Yearly Archives:: 2017

Fantasy romance review: ‘Source-Breaker’ by Kyra Halland

April 20, 2017 Review 0

Kyra Halland’s one of very few authors who writes proper fantasy romance, that is, stories that have a fully-formed romance at their heart, but are also well-constructed fantasies. It’s a hard trick to pull off (I know because I’ve tried and failed) but she does it superbly.

This book drew me in from the very first paragraph. I loved the idea of a man whose job it is to fix magical sources (the well-springs of magical power, each one different). Kaniev travels around the country to wherever his lodestone tells him a source needs attention, fixes it with a bit of arm-wavy business that only he is trained to do, and then goes on his way to the next job. That makes it sound very prosaic, like an old-fashioned tinker who turns up out of the blue, fixes your bucket and sharpens your knives and then vanishes until the next time. Except that Kaniev is hotter than any tinker. I did mention that it’s a romance, didn’t I?

Kaniev’s suffered some mysterious failures recently, but his next job is at Source Chaitrasse, where Fransisa is the Priestess in charge, nursing resentments of her own, and not at all pleased to have her work disrupted by this hot bloke who thinks rather too well of himself. She ought to send him on his way, but maybe the source does need a bit of fixing. And then he’s so hot… I think I may have mentioned that’s it’s a romance. But when a ceremony goes wrong and Fransisa is torn away from her everyday world into the grasp of a dangerous rogue sorcerer, she and Kaniev must overcome their mutual dislike and past failures to defeat the sorcerer before there’s a catastrophe.

Now the fantasy element of the story isn’t the most complicated one ever in the history of fantasy, but it works fine and the depth of world-building more than makes up for it. The author is brilliant at creating worlds which appear simple on the surface but are endlessly complex and fascinating underneath. The idea of different sources of magic, each subtly different, each affecting the people using them in different ways, is beautiful but also powerful, and the concept of the time source blew me away. I didn’t see that coming, but that’s the sign of great world-building, when a basic idea can be applied in a multitude of ingenious ways.

The romance element was charming and delightful and tear-inducing and heart-warming and utterly wonderful. I loved, loved, loved that these two are not in the first flush of youth (the author says they’re facing mid-life crises!), and Fransisa isn’t your average skinny beauty, either – she’s a nicely rounded lady, which Kaniev likes a lot. Kaniev? Well, he’s the conventional hot hero, with the muscular arms which he shows off with a sleeveless leather vest and silver jewelry. He might be just a little vain. But definitely hot. Their final coming together made me go all mushy inside, and if the epilogue was just a tad sentimental, these two earned their right to it.

Would I recommend this? Only if you like delicious romances wrapped up in terrific fantasy. And hot blokes. Five stars.

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Urban fantasy review: ‘Nothing But The Truth’ by Angela Holder

April 20, 2017 Review 0

I’ve had some mixed experiences with Angela Holder’s writing in the past. White Blood was a wonderful 5* read for me, a quirky and original story based around an unusual heroine, a wet-nurse. But the first part of her Tevenar series, The Fuller’s Apprentice, was a less resonant read. I enjoyed the intriguing magic system, the detailed world-building and the philosophical points raised. I was less enamoured of the glacially slow pace, the info-dumping and the lack of plot development, so much so that I never managed to get round to reading the rest of the series. The writing was uniformly excellent, however, so when I saw this new book out with its intriguing premise, I had to give it a go.

Nothing But The Truth depends upon the conceit that Allison, the main character, has a physical reaction to lies. If someone lies in her vicinity, she’ll either throw up or get violent pains in her head. The stronger the lie, and the nearer she is to it, the worse the reaction. Now this is a neat idea with all sorts of possibilities, and the book opens with Allison struggling to manage in a typical high school, full of the sort of small and large lies that teenagers tell every day. She leaves school to start homeschooling (a sensible idea), and meets a group of somewhat eccentric other homeschoolers, among them Asperger’s boy Charlie and cautious, sensible Lindsey. This part of the book is excellent, and when a former school friend is murdered, Allison and her new friends set out to put her lie detection ability to good use.

So far so good. However, as the friends progress with their investigations and become increasingly involved with shady goings on, the story starts to go off the rails a little. There were several times when, despite Lindsey’s hand-wringing over how dangerous a thing was, they did it anyway, got into deep trouble and had to be rescued by the cavalry (grown-ups, mostly – the main characters are all mid-teens). And the resolution of the murder and the teacher’s behaviour were both too simple for my taste – I’d have liked something a bit deeper, or just more subtle. And after rather a nicely-done showdown with the Big Bad, the ending, almost an epilogue, was positively glib, and (frankly) a bit dull.

Despite all that, I enjoyed the read, and raced through it to find out if it turned out the way I thought it would (it did). There was a moralistic tone to the story, which, while being appropriate for the situation and the age of the presumed audience, felt a touch heavy-handed to me, but the writing was up to the author’s usual standard, and I enjoyed the mixture of characters. I would have liked more detail about some of the minor characters – Allison’s mother for instance, who was constantly off meeting clients. I wondered what sort of work she did, and a part of me hoped it would be something magic-related, but we never find out. And Charlie’s parents don’t show up at all until the end. But these are very minor quibbles. The intriguing premise, great characters and terrific readability make it a four star read for me.

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Review: ‘Water For Elephants’ by Sara Gruen

April 5, 2017 Review 0

The framing story here is that of an old man looking back on his life with a third-rate circus in the thirties. Is it a romance? An action story? Making a point about circuses? Not a clue. It was an easy read, and I was never tempted to abandon it, but frankly I have no idea what to make of it. Parts of it were wonderful, parts were ho-hum and a few parts were downright stupid, a real curate’s egg of a book.

Let’s start with the good bits, which was basically everything involving elderly Jacob (who’s 90 or possibly 93) in the care home. The descriptions of the other residents brought them to vivid life, Jacob himself was utterly believable as a curmudgeonly old man falling out with another the same, and the daily frustrations of age and an institutionalised existence were filled with pathos.

The ho-hum bits were most of the middle. Circus life ought to be filled with colour and movement and life, but somehow it all faded to nondescript lifelessness. The early parts, where Jacob leaves his comfortable middle-class existence behind and joins the circus, working his way swiftly from hired low-paid muscle to circus vet, had the air of an author showing off her research. We get a quick guided tour around some of the seedier elements – there’s a graphic description of what goes on in the stripper’s tent, for instance, which has no particular relevance to the plot.

Once we get past the exposition phase and our hero falls for the wife of the animal director, the action hots up and veers off into stupid. I lost track of the number of times the hero was beaten up, only to be back to normal almost instantly. In one scene, he’s beaten so badly that he ends up concussed, but he then does the whole running-along-the-top-of-the-moving-train thing, with a knife in his mouth. And then back again. The whole romance is basically unbelievable. What did he see in her? I suppose she was hot in pink sequins, but she didn’t seem to have much between the ears (but to be fair, nor did he).

There were some more complex characters, like Walter the dwarf, who would have made a more interesting hero, frankly. But the star of the book was Rosie the elephant, who had more character than most of the humans. Poor Rosie suffers a lot, in fact a number of the animals suffer, for one reason or another, but the humans don’t do much better. At one end of the circus train, the owner and his acolytes live in luxury, with the best food and plenty of booze (the book is set in the prohibition era), and are able to go to expensive nightclubs. At the other end, the grunts who do all the work don’t get paid at all, and get tossed off the (moving) train whenever they outlive their usefulness.

And then we come to the end. Both the thirties-era ending and the present-day ending were beyond silly, but everything got tied up with a neat little bow, I suppose. The unevenness of the two eras and the stupid endings keep it to no more than three stars.

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One to watch out for: ‘Rivers of Hell’ by Marina Finlayson

April 1, 2017 Books that caught my eye 0

Anyone who’s been following this blog for any length of time knows how much I love Marina Finlayson’s writing. I don’t normally get along with urban fantasy, but something about Finlayson’s style is a perfect fit for my reading needs. Maybe it’s that the characters feel so real I’d love to have a drink with them, maybe it’s that the stories are convoluted yet easy to follow, or maybe it’s the quirky Aussie humour, but I’ve loved everything she’s written to date.

It’s no great surprise, then, that I’m excited to see that the third part of Shadows of the Immortals is out. I can’t wait to find out what Lexi and Syl and friends get up to this time round.

And look at that cover – awesome or what?

You can find it on Amazon.com.

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FREE today! Great urban fantasy from Jen Rasmussen

March 28, 2017 Archive, General, News 0

I just spotted that there’s some great urban fantasy free today. Grim Haven was a 4* read for me (high praise when I’m not even an urban fantasy fan!) – I found it great fun, with some truly atmospheric moments (the word ‘Hitchcockian’ was used). Highly recommended, so hie thee to Amazon and pick up a copy free, gratis and for nothing. I’ve no idea how long it will be free, so don’t hang about.

Here’s the blurb:

Years ago, Verity Thane turned her back on a hometown teeming with dangers and consumed by dark magic, swearing to herself she would never return. Now, she has no place else to go.

When she’s cornered into using her magic to save mysterious Cooper Blackwood from a chilling supernatural attack, Verity is unwittingly drawn into a war with a clan of lethal monsters. Hunted and burned out of her home, she’s forced to flee to the last place she’s ever felt safe.

But when Cooper’s deadly secrets collide with Verity’s dark past, new enemies meet old in an unholy alliance that could destroy everything each of them holds dear. Verity will have to protect the home she never thought she wanted… or lose it to a gruesome fate she never could have imagined.

You can read my review here.

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More new covers, and a competition for 50+ books

March 25, 2017 General, Publishing/marketing 2

More Brightmoon covers

Here are some more stunning new covers from Deranged Doctor Design. The changeover has begun with the first three books, so just for a while you’ll see both the old and new covers around – it’s not easy updating paperback and ebook covers all at the same time, when there are seven books in the series so far!

And a great competition

I’ve joined up with 50 other fantasy authors to offer you the chance to win an amazing collection of books AND a Kindle Fire! The Fire Mages is in there, plus books from some fantastic authors, like Michael J Sullivan, Intisar Khanani, D K Holmberg, Michael Ploof and lots more. One lucky person will win a Kindle Fire and a copy of every book shown, and a second winner will get all the books. Click the image to enter the competition.

Not read The Magic Mines of Asharim yet?

Then make a note in your diary to pick up a copy on Monday 27th March, when it will be FREE for the first time ever. It’s perhaps my least-read book, but I love the characters of Allandra, Xando and Zak, and their sweeping adventure across the northern end of the Plains of Kallanash, which takes them from the inhospitable Sky Mountains (home of those magic mines), through the decaying canals of the Two Rivers Basin, to the faded glory of Mesanthia and finally to the warrior culture of Hurk Hranda. Enjoy!

And finally…

News of the next book in the Brightmoon world: Findo Gask’s Apprentice is finished! It weighs in at 126K words, the second shortest of my books so far, just a bit longer than The Dragon’s Egg, and about twice as long as an average mainstream novel. Now it rests for a while, and then the process of editing and polishing ready for publication begins. I hope to publish it in June or July, but if it takes longer, so be it.

However, I’ll be posting excerpts over the next few weeks to whet your appetite. The main character is new, but there are some very familiar faces putting in an appearance, both from The Magic Mines of Asharim and from The Plains of Kallanash, so for anyone who was wondering how Mia, Hurst and Dethin were getting on, you will soon find out!

Next month I start work on the ninth book in the Brightmoon world, The Dragon Caller, featuring Garrett and his son Ruell from The Dragon’s Egg. And lots of dragons! With luck, that might be out this year. So many stories to tell, so little time. Happy reading!

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Review: ‘The Cleaner of Chartres’ by Salley Vickers

March 15, 2017 Review 2

I never know what my book group is going to inflict on me next. This one I at least managed to read, although it fell short of being enjoyable. I prefer a simple story, well told, with believable characters, something that I find absorbing, even if it may not be compelling. This was deficient in all areas.

The story revolves around Agnes, who appeared one day at the cathedral at Chartres and stayed for twenty years, finding a place in the town and gaining friends along the way. How she came to be there, and how her life begins to unravel, are slowly unfolded. Agnes herself is something of an enigma. She takes on odd cleaning jobs to make ends meet, both at the cathedral and for various other people, and at first she seems to have no personality, being very compliant and passive. She appears to be mentally deficient (she can’t read, for instance), yet she makes some astute observations and notices when people need help. She’s very quiet, yet has numerous friends. She failed to learn to read as a child, yet now she learns very quickly. She was badly treated at her convent orphanage, had a baby at fifteen and was sectioned afterwards, yet is quite open and trusting in her dealings with people. I found her not very believable, and couldn’t get interested in her.

Of the other characters, most are caricatures, without any depth to them at all, and no, telling us their whole history the first time we meet them doesn’t give them depth or make them credible, it just makes the book stodgy and (frankly) boring. Once the book gets past the midpoint and the dumping of information wholesale is no longer deemed necessary, the story picks up a little speed. Even so, the unfolding plot is too predictable to be interesting and the ending was, frankly, quite unbelievable.

I know I’m a picky reader, and there’s some excellent writing in here, amid the stodge and the cartoon-like behaviour of some of the characters, and the French setting may appeal to some readers (although apart from the odd word tossed in, like patisserie, very little French atmosphere seeped through). I’m sure there’s meant to be some profound parallel between the main character’s life and the labyrinth on the cathedral floor, although I’m not sure what it is. I daresay the meaning whizzed over my head. Recommended for anyone who enjoys literary fiction and is less fussed than me about a heavy writing style, but for me it was only three stars.

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New Brightmoon covers! And a box set too…

March 6, 2017 Brightmoon world, News 2

Big changes are afoot in the Brightmoon world – my lovely covers by Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics will soon be replaced. Why change? Because Glendon gave me exactly what I asked him for – a series of striking fantasy romance covers. And it’s taken me a long time to realise that I don’t write fantasy romance! Most of my books do have some kind of romance in them, but that doesn’t make them romance books.

So, I’ve decided to start again with a clean slate and a new designer, Deranged Doctor Designs, and this time I’ve told them to make the covers epic fantasy through and through. I’m thrilled to show you what they’ve come up with. I’ll be introducing these one by one from 15th March, so if you’re a fan of the old covers and you want to complete your collection, now’s the time to do it. Here are the first three of the new designs (more to come soon):

Kallanash360FireMages360Bennamore360

And a new box set!

Most of my books are standalones, but three of them are connected, so I’ve gathered them into one convenient package for the enjoyment of those who prefer their epic fantasy in trilogies. The Fire Mages Collection contains:

  • The Fire Mages
  • The Fire Mages’ Daughter
  • The Second God

You can buy the whole set for $9.99 (or equivalent), or as always it’s available for free with your subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Prime. Click the image to link to your local Amazon to buy or borrow.

BoxSet360

And I have a favour to ask…

There are lots of reviews for the individual books but almost none for the box set. If you’ve read some or all of the books, I’d love it if you could write an honest review for the box set on Amazon so that other readers will know whether it’s their cup of tea or not. Thank you so much!

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Urban fantasy review: ‘Murdered Gods’ by Marina Finlayson

March 4, 2017 Review 0

Marina Finlayson is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her stories just seem to resonate with me, and I’ve enjoyed every single thing she’s written. Which makes it more than a little nerve-wracking whenever I pick up a new book – will this be the one that falls flat on its face? Well, no is the answer, not by a long shot.

In the previous book, Lexi got into a whole heap of trouble over a stolen ring with magical powers, although with a hot fireshaper around, there were some compensations, too. But the ring’s doing some odd things, and Lexi’s own ability is unusual too. Controlling animals seems pretty tame when you’re surrounded by shifters in a world ruled by powerful shapers, but where did that ability come from? Lexi decides to go back home to the human territories to ask the one person who knows – her mum.

Accompanied only by her faithful pal Syl, a cat shifter who refuses to take human form, Lexi heads off on what should be a simple journey. But that’s not going to happen, right? With some really, really angry people on her tail and a lot of mysterious goings on back home, the story sucked me in big time, and I just couldn’t put it down. I’m not going to say any more because – spoilers! But you can be sure that there’s a ton of action, lots of neat twists and a glorious punch-the-air moment when the cavalry arrives (in a most unlikely shape!).

Be warned, however, that some of the big questions raised in this book remain unresolved. There’s no cliffhanger, as such, but there are definitely unfinished aspects left for the next book. I can’t wait! Five stars.

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Authors answer #20: What element of writing (setting, characterization, plot development, etc.) do you find most challenging?

February 12, 2017 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

For me, it’s definitely the plot. I’m a pantser, which means I just start writing without much thought in my head of where the story might take me. I usually start with a character, or a group of characters, in a particular situation, and I just turn them loose, so to speak, and they make their own decisions and steer the story. The setting grows around them.

But, while this kind of ‘discovery’ writing, where the author discovers the story at the time without any forethought or planning, can lead to problems. You can find your characters have got themselves into a deep hole and really can’t get out again without miraculous help, and that’s a big no-no. There’s even an expression for it: deus ex machina, (the god from the machine). This doesn’t happen to me very often, since my characters tend to be sensible chaps and chapesses, who foresee the upcoming deep hole and take avoiding action.

Or the story can ramble interminably without ever getting anywhere, and this one I’m definitely guilty of. In epic fantasy, a certain amount of rambling is tolerated, because readers love an expansive sort of world that feels b-i-g, so I think I’ve mostly got away with it. But still, it can make the story feel slow.

What I find really difficult is structuring the story so that it has a properly dramatic arc, with tension building and building to a crescendo at just the right moment. This sort of thing is much easier for those who sit down and plan out the whole outline before writing a word. Sometimes the crescendo happens anyway at just the right time, and that’s awesome. And sometimes it gets missed out altogether (in one of my books, the main character is unconscious for a crucial battle), which is less awesome. And sometimes the ending just fizzles out. I hope I’m more aware of the problems now, but it’s still an issue that trips me up occasionally.

So why don’t I outline? I find it too restrictive. I’ve never got the hang of beat sheets and hitting pinch points and all that good stuff that, if you use them properly, builds the structure effortlessly. It just feels like a straight-jacket. Once or twice I’ve used Libby Hawkes’ method in Take Off Your Pants! to get me started and after the first few chapters everything begins to flow, and sometimes I have waypoints I know I want to hit, but I’ve never plotted an entire book from start to finish. For that reason alone, I will never, ever tackle a time travel story. Just too many complexities to keep in my head! I enjoy reading them, when I can follow what’s going on, but writing one would be my worst nightmare.

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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