Blaze – a review

Having finished two novels in quick succession last week, there will be two book reviews this week as well as my Insecure Writers Support Group monthly post tomorrow.

First though a review of another mystery novel that gave me some more insights into writing an engrossing and exciting read.

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Blaze (A Stone Mountain Mystery #2)

by Kristina Stanley 

Instead of exchanging vows, Kalin Thompson spends her wedding day running from a forest fire near Stone Mountain Resort, and the pregnant friend trapped with her has just gone into labor. Meanwhile, Kalin’s fiancé, Ben Timlin, hangs from the rafters of a burning building, fighting for his life. Can the situation get any hotter?

When the fire is declared as arson, finding the firebug responsible becomes Kalin’s personal mission. In the course of her investigation as Director of Security, she discovers that some people will go to extreme measures to keep her from exposing their secrets.

Having enjoyed Kristina Stanley’s winter mystery Descent, Book 1 of the Stone Mountain series, I was looking forward to No 2 Blaze, and I wasn’t disappointed.

From the moment the forest fire ruins Kalin and Ben’s wedding plans, I was swept up in the crises and life-threatening situations. There are moments of calm, time for reflection, but there are always questions driving the reader along. So I didn’t tarry too long.. We know that nothing runs smoothly for a busy Director of Security, even when the RCMP are doing their job. Kalin has to be involved.

The plot was fast-paced and well-structured, with enough neat red herrings to keep me guessing almost to the end – just like in Descent. Although this works as a standalone, it’s best to read Descent first, as other reviewers have said. Then you become familiar with some of the characters, as well as some past events. Nothing crucial but that adds colour.

The clever interaction between the well-painted characters, many new, gives the novel sub-plots that enrich the read, and take Blaze beyond a mystery. Yet these emotional subplots interplay with the crises that weave through the lives at Stone Mountain Resort. And the dog characters are well integrated – not surprising as the author owns one.

Once again, Kristina Stanley has captured the atmosphere of her setting, whether it’s being ravaged by fire or in the vistas from the slopes that attract other outdoor pursuits suited to the season. Here skiing has given way to mountain biking.

The winter beckons though and I can’t wait for Avalanche, Book 3 of the Stone Mountain Mystery series.

 

 

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The Road – a review

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 A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. The Road boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

As I prepare myself for the next re-write of Gossamer Flames, my post-apocalyptic series of interconnected tales, I continue looking for similar fiction to read, not just to see how the best fiction works, but for the details about how the world is affected and how people react.

When I read and reviewed the anthology “Prep for Doom”, I said, “As to my own post-apocalyptic saga, I feel there are lessons to learn and I will attempt to embrace them.”

I knew that the next read would be “far bleaker and darker… like grey ash”, and it was, but here is my full review of ‘The Road’ by  Cormac McCarthy.

“Bleak, tragic, moving and poetic,” was my immediate reaction when I finished “The Road”, a novel that has divided readers.

My initial reaction to the early pages was driven by my inner editor as a writer – why such sparse punctuation? Why no quote marks? Why no speech tags?

“What is it?
Nothing. I had a bad dream.
What did you dream about?
Nothing.
Are you okay?
No.
He put his arms around him and held him. It’s okay, he said.
I was crying. But you didnt wake up.
I’m sorry. I was just so tired.
I meant in the dream.”
― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

Then my mind focused on the words themselves. The way that Cormac McCarthy used them to weave the tale. Not like in commercial fiction, but more like a storyteller around a campfire. For me, the phrases evoked images and feelings. Many of them stood out for me, so here is an example.

“The nights were blinding cold and casket black and the long reach of the morning had a terrible silence to it.”
― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

The novel is bleak but then this is a dying world where little survives. Passages might seem repetitive but then the ash shrouded landscape is endless. Endless like the road itself to the man and the boy, to the reader travelling with them.

“He got up and walked out to the road. The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then the distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so without description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the dark. The earth itself contracting with the cold. It did not come again. What time of year? What age the child? He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salitter drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline.
― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

It’s not just these two characters “carrying the fire” that keeps being mentioned strategically. I trudged along with them, mourning the lost world as the man remember the past, the things lost and destroyed.

“Years later he’d stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He’d not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation.”
― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

While the devastated world is bleak and monotonous in some respects, McCarthy captures the man’s memories of the past in wonderful passages that evoke the lost wonder of life and nature. These contrast well with the dying world.

Yet the novel has been heavily criticised, not just for the grammar but also the empty plot. Amazingly the reviewers go to great lengths to described what they didn’t like. Some even ape the author’s style in their reviews, but in that they fail. The criticisms vary from the lack of ‘few concrete details’ about the disaster and the world, to “McCarthy didn’t do it purposefully, he just writes in an ostentatiously empty style which is safe and convenient to praise.” To me that misses the crux of the novel, the tragedy of this dying world.

I know that fans of the apocalyptic genre and science fiction expected something different, and some were even confused about the cause of the apocalypse. However, I understood that the world had been devastated by nuclear war and the constant snow was a sign of a nuclear winter. The details were sparse but enough to help me realise what I was reading about. A reader has to invest some effort, I feel.

Knowing about this negative feeling, I tried to dislike the novel but failed. The title said so much. This was a road-story in a bleak world, where surviving from day to day requires a dream. There is plenty of conflict, not least with death and fear. I kept reading, hoping that there was a light at the end, just as the man and the boy have the sea as one of their concrete goals.

For me there was hope and in part that was ‘the fire’ carried by these forlorn travellers. Someone has to ensure that love for humanity is handed on when the world is ready. Not an easy read but a worthwhile one.

So have you read “The Road? What did you think? A masterpiece or garbage?

Would you give it a try?

The Liebster Award

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I hinted yesterday that today’s post would be a response to some good news. Sarah Zama from The Old Shelter nominated me for the Liebster Award. Her A to Z blog on the Jazz Age Jazz was entertaining and informative. And her Reflections post is a must-read for the advice on preparing for A to Z – there’s a lot there that I’ll be attempting to take on-board

I always get both nervous and excited when I’m nominated for such an award, especially from a blogger that I respect. Excited about the recognition – nervous as I need to deal with some crucial questions.

This is actually the second time that I have been nominated for the Liebster – first was way back in October 23, 2013, so my answers may have changed since then.

Rules of the Liebster Award

If you have been nominated for The Liebster Award and you chose to accept it, write a blog post about the Liebster Award in which you:

  • Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog in your post.
  • Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”.
  • Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
  • Provide 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. [Some claim that this is a flexible rule, so I’m ignoring it. In fact, I don’t qualify. 😉 ]
  • Create a new list of questions for the nominees to answer
  • List these rules in your post (copy and paste from here). Once you have written and published it, you then have to:
  • Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster Award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

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11 questions Sarah asked me

  1. When your started your blog, did you know what you were doing?

It was trial and error, but it always will be as the learning process never stops – no exceptions. I started when I began following blog-maestro Robert Lee Brewer  and his introduction to creating a Writer’s Platform. His ‘challenge’ took me through the early stages of blogging and social media.

  1. Many writers I know tell me they don’t blog because they prefer to write their own stories. Why do you?

Blogging for me is not the same as creating my fictional stories. The posts are a chance to address other issues from writing quandaries to health issues. However, a few posts do stray into fictional areas, such as my interviews with characters in my novels, and this year’s A to Z mystery.

  1. Do you plan your posts?

I start scribbling ideas for posts days ahead of when I want to schedule them. I have a black notebook with sketched out ideas, some of which have yet to be developed – like “The First Terrorists”. As the scheduled day approaches, I select the most appropriate idea. Right now I have a review of “The Road” imminent.

  1. Do you stick to a posting schedule?

I have a flexible posting schedule of a weekly post on Tuesday or Wednesday. There’s no particular theme as my readers went for Pick N’Mix. At the moment, that’s enough of a commitment. Looking way ahead, I might have to schedule “The First Terrorists” for October 10th (Columbus Day), especially as this desktop will be in transit to the USA. That will mean some clever scheduling for almost two months.

honoring-terrorists

 

  1. When you signed up for the A to Z Challenge the first time, did you know what you were doing?

I’d seen a few posts in 2013 so had a rough idea what I was getting into when I did the Challenge in 2014. I chose posts themed around what I was researching for a WIP, but admit that it was a learning process. However, I wrote some posts in advance so wasn’t a complete wreck by the end of April 2014.

  1. What were you thinking when you signed up the second time?

That I needed to write more posts in advance to give myself time to visit others. However, I stuck to a theme related to research for a WIP, although that book is now on a back-burner. This year I resisted the temptation to go with a research theme, as I said in my Reflection above. On further reflection, my research approach might be okay for 2017. Counterfactual history or maybe Snowdon Snippets.

  1. I can hardly resist a blogging challenge. Do you participate in many?

I resist the temptation to do more than A to Z, especially if they are over many days. I have done a few one-off challenges, like posting specific sentences from a manuscript, or details on my current main character.

  1. What is the blogging challenge which was the most fun for you?

In general, trying to select a weekly post that will be of interest to my readers and followers is a challenge. I’m still working on that one, hoping that I will suss what sparks their attention. And what dictates that? The number of comments? Likes? Visits? Probably, the overall reaction. Being ignored is the pits though. In terms of particular posts and fun, I would say that writing the mystery part of “A Brilliant Conspiracy” my A to Z Challenge this year. Challenging because of my rules, but fun as those same rules played a part in the plot and the climax. But I keep worrying that it was too obscure. Was it?

  1. Did you ever produce a vlog? If not, would you consider doing it?

Never have, and won’t consider doing it as I stammer and swallow words because of my disability. That’s also the reason why my days of public speaking ended last century and I won’t do any readings.

  1. Have you ever read articles about marketing to learn promoting your blog?

Read a few but tend to feel that most suggest things that I’m unlikely to do. Perhaps tweaks. Most of the great strides were in the early years. Is that where my blog fails?

  1. Do you think writing a blog is the same as writing a book?

Very different from writing fiction, as different products. However, not in terms of commitment. Both require persistence and perseverance. I find them complimentary – like wine and cheese.

 

11 random things about myself

  1. Although I’m British, in terms of my maroon passport, I’m actually part Chilean. My maternal grandmother was from Chile and met my grandfather when he was working for a nitrate mining company out there. My mother was born in Santiago.
  2. My office has a view towards Snowdon, which I will miss when we move to the US. However, Idaho has plenty of spectacular mountains and wild scenery.
  3. I went to school in Canada, for a few terms, so got a taste for the outdoor lifestyle over there – especially the skiing. I even went white-water rafting.
  4. My first time on a ski slope I was ready to chuck it all in. I was scared of the nursery slopes. My instructor sent me up the next level run, telling me to try that one. I struggled down, but never looked back. Taking slopes head-on became a regular thrill. I even raced a bit…but not down the nursery slope.
  5. My first success in writing was winning three days with the Royal Navy, when aged about ten I wrote an essay on A Day In The Life of a Helicopter Pilot.
  6. That RN adventure was the last time that I sailed around the Isle of Wight in a large ship – the guided missile destroyer HMS Devonshire – Displacement 5,440 tonnes (6,850 tonnes full load). On September 20th I will sail around the Isle of Wight again but on RMS Queen Mary 2, bound for New York – Displacement 75,000 tonnes.

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    Queen Mary 2 in New York Harbor

  7. I still have one of the books that I read and adored as a child, George Brooksbank’s “Old Mr Fox”. With a cover by celebrated artist Archibald Thorburn, this was my father’s copy, which he was given in 1932 for Christmas, the same year the book was published.
  8. My favourite author is J.R.R Tolkien, but I first discovered him when I read the essay based on his lecture “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics“. Reading “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” came a few months later.
  9. I read the whole of “Lord of the Rings” over one very long weekend when I was at Eton College in 1969. I still have the three hardback copies with their wonderful fold-out maps.
  10. History has always fascinated me, so it was one of my specialist subjects at school and at college. I even enjoy Virtual or Alternative Histories, so one day I might work out how the Vikings colonised Kanata.
  11. I’ve had Multiple Sclerosis since 2000 but writing keeps my brain on track, although it can be exhausting. And I now call it the MaelStrom MonSter.

 

With the A to Z Challenge in mind, I’d first like to nominate a few fellow A to Z-ers for this award.

Tasha @ Tasha’s Thinkings Wrote 2.5 blogs during A to Z, including her entertaining spooky one on Fictional Phantoms.

Miriam @ An’ de walls came tumblin’ down  Her A to Z was clever stories in which each sentence began with the chosen letter of the day.

Jen @ Lexical Creations This children’s writer tackled a double theme for A to Z. Each post featured an Alphabet book and an instalment of her own fun alphabetical story with letters as characters.

Cheryl @ Plucking Of My Heartstrings Her 2016 theme was non-profit organizations that deserve support, so please visit as many as you can.

Maryann @ if i only had a time machine Her informative and detailed A to Z posts were A 1970s Time Capsule from A to Z. Facts and video clips galore.

Archie @ Travel With Archie – and finally a great travelogue with A to Z posts on US cities. Wonderfully informative and great photos.

Finally, I’m choosing two other bloggers that are deserving of the Liebster Award.

Chrys @ Write with Fey Catching sparks for stories and passing on torches of inspiration.

Mark @ Time Present and Time Past        Author/Lecturer who knows how to tell his facts in an informative and engrossing way.

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And these are the questions for them, and of course most are about blogging:

  • Do you have goals for your blog? What are they?
  • Do you have a blogging schedule?
  • I can hardly resist a blogging challenge. Do you participate in many?
  • What is your favourite way to interact with other bloggers?
  • What is your own personal favourite of your own blog posts, and why?
  • What kind of blogs do you like to read the most?
  • Where would you most like to visit?
  • If you could have any kind of pet, what would it be?
  • If you could choose to live in another time, when would you choose?
  • Would you change your chosen career path?
  • Do you have a favourite book that you re-read?

 

Again, thanks so much to Sarah for giving me the possibility to share the love. And thanks to all those that have inspired me to nominate them.

A to Z Reflection

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

 

Eleven days after the great event seems a reasonable period of time for honest reflection on the Blogging From A to Z April (2016) Challenge. It’s also a good moment to respond to a friend nominating me for The Liebster Award, as that poses some A to Z and blogging questions. However, that will be tomorrow’s post so stayed tuned to this channel.

So first my thoughts about this year’s April Challenge.

After my first two years, 2014 and 2015, I wanted to do briefer posts that would be quicker to read. As I said in my Blogging from A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal 2016, I wanted something different, tighter and more cryptic. In that I succeeded, but in my desire to produce something ‘challenging’, I chose to write an episodic mystery that created more work. Each episode consisted of one word for each of the letters of the alphabet, commencing with the letter of the day. Of course, I imposed other rules and then as a bonus, had a ‘horse of the day’, and a ‘daily poison’ – again from A to Z.

I did succeed in writing all but a few posts in March, so succeeded in reaching Z and the end of April. However, I struggled to read a lot of other blogs each day – probably about a dozen or so – in addition to the other posts that I follow.

I loved the variety of A to Z blogs out there, and I intend to explore some more in the months ahead. I’m incredibly impressed at the depth of talent in the blogosphere.

My IWSG blog post last Wednesday expressed my concern at making comments, even during quieter periods. So I’m in awe of those that multi-task successfully throughout the Challenge, and don’t believe in clones.

My Liebster comments tomorrow will highlight those bloggers who impressed me, and I admit that I found many individual posts invaluable as well as informative. Maybe I will learn from them in my approach for the 2017 Challenge.

I won’t be giving up blogging quite yet, as doing the A to Z Challenge holds the MaelStrom MonSter at bay by keeping my brain active and distracted.

As for the A to Z Team, they did an excellent job – as always.  So a special thank you to those that worked hard to make it possible, from the co-hosts to their helpers/assistants. Here they all are.

Adventure to London

I’m running behind by a few days, but this post by my wife explains what has been happening. So read on.

THE DUSKWEALD

We left home (Harlech) on Tuesday the 3rd of May at approximately 9:30 am and headed to Porthmadog to drop the fur babies off at the kennels.  After dropping them off we headed for London via the A5 which took us through places like Bala, Shrewsbury, Nuneaton, Towcester, Milton Keynes and into Kings Langley.  We arrived at the hotel at about 4:30 pm and after getting checked in called Jo and Steve to let them know we had arrived. The room was okay but there were several things that did not make it handicap accessible like we were told.  The bed was so low to the floor that when you sat on the side your knees were in your chest.  The bathroom did have several hand rails on the walls but Roland could not reach the sink, which was low but the taps were to far away for him to…

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Why comment?

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

During April I read more blog posts than usual, mainly as part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. However, I didn’t comment on as many of them as I should have done, judging by some amazing people like the Ninja Captain. How does he do it?

I know that it is common courtesy to acknowledge the effort someone has made writing a post. So I tried to tweet most of them. But that’s another insecurity: how to thanks all my own re-tweeters like others do.

Anyway back to the comments. I made a few, even trying to stick to the letter of the day – expressing enthusiastic enchantment OR waxing weighty worded warnings.

Quality not quantity?

And when a post already has 96 comments, I hesitate to add another one aping others – unless I have a unique perspective that is worth sharing. But that’s unlikely.

Does my reluctance mean anything? Never that I disliked the post, even when some were long articles although erudite ones.

But I suspect making few comments reduces the traffic to my site. The figures support that fact – 96:3.

What do you think? Or is it a matter of “No Comment”?

 

NOTE: I won’t comment on any posts for a few days as I’m travelling = a better excuse than the gerbil chewed my thoughts. How about the monster maelstrom sucks?

Maybe sometimes, monster shark munches severely, meaning stressed mind spasms. Maelstrom swamps my serenity.

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with my fellow writers.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group –https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

The awesome co-hosts for the May 4 posting of the IWSG are Stephen Tremp, Fundy Blue, MJ Fifield, Loni Townsend, Bish Denham, Susan Gourley, and Stephanie Faris!