Yearly Archives:: 2015

Georgette Heyer Regency Romance #1: ‘Regency Buck’

December 7, 2015 Georgette Heyer, Regency romances, Review 2

This is the first stage in my attempt to read (or reread) all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in the correct order. This was first published in 1935, and it shows. The writing style is high-flown Jane Austen, the backdrops are authentically drawn from the era, complete with famous characters, and the plot is squeezed in amongst all that historical accuracy. The characters have to play second fiddle, and the book suffers for it.

Judith Taverner and her brother Perry are orphans, seemingly abandoned by the guardian appointed by their father, the Earl of Worth. Undaunted, they set off for London to track down the Earl and establish themselves. And on the way there, they bump into (literally!) a most unpleasant character, haughty and supercilious, who treats them like dirt. And guess who their guardian turns out to be?

This was rather good fun, if you can overcome a natural distaste for a heroine who stubbornly does everything she’s told not to do, and a hero who arrogantly manipulates his wards without ever bothering to explain his reasoning. But the side characters were entertaining, the dialogue sparkled with wit and the mystery element of the plot was nicely done, even if there was never the slightest doubt in my mind about what was going on, and why, and by whom.

For fans of historical detail, there’s a veritable deluge of it here. If you want an exact description of the Prince Regent’s outlandish Brighton Pavilion, or a list of the coaching inns between London and Brighton, or the various shops and lending libraries for the well-heeled, or the types of snuff in use, look no further. And several famous people, including the Prince Regent himself and various of his brothers, play small but significant roles in the story. To my mind, so much regurgitated research got between me and the story, and by the end I was skipping the seemingly endless descriptions of furnishings and decoration.

The author has obviously been inspired by Jane Austen, specifically Pride and Prejudice, and I noticed many turns of phrase lifted almost wholesale from there, not to mention certain elements of the plot (the hasty journey to London to track down a missing character, for instance, very redolent of Mr Bennet haring off after Lydia, although in this case with no justification whatsoever). It made the prose a little heavy at times, but still readable.

On the whole, I quite enjoyed the story, and the characters didn’t bother me as much as they did some readers (there are some very disparaging reviews). However, it failed in two respects. The first is the time-honoured one: there would have been no plot at all if the main characters had just talked to each other. The argument for secrecy was never well-made, and the worst thing the hero did to the heroine (to my mind) was to allow her to think her brother was dead. That was cruel and unforgivable, and far worse than the snatched kiss or his consistent rudeness (because – aristocracy; arrogance goes with the territory).

The second failure was the romance. I don’t ask much of a book like this, because the journey is more important than the destination, but there should at least be a conviction in the reader that these two are meant for each other. And honestly, I never felt that here. They argued constantly, and not just sniping but quite forceful battles, and even their romantic rapprochement degenerated into an argument in double-quick time. I’m always happy to see two intelligent, spirited, self-confident souls get together, but this pair veered too far into the arrogant, self-willed and plain bloody-minded. I can’t imagine how they will manage as a married couple.

So despite this being an enjoyable read, well-written and set very much in the era, it still merits only three stars.

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A big 99c promotion (5/6 Dec only) and a writing update

December 5, 2015 Publishing/marketing, Ramblings, Regency romances, The Fire Mages' Daughter 2

Winter is upon us!

I love living in Scotland, but there are a few disadvantages. The first snowfall of the winter hit us about a week ago. There’s been snow on the mountains already, but this was the first time it was all the way down to sea level. It wasn’t a big fall here, but enough to give a good covering, and the cold weather meant it stayed for a few days. Happily, it’s all gone now, but I’m sure there’ll be more to come.

I love the snow, but only when I can sit inside a warm house and watch it through the window. I hate to be out driving in it! Lots of Scots escape to the sun in the winter, sometimes for three months, and I can see why: the long nights, gloomy mornings and days when it just never seems to get properly light can get you down. But that’s what whisky was invented for (and vitamin D tablets!). And you can’t have those wonderful endless summer evenings without also getting the winter gloom.

And for those of you lapping up the sun in the southern hemisphere – enjoy!

Lots of cheap fantasy and sci-fi!

Once again, author Patty Jansen is hosting a group 99c promotion at her website.

PattysDecPromo

There are 84 authors taking part, and it’s a great opportunity to try out some new authors at very low cost. These prices are only for 5th and 6th December, so don’t delay. Quite a few of the books are in Kindle Unlimited, too, for those of you who have a subscription.

What do I recommend? I’ve enjoyed Patty’s own book, The Ambassador, a great all-action sci-fi. Angela Holder’s White Blood is an unusual stand-alone fantasy, featuring that unsung heroine of many great families, the wet-nurse. And Kyra Halland’s speculative romance Sarya’s Song is one that I really loved: great fantasy with a great romance, too.

And if you haven’t yet picked up a copy of my own most recent book, The Magic Mines of Asharim, it’s in the promo, too. Just 99c, or equivalent. Click here to see all the deals.

News of The Fire Mages’ Daughter and The Dragon’s Egg

This is on schedule for release on January 15th. The final edits are now complete, and the book is out with my wonderful proofreader, Lin, and several ARC readers. This is a sequel to The Fire Mages, but it can be read without any knowledge of the previous book. You can still pre-order for 99c. And there might well be a third book to complete the story – The Second God. However, that’s unlikely to be out before the end of 2016.

The Dragon’s Egg is progressing, although more slowly than I would like. This book has threads connecting it to several earlier books, so I have to stop now and again to make sure I’ve got all the references correct. And there are multiple points of view, which makes it very different from anything I’ve written before. The Plains of Kallanash had two point of view characters, but since then, every book has had just one main character. Jumping from one to another isn’t as easy as it sounds! But if the writing is challenging, the story is working out well.

Regency romance – oh my!

Work is underway on my latest project – a Regency romance series of 6 books. I say ‘work’, but it’s huge fun, so it doesn’t feel like work at all! It’s very different from my fantasy writing, though – not just in writing style (rather formal, sort-of Jane Austen), but also in the need for historical accuracy. In fantasy, I can just make stuff up. Meals, clothing, local religions and other customs – it can be whatever I want. Not so with the Regency. I was about to write a scene where the characters have afternoon tea when I thought to check – and nope, that didn’t start until 1840, and the Regency era is (very roughly) 1800-1820. Progress is being made, but I don’t expect to have anything ready for release until late in 2016.

 

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Regency romance review: ‘Two Corinthians’ by Carola Dunn

December 4, 2015 Review 0

I love a good Regency romance, but I find it difficult to find any that aren’t dreadfully silly, and historically inaccurate to boot. I don’t expect every last detail to be perfect, but some things are terribly easy to check, like correct forms of address for the aristocracy, and it’s a great irritant when the author hasn’t even bothered. However, I have no such complaints here. There is a great deal of detail of clothing, and the language is riddled with contemporary cant, but it all felt very authentic. And while there is an outbreak of silliness at the end, it was forgivable.

The two Corinthians (men about town) of the title are George Winterbourne and Bertram Pomeroy. Bertram having lost the love of his life to George’s brother, is urged by his ailing father to marry soon. The suggestion is the elder Miss Sutton, Claire, eccentric and spinsterish at twenty eight, but suitable. George, meanwhile, becomes entangled with Claire and her lively younger sister, Lizzie, by chance, and enters into a pact with Lizzie: he will pretend to woo her to stop her dragonish mother from berating her.

So George is pretending to court Lizzie and Bertram is reluctantly courting Claire, and… well, we can see where this is going, can’t we? But even if the resolution is predictable, that’s not a fault in a book like this. It’s more about the journey than the destination, and here the journey is entertaining and unfolds gently and rather sweetly, with good behaviour on all sides.

There’s not much action, so those looking for highwaymen or pirates or spies should move swiftly on. Nor are there any outbreaks of uncontrollable lust. If you like Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, then this book is just the ticket. A pleasant, gentle read. Four stars.

A footnote: I didn’t realise it, but this book is actually a sequel to Miss Hartwell’s Dilemma. It made things a little confusing early on as the author skated rapidly over the backstory, but I soon got the hang of it. However, it’s probably a more enjoyable read if approached in the correct order.

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Mystery review: ‘The Incident at Fives Castle’ by Clara Benson

December 1, 2015 Review 0

The fifth twenties murder mystery in the Angela Marchmont series, this time set in a Scottish castle at Hogmanay, where a murder takes place while the occupants are cut off by snow. And wouldn’t you know it, but Angela is the one to discover the body (again).

This one was great fun. Spies, a missing scientist, hidden documents, secret meetings and lots of rushing about in the snow. And a whole ocean full of red herrings. I didn’t guess this one at all, but it didn’t matter, it was great fun watching the story unfold, Angela beetle about being helpful and Freddy get his nose (or his ear!) into everything. Since the American Ambassador was one of those present, we also learned a little bit more about Angela’s past, which, far from being illuminating, actually makes her even more mysterious. I’d love to know more about the not-spoken-of Mr Marchmont. I’d begun to think he was just a convenient fiction, but seemingly not.

Living in Scotland myself gives me the opportunity to chuckle at the author’s mistakes. It’s obvious Clara Benson never spent a Hogmanay in the Highlands. Even supposing Angela’s Bentley managed to make the border by mid-afternoon (a feat which would be quite impressive even today, with reliable cars and motorways, unless she lived a long way north already), its arrival at the castle in the Cairngorms before it was fully dark would be nothing short of miraculous. The sun sets at 3pm at that time of year, and the castle would be several hours’ drive north of the border. But it really doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t impact the plot at all.

The charm of these books is in the period setting, and the lives of the wealthy upper classes, very reminiscent of vintage Agatha Christie. There must be an army of servants, both indoor and outdoor, but they rarely get a mention, apart from Angela’s chauffeur and lady’s maid, and one or two references to the ‘men’ deployed to remove a fallen tree and clear snow. And it was wonderful how, in the midst of murder, political disaster and general mayhem, everyone still felt it necessary to dress for dinner and sit around in the drawing room making polite conversation about the weather. It reminded me of (I think) Murder on the Orient Express where one character is looking for some of the others and is told: it’s four o’clock, naturally the English passengers are all in the restaurant car having tea.

A light but very enjoyable read. A good four stars.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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