Shivers up my Spine

Got 10 minutes or so? Click on the link and listen!

You’re a writer. You write something – a short story, say; you think it’s good. Other people read it; you read it out loud at a couple of open mic nights. People like it.

But hearing it read by someone else, someone who is a really really good reader, is a whole new experience.bssh

Bob Daun at Bob’s Short Story Hour reads my short story A Spider’s Spinning so well, it sent shivers up my spine. (Which it is supposed to do – it’s a scary story – but I didn’t expect to have that reaction, given I’d written it.)

Got 10 minutes or so? Click on the link above and listen, while you’re cooking dinner or folding laundry or just sitting back with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Not just to my story, but to the music and other readings on this episode. You won’t be disappointed.

The Extraordinary Temptation, by Patrick McCusker: A Review

Worthy of a couple of lazy summer afternoons…

Any book that starts with an archaeologist in the field is likely to pull me in, and PatrickThe Extraordinary Temptation - Front Cover McCusker’s The Extraordinary Temptation did exactly that. From a medieval monastery site in Ireland to a ranch in Texas to Vatican City, the story for the most part kept me turning pages, entertained.

Ed Weaver is a young archaeologist overseeing a routine construction project when the ditch-digger uncovers a marble cube deep in the Irish bog, but he is without the funds to continue its appropriate excavation. An American donor steps in, promising the funds, setting off a tragic sequence of events for Ed and the theft of the precious contents of the cube. With those contents, a scientific experiment is begun, one with life-and-world-changing potential. Ed is determined to pursue of the chain of events that began with the discovery of cube, even if it takes him over twenty years to learn the truth.

The Extraordinary Temptation is sufficiently well-researched to be plausible, without going into so much detail to be pedantic. The writing is competent and the plot flows smoothly for the most part. I had a few niggles: one clearly evil character’s background or motivation is never satisfactorily explained; another, central to the plot, perhaps needed a better explanation of the myths and tales of sacred duality for readers unfamiliar with the concept. Overall, I found the first two-thirds of the book, leading up to the major crises and climax of the story, to be better written than the actual climactic events, which lacked sufficient impact. A pivotal chapter, which should fully engage the reader’s emotions, fails to do so (at least for me), because the reader is primarily told what is happening and not shown through the characters’ reactions and responses.

Niggles aside, I still found The Extraordinary Temptation to be entertaining and mostly enjoyable reading, worthy of a couple of lazy summer afternoons. My rating is 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

More Good News!

I’ve just learned that my local library has ordered Empire’s Daughter for its collection. That’s quite rewarding, really; it’s really nice to see the library supporting local authors.  So now it’s in three libraries – two public (the other one is my university’s library, as part of its Campus Author program) and one private (the library of the rec centre in the over-55 community in which I live.)

And I’ve finally worked out a thorny problem in the sequel, so it’s coming on a-pace!

 

 

 

The Fall of The Gods (Elynx Saga Book 1) by Nicola Bagalà: A Review

I found parts of the story to be quite fun…

The Fall of The Gods (Elynx Saga Book 1) by Nicola Bagalà requires a major suspension of disbeliefFall of the Gods to enter fully into the world the author has created. Visualizing the action as a movie may help; when I could do that, I found parts of the story to be quite fun, although I could never really take it seriously.

The writing, as far as the adherence to the rules and conventions of grammar and spelling of the English language, is quite good, perhaps more so as English is not the author’s first language and he has translated the work from Italian. There were one or two mis-steps (snickers for sneakers, as one example) but overall the translation is competent and sentence flow is good; there are fewer mistakes than I usually see in any self-published work. It’s in the structure of story-telling that the problems arise. Mix together a sentient artificial intelligence that is the ‘soul’ of a building (and can appear as a solid hologram), a missing genius scientist, a Japanese grad student who is a mathematics and martial arts specialist, some equipment and action straight out of comic books and video games, dream sequences, and aliens crashed in the Sonora desert…well, can you mix all that together and write a coherent storyline? Not in one book, I’m afraid. There are too many plot lines and too many genres combined here for the story to hold together well. As it is the first book in a series, it is possible that once the other(s) are written that the whole series will coalesce into a solid and meaningful story. As it stands now, it’s too many flavours in one pot.

Standing out for me among the characters of the book was the sentient, holographic AI Hex. Perhaps an homage to Hal of 2001: A Space Odyssey, (although he also reminded me of the ‘soul of the Tardis’) as revealed in the Doctor Who episode The Doctor’s Wife), I found the character appealing and amusing, and oddly enough more fully realized than most of the other characters. (Which may, of course, say more about me as a reader than it does about the writer.)

Overall 2.5 stars, which translates to 3 on Goodreads and Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Oracle (Freya Snow Book 4) by L.C. Mawson: A Review

…a fast-paced magical adventure.

The fourth installment in L.C. Mawson’s Freya Snow series continues the story begun in oracleHunt. Freya, now more aware of her magical heritage and powers (although not completely) accepts a work experience placement in London, only to discover that her employer has chosen her for her magical abilities, and her assignment is to track down a missing Oracle. The problem is, does this Oracle want to be found?

Switching between the Shadow Realm and everyday life, the story provides more explanation of Freya’s background and foreshadows one possible future. It also acts as an exploration of some of Freya’s deepest fears and the choices she needs to make. But I also found parts of this book had, for me, a deeper resonance as a metaphor for the difficulties and choices people on the autism spectrum disorder face. I hesitate to write this, because I am allistic (non-autistic), but my husband is autistic (Asperger’s diagnosis), and after thirty-eight years of living with him, I may have a few valid insights. When Freya (or her Shadow Realm counterpart, to be precise) is told this about her possible bond with another magical creature: “The only way the two of you can bond is if you form a real and lasting attachment to the Human world. We always knew you were too closed off to others for that ever to be likely….” it struck me as the truth about relationships many autistic people live with. It can be easier to invest in other sorts of relationships – with computers, games, or, as Freya does, as a bounty-hunter of evil magical creatures – than it is with other humans…especially when the powers you hold – whether it is Freya’s magic or the ability to envision and analyse and discard dozens of answers to a word-game problem in a few milliseconds (don’t play Tribond® with my husband) – separate you from allistics.

Even with that possible interpretation aside, this is a fast-paced magical adventure. It should not be read without having read the previous books, and perhaps the related short stories too: I have read all the books, but not the stories, and there were occasionally times when I found myself confused about past events, which could be due either to my poor memory or to something happening or revealed in a story I haven’t read. But overall the four books have provided a coherent narrative and a developing story. I’m giving this installment four stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Another Dream Come True

I imagined reading my own work at this festival…but it was never going to happen. Except it is.

On the banks of the Eramosa River, in the tiny village of Eden Mills, Ontario, the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival is held every year, as it has been for over twenty-five years.  One of Canada’s premier writer’s festivals, it attracts huge crowds and very well known Canadian writers, reading their works in a variety of picturesque outdoor settings (if the weather cooperates, that is; indoors if it doesn’t. Usually it does.).

I’ve gone, on and off, for the last twenty years.  And, of course, I imagined reading my own work at this festival…but it was never going to happen.  Except it is. This year, I entered work in two categories – prose and poetry – in their Fringe contest, open to ‘not-yet-yet-widely-published’ authors.  I really didn’t think I had a chance…but on the weekend, I got the call, telling me I’d been selected in not one but both categories. I was (nearly) speechless. The official invitation – not only to read, but to attend the author’s party the night before, and the Festival dinner after the readings – is hanging on my bulletin board. I’ll probably frame it.

So I’ve got some reading practice to get in over the next month, to get the flow of the poems right, to figure out what part of the short story I can read in ten minutes, the time allowed.  Good problems to have.

Regular readers know I don’t do inspirational pieces, or moralize…but maybe I will just a bit this time.  As I said, I’ve been going to this festival for over twenty years, and wishing I could read there.  In my earlier entry I talked about how seeing my book on the shelves of my local independent book store was a dream come true, a dream held for over thirty-five years.  I’m fifty-eight, readers, and while I postponed my writing dreams for far too long, caught up in life and work and travel, I never forgot them completely.  Two years ago I got a blunt and visceral reminder that life is short…and to stop dreaming and start working, or I was never going to be able to call myself a writer. Now I can. My dreams may seem modest to some of you, but I’ve never been one for the limelight. This is enough for me.

Whatever it is you’re dreaming of, don’t give up, but you’ve got to do more than dream.

 

 

 

A Dream Come True

Can you imagine how that feels?

For thirty-eight years–since I came here for university in 1978–I have frequented the aisles of an independent bookstore in my city, starting at its original location and moving with it to its purpose-built new home, which included a cafe, and after a few years, a cinema. I’m not exaggerating when I say it has been, and is, a cultural hub here, and is in part responsible for the fact that we have a small but healthy downtown, one filled with cafes and interesting stores, music venues and concerts, art shows, and summer markets. It’s been a labour of love from one family, into the second generation now.

I used to look at all eclectic books…and dream that one day a title of mine would join them. Delivered to them today, soon Empire’s Daughter will grace the Young Adult fiction shelves. I am excited, awed, honoured. Of all the places it can be bought, this is the one that matters to me. This is the one that validates me as a writer. This is the dream come true.  Can you imagine how that feels?

The Silver Portal, by David J. Normoyle: A Review

Magic gone wrong, and five disparate young people from across the land become the weapons-bearers…

Five weapons of power. Magic gone wrong, and instead of five trained warriors bonding to WeaponsofPower-Final-Smallthe weapons, five disparate young people from across the land become the weapons-bearers. Magically linked to the weapons, each must learn its powers and its responsibilities, evade those who want to use them for ill, and find each other across a wide and dangerous land. David J. Normoyle’s book The Silver Portal, the first book in a planned series, introduces us to the five protagonists: street urchin Twig; would-be-adventurer Lukin; noble Suma; Mortlebee, outcast from his religious community, and rebellious Simeon. Each character stands as individuals; each has their own difficulties with their unexpected weapons. Struggles with trust, ethics, personal convictions and the expectations of upbringing are central to each character’s growth and development through the story, but not in a heavy-handed or preachy way. Instead, these dilemmas are an integral part of the story, handled for the most part deftly and naturally.

The writing is competent and fluid, and at the right level of difficulty for the young-adult target audience. Readers are introduced to the history, politics and magic of the world in a gradual manner, often learning along with the characters. Although in a couple of places I found myself wishing for a deeper understanding of the history, enough is given to flesh out the story and the motivations of characters.

I found the plot a bit rushed towards the end, given the fairly slow development of during most of the book. But as part of a series, the pacing may be less uneven when the book is read as an introduction to the world and the characters rather than a stand-alone story. Overall, 4 stars, for a worthy addition to young-adult fantasy.

Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice, by Devon Michael: A Review

…an artfully told, dark, and frightening coming-of-age tale with a twist.

“There was a pool of darkness in the midst of the light, where the wind had come in Hollo The Gatecaster's Apprentice fullaccompanied by a shadow, a shadow with shoulders and a head that stretched into the lighted space on the floor at the bottom of the stairs.”

Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman, of the darkest episodes of Doctor Who, of some of the madness of Tim Burton, Devon Michael’s Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice is an artfully told, dark, and frightening coming-of-age tale with a twist. Hollo, the title character and protagonist, is a puppet made of wood, but one that can think and feel and move autonomously, created by her ‘father’ Fredric. (This might remind you of Pinocchio, but it shouldn’t.)

When Hollo reaches her twelfth birthday, Fredric takes her out into the world, a place far more complex and menacing than her sheltered world of Fredric’s house and the metal-casters workshop next door. Here she first hears the name Bander-Clou, and the words ‘Zygotic Pneuma’. Just what is she? And who is her father, really?

Clock-work soldiers of metal and wood pursue her. Hollo befriends a human girl; statues come to life; elemental forces protect her. Hollo’s world is under siege, and she is caught in a larger story, one older than she but one to which she belongs, and one in which she has an integral part to play. Michaels writes fluidly and effectively, his words invoking horror, happiness, fear and joy, the pacing moving the plot along quickly, but not so quickly the world-building is overlooked. This is a well-realized and developed world, one that the author leads the reader into by hints and clues: the reader learns the world along with Hollo.

Characters are well-developed, especially Hollo, whose innocence at the beginning is lightly but effectively shown, but also the supporting cast, from the malapropistic statue ‘The Countess’ to the marvellously conceived Lightening Man. And they all have a role to play; none of these characters, some of whom would not be out of place in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, are superfluous to the story.

Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice earns a rare five stars from me. I didn’t want to put it down, and yet conversely I rationed myself as to how much I read on any day, so as to savour the book and anticipate where it was going: it was far too good to read in one gulp. One caveat: in the e-book version I read, there were a few production errors, and a few errors that slipped through editing. In several places ‘won’t’ was written as ‘wont’; the common error of ‘broach’ for ‘brooch’ appeared a few times, along with the newly-frequent (in my experience of 55 years of reading) confusion of ‘piqued’ with ‘peaked’. One’s interest is piqued (excited); one’s interest in something can ‘peak’ (reach a height). Both can be correct, but are often, these days, confused. BUT: sometimes, as I wrote here, the overall quality of a book or a movie outweighs a few production errors, and this is one of those few cases. Regardless of the (easily-corrected) errors, Hollo deserves five stars.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.