wrap-around jobs. Somewhere for the functional stuff – printer, hard drives, spare cartridges. That would be the business side of the room.

The other side – the thinking and reading side. A reclining chair and footstool. A side table for the glass of wine and Kindle. Wait – I might not get so much writing done, though.

To be honest, I’m drifting away from the idea of a ‘special’ place to write. It’s a bit like waiting for the muse to strike: it becomes an excuse NOT to get anything done. With my (very modest) early royalties, I bought myself a rinky-dink little computer/tablet hybrid that runs Windows (and therefore Scrivener), so that I could a) take it with me on holiday to save lugging a normal-sized laptop; and b) cart it round the house when I’m doing boring house-stuff, so that I can sit down for ten minutes here and there and do some writing. The objective is to be able to write anywhere at all, and not just in some special snug writing den. And yes, it’s increased my productivity somewhat.

So a dream writing studio? Great idea, and yes, I’d love to have one, but I’d rather be able to write any time, any place.

You can read the original answers here (and they’re far more creative than mine; writing treehouse, anyone?). And Erica’s answer is here.


Mystery review: ‘The Riddle at Gipsy’s Mile’ by Clara Benson

November 16, 2015 Review 0

This is the fourth book in the Angela Marchmont series of Christie-esque murder mysteries, and after the seaside romps of the last outing, this one is back to the classic structure: a country house, a body and an array of possible suspects.

Angela Marchmont herself is a pretty low-key amateur detective, who sometimes seems to uncover information or deduce things more by chance than skill. She’s not a flamboyant Poirot type, but she also doesn’t seem as astute as Miss Marple. What she does have, however, is a great deal of curiosity, and a willingness to go out to start rooting round for evidence herself, although she thinks of it as helping the police.

If she herself is a little bland, she is surrounded by an array of much more colourful characters. I like her American chauffeur, William, and also Freddy, the aristocratic newspaper man. I hope we’ll see more of Freddy, and his outrageous sidekick, Gertie McAloon. This book also features some unusual characters for a book set in the twenties – members of a black jazz band, and the Chinese owners of a nightclub. This was a fun look at a slightly seedy side of twenties life.

The plot unfolds in the expected way, with enough clues and red herrings to satisfy, and there was a great deal of subtlety in the final revelations. I guessed most of it, but it doesn’t really matter with this kind of book. Those who don’t work it out can be amazed by the author’s cleverness, and those who do can be amazed at their own. Another very enjoyable four stars.


Fiction review: ‘Little Face’ by Sophie Hannah

November 13, 2015 Review 0

Click to view on Amazon

This is one of those books that starts well, and then descends into some tortuous farce which requires a drastic level of improbability. Lacking a single likeable character, a realistic plot or convincing writing, I’m really struggling to find anything positive to say about it. I kept reading it to find out how it ended, so there’s that, I suppose.

The premise is intriguing. A mother leaves her two-week-old baby for the first time, taking a modest trip to a health club she’s joining, and having a drink. When she returns home, she insists that the baby isn’t hers, that somehow her own baby has been stolen and a different baby substituted. Her husband, who has been looking after the baby, disagrees. This immediately sets up the central conceit of the book: is Alice (the new mother) right? Is she mistaken, suffering from some delusion? Or is she lying?

Whatever the cause, Alice sets a chain of events in motion that involves the police and here we meet the two central characters of the book. Wait a moment, you might be thinking, isn’t this about Alice? You’d think so (I certainly did, especially since Alice’s story is told by Alice herself, in first person perspective), but no, the main characters are the two cops, Charlie and Simon. Charlie’s a woman, despite the name, and she has the hots for Simon. Simon is a genius, apparently. We know this is true because he says so himself. And Charlie must be pretty smart, too, because she has a first from Cambridge. It’s important that we’re told these things, because if we were judging solely on the basis of their actions, we’d have deduced that these two are actually morons.

As the story unfolds, and the two detectives struggle through the investigation, Simon goes off-message more times than a rogue politician (following his instincts, apparently) and is praised to the skies for it. Charlie, meanwhile, who appears to be following a plausible line of enquiry, is hauled over the coals and told to listen to Simon’s instincts. Because he’s a genius, apparently. Hmm.

The plot degenerates after that into ridiculous levels of implausibility, which involves some quite distressing episodes of what I can only describe as torture. And the big reveals at the end? Meh to one and NO WAY to the other. All I can say is: the author cheated. I finished the thing, so two stars. Usually, when I dislike a book, I suggest the sort of reader it might be better suited for, but in this case I really can’t find any reason to recommend this. Avoid.


‘The Magic Mines of Asharim’: launch report

November 13, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Magic Mines of Asharim 0

It’s now seven weeks since the launch of The Magic Mines of Asharim, the fourth Brightmoon story. Time for a report on how things went.

The two previous launches were very successful, so I followed much the same pattern: put the book on pre-order first, to allow me to book ads, run several days of promotion to boost the book in the rankings, then run some promotion on the other books. I chose to run a discount on The Fire Mages plus a free day for The Plains of Kallanash, towards the end of the 30-day high-visibility cycle for the new book, to try to keep things going.

So how did it work? Like the curate’s egg, it was good in parts.

The good points:

  • The new book had 236 pre-orders (compared with 12, 19 and 34 on the previous books). This was the first long (3 month) pre-order period, and it kept the book visible on the Hot New Releases list the whole time.
  • The new book had 201 sales during the initial launch promo period, with a peak of 78 on the day the ENT ad ran.
  • The new book averaged 4K page reads per day right from the start.
  • There was a small but noticeable bump in sales for the other three books during the promo period.
  • The secondary promotion period produced 136 sales of The Fire Mages, 636 downloads of The Plains of Kallanash and a bump of 19 paid sales afterwards.
  • An email about the new book from Amazon to anyone who’d signed up as a ‘Follower’ resulted in a burst of 80 sales over several days. Who’d have thought I had so many followers?

The bad points:

  • No tail. As soon as a promotion ended, sales dropped away within a day or two. This is very different from the previous two launches, where sales burbled along nicely afterwards, and tapered off gently.
  • No bump in pages read, either (something which was particularly noticeable for the previous book, after its launch promo ended).
  • As a result, the rank of the new book crashed early on, dropping into 5 figures in less than two weeks, and barely managing to stay within the top 30K in its first month. For comparison, The Fire Mages stayed better than 30K for 3 months, and better than 50K for 6 months. The Mages of Bennamore lasted at better than 30K for 2 months. Interestingly, both of them crashed into telephone number rankings at the same time – mid-July, so maybe something changed at that time.
  • The promotions were expensive – $615 for the various ads for three different books over the month. Although I made more than that from sales and pages read over the promotion period and afterwards, it’s hard to say how much I might have made without any promotion at all.

On balance, sales and pages read are better now than they were before the fourth book launched. The week before the launch, there were 8 sales and 22K pages read. Last week there were 33 sales and 30K pages. For just the three older books, there were 20 sales and 22K pages, so sales are more than double.

On the whole, I’m reasonably happy with the way things went. But I don’t have a good explanation for why this particular launch was less successful than the previous two, despite following almost exactly the same plan. Some possibilities (very speculative):

1) More promo sites springing up. That’s bound to dilute the pot just a little.

2) Readers now have ‘full Kindles’, so to speak. Those long tbr piles mean people don’t have to go bargain hunting quite as often. There are still more people switching to ebooks all the time, but the market is more mature than it was.

3) KU. If you’re paying a monthly subscription for your reading, it increases your resistance to paying for a book (I know it does for me). Even 99c is a lot when so many books are effectively free. And again, KU readers just won’t be looking for bargains quite as often.

4) The long pre-order time. This produced a bumper crop of pre-orders, but is bound to have reduced initial sales.

5) Promo saturation. I’ve promoted all my books quite extensively, and although I’m careful not to reuse any site for the same book too quickly, it’s possible that they’ve been over-exposed.

I have no idea which, if any, of these have any credibility. All I know is that for my next launch, in January, I’ll be trying something different.


Fantasy review: ‘The Death of Dulgath’ by Michael J Sullivan

November 8, 2015 Review 0

Yippee! A new Royce and Hadrian story! I was lucky enough to get this before the official release by contributing to the Kickstarter campaign. For fans of the boys, this is the third story in the Riyria Chronicles series, which was written after the Riyria Revelations trilogy, but precedes it in the story’s timeline. It’s possible to read either first, but personally I think it makes more sense to read the trilogy first, and then move on to the prequels.

The plot is straightforward: the new Countess of Dulgath has been the subject of several assassination attempts. Royce and Hadrian are called in as consultants to advise her courtiers on likely methods of future attempts and suggest ways to circumvent them. And you don’t have to be as cynical as Royce to smell a rat, and suspect that they haven’t been summoned to the far end of the continent just for their advice.

The plot unfolds in the usual devious way, with innumerable twists and turns. Some were predictable and some took me by surprise, but either is fine. Like a murder mystery, working it out ahead of time makes the reader feels smugly clever, but failing that, one can admire the author’s cleverness instead.

But the plot isn’t as compelling here as the characters. Sherwood the painter, Scarlett the entertainer at the inn and, most of all, the quiet centre of the story, the Countess herself, are all deeply intriguing, as well as the familar duo of Royce and Hadrian. Their double act is well-known now, but somehow it never gets old – Hadrian the innocent who sees good in everyone, and Royce his darker counterpart, the cynic who sees nothing but selfishness and greed. And who’s to say which of them is wrong?

I loved every minute of this book. The humour, the camaraderie, the unexpected moments of fun or sadness, the how-will-they-get-out-of-this twistiness, and an ending that was both inevitable, yet also had a surprise hidden away. Very neat. Five stars. Mr Sullivan can write as many of these as he wishes.


Fantasy review: ‘Dragon’s Bride’ by H L Burke

November 7, 2015 Review 0

It’s always a sad moment, reaching the end of a series and waving farewell to favourite characters. Will the author produce a final triumphant flourish, or will it fall a bit flat? Will obstacles be swept aside too easily, or will everything make perfect sense? Fortunately, the author got pretty much everything right in this. Ewan and Shannon’s story was tied up in a very satisfactory way, bad guys got their comeuppance, good guys got their reward and even the time travel worked out very neatly.

Let’s start with Ewan and Shannon. I was always very pleased that Ewan embraced his dragon-ness, and Shannon was cool with it, too, even as they both had good reasons for wanting him to be human again. It seemed likely to me that the end of the story would have to be bittersweet, with one or both of them having to make a sacrifice. But the author cleverly produced an ending that satisfied on every level. I can’t say more than that without giving things away, but I loved the final resolution. Perfect.

The sub-plots were less interesting to me. Ryan’s chase round to find his son felt suspiciously like filler, Shannon’s pregnancy issues likewise, and Acacia and Will seemed to be there solely as plot devices. The resolution of Riley, in particular, felt very contrived, and the rebellion never really rose to the occasion. In the end, I’d have traded most of this for more time with Ewan and Martin.

It’s tricky to do time travel plots without getting tied in knots or leaving plot holes big enough for a dragon to fly through. There were some nice twists here that took me by surprise, but it all fell into place very logically. The fae were well-drawn, but I did find their magical powers a bit arm-wavingly convenient at times. How shall we get out of this particularly desperate mess? Oh, look, here’s someone with the power to just poof! make it all go away.

In the end, though, this story was all about Ewan and Shannon, and the resolution of it was note perfect, although the sub-plot niggles keep it to four stars.


Fantasy review: ‘City of Mages’ by Kyra Halland

November 6, 2015 Review 0

This is the fifth, and penultimate, part of the Daughter of the Wildings series of western fantasies, and this is the moment I’ve been looking forward to from the start. Finally, we get to leave the Wildings behind temporarily and visit Granadaia, the home of rogue mage Silas, and the place where mages are the wealthy aristocrats, and those without magic (Plains) are not much more than slaves.

At the end of the fourth book, To The Gap, Silas had been shot and captured by mage hunters, to be taken back to Granadaia. It’s all down to his wife Lainie, Wildings-born and a mage with both Granadaian and Wildings abilities, to ride to the rescue. Although I missed Silas, it was wonderful to watch Lainie rise to the occasion and work out ways to find her man and then rescue him, almost single-handed.

The opening of the book feels a little bit like a rehash of the cattle-drive in To The Gap, although this time there are Granadaian mages alongside the hands, and Lainie has to steer a careful course between the Wildings folk, who are suspicious of all mages, and the Granadaian folk, who are suspicious of untrained mages. However, luck falls her way, seemingly.

Granadaia is fascinatingly different from the Wildings. Some aspects felt a little bit modern, but it felt believably different from the western-style Wildings – instead of the desert, with its capricious flash-floods, Granadaia is a lush, green place, all its land given over to intensive agriculture (which is why they need the Wildings cattle), tall cities and the estates of the mages, of course. I have to say, I found it fascinating to see a society where mages are the ruling class, not just tools to be used and controlled by those in power, but actually wielding all the power themselves. And Silas’s family is very much part of that controlling power. This was very much a ‘meet the relatives’ story, and all the more fun for that reason!

The ending is suitably nail-biting, and if I didn’t find the final magely shootout totally convincing (I know Lainie’s powerful now, but even so…), it was still hugely enjoyable. This wasn’t quite the pleasantly adventurous romp of some of the previous books. Seeing Silas in captivity was gut-wrenching, and the author used the symbolism of Silas’s hat to remind the reader constantly of what was at stake. And OMG, I would never have thought the single word ‘Friend’ would reduce me to tears. Another skillfully written chapter in the series, which neatly resolves one problem while setting the scene for (hopefully) an even bigger showdown in the final book. I can’t recommend this series enough! Five stars.


One day only! 60 science fiction and fantasy books FREE!

November 3, 2015 General, Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 0

UPDATE: The promotion is officially over, but many of these books are still free, so it’s worth checking out. Just be sure that the book you want is still free before downloading.

Yes, folks, for today only (Tuesday 3rd November) you can download up to 60 scifi and fantasy novels completely FREE, all either the first in a series or standalone.

One of my favourite authors, Australian Glenda Larke, has made The Aware free for the occasion, book 1 of the Isles of Glory. I loved her Stormlords Trilogy and the standalone Havenstar, so I’m looking forward to reading this one, which was shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards. Here’s the blurb:
“A halfbreed’s search for a mysterious slave woman leads her to a lawless land of dark dunmagic and an evil that poses a threat to all the Isles of Glory.”

There are lots of other great reads available, from bestsellers to undiscovered gems (including one of mine: The Plains of Kallanash). The promotion has been organised by scifi and fantasy author Patty Jansen, and you can find all the free books listed on her website. You can also sign up to be notified of future promos of this type, either free or $0.99.