A fellow Goodreads author interviewed me recently and the interview with this recreated scribbler is now up – on a Balinese site. Read about my writing confessions HERE at http://www.sethlestath.com/roland-clarke/
After my review of Messandrierre, yesterday, I am pleased to be promoting Angela Wren’s second book in the Jacques Forêt series, Merle.
September 4-15, 2017
Release date: July 5, 2017
at Crooked Cat Publishing
Jacques Forêt, a former gendarme turned investigator, delves into the murky world of commercial sabotage – a place where people lie and misrepresent, and where information is traded and used as a threat.
The Vaux organisation is losing contracts and money, and Jacques is asked to undertake an internal investigation. As he works through the complexity of all the evidence, he finds more than he bargained for, and his own life is threatened.
When a body of a woman is found, it appears to be suicide. But as the investigation takes another turn, Jacques suspects there is more to it.
Who is behind it all…and why? Will Jacques find the answer before another person ends up dead?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’m an actor and director at a small theatre
a few miles from where I live in Yorkshire in the UK.
I did work as a project and business change manager
– very pressured and very demanding –
but I managed to escape and now I write books.
I’ve always loved stories and story telling
so it seemed a natural progression, to me, to try my hand at writing.
My first published story was in an anthology,
which was put together by the magazine ‘Ireland’s Own’ and published in 2011.
I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.
My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.
I also write comic flash-fiction
and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.
My full-length stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.
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July 5th saw the launch of Angela Wren’s Merle, the second novel in the Jacques Forêt crime series, about which I will post about next. So, I knew that I needed to re-visit Messandrierre where I first encountered Angela Wren’s intelligent investigator, Jacques Forêt. This release of Merle is a chance to expand on my initial review of Messandrierre.
Messandrierre (Jacques Forêt #1)
by Angela Wren (Goodreads Author)
Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre.
But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.
Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?
Messandrierre – #1 in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.
Also in the series:
Review 5 stars
I enjoyed every page of this mystery, so read the novel twice. The pace suited the setting that felt as real as the memorable characters. Messandrierre may not exist – or maybe it does. The Cevennes is my favourite region in France, and Angela Wren captures the nuances perfectly. The location came alive so much that I was convinced that I had been there.
The people felt real, from the principals of Jacques and Beth to all the secondary characters that made up the vibrant picture of a French community, and the wider area beyond. Each one had their idiosyncrasies, and some had secrets that added clever threads and red herrings to the mystery.
The plot developed steadily with the additional plotlines adding to the investigation. Jacques is not exactly alone in unravelling who is responsible for the disappearances that set the case simmering.
Messandrierre neatly built to a climax, that I guessed but not in the manner it happened. I was tricked into a bit of wrong thinking a few times – on the first reading. On the second, I saw how Wren had created her cunning red herrings – or should I say harengs rouges.
This novel is a mystery that I highly recommend for those that don’t need a fast-roller-coaster ride and want to savour the story. I also recommend Messandrierre for those that like indulging in exploring the France off the beaten track – but don’t expect a tame tourist guide.
Story – five stars
Setting/World-building – five stars
Characters – five stars
Structure – five stars
Readability – five stars
Editing – five stars
As my writing begins to touch on diversity and minority rights issues, I knew that I should expand my reading. This novel is my first fantasy that I’ve read that is willing to move beyond the narrow taboos of modern society.
Dragonoak: The Complete History of Kastelir (Dragonoak #1)
by Sam Farren
After being exiled to the farmland around her village, Rowan Northwood takes the only chance at freedom she might ever get: she runs away with a passing Knight and doesn’t look back. The woman cares nothing for Rowan’s company, but nor does she seem perturbed by the powers that burn within her.
Rowan soon learns that the scope of their journey is more than a desperate grasp at adventure. She breaks away from the weighty judgement of her village, but has no choice but to abandon her Kingdom altogether. Sir Ightham’s past leads them through Kastelir, a country draped in the shadow of its long-dead Queen—a woman who was all tusks and claws and great, spiralling horns.
Hiding her necromancy is no longer Rowan’s greatest challenge, and what leads them across Kingdoms and through mountains is a heavier burden than she ever could’ve imagined.
Review 3.5 stars
I was drawn to read this book as the blurb, and the reviews promised an engrossing fantasy novel where diversity was the norm. I found the opening intriguing with a fascinating backstory trickled out, not dumped on me. Rowan Northwood as a narrator is driven to leave her village by the attitude of the people that saw her as a healer until they discovered her hidden power.
Her journey is one of discovery, about the world that she only knows from her brother Michael’s stories and about other people. However, she is not the protagonist as that is Sir Ightham, a female knight that is well-portrayed as the norm. At first, Rowan is intrigued and inspired by Sir Ightham, but as she discovers more about the knight, a real attraction grows. Personally, I found it difficult to relate to such a distant protagonist, but I kept reading knowing that through Rowan, I should discover more.
Many of the characters are not the fantasy norm exactly. This aspect of the world-building delivered, as did the world beyond Michael’s books, and this element kept me wanting more. The third intriguing character was an asexual called Rán, whose race, the pane, were central to the story – I must avoid spoilers and say little more about that.
When Rán appears, Rowan calls her ‘she’ and for the rest of the book Rán is a ‘she’. But the pane are asexual or transgender, and the pronoun for them individually is ‘they’. However, once I had adapted my mindset to using this gender-neutral pronoun, confusion set in. Why was Rán ‘she’ but other single pane were almost all ‘they’? What about this sentence:
A handful of younger pane crept up on us. Their leader, a girl with the first signs of a right horn showing, inched her way to the steps. I raised a hand to wave and they shrieked, scattering like ants.
I kept reading engrossed in the story – but after researching ‘gender-neutral pronouns’. Other elements threw me, like the treatment of the horses that grated with everything I knew as a retired equestrian journalist.
The jigsaw remained complicated and unclear – well to Rowan as the narrator but not the protagonist – but eventually, after some unnecessary scenes of excessive world-building, the plotlines took shape through new arrivals, encounters and interruptions. The mysterious quest remained unclear.
More began to grate. Some reviews had mentioned there were “a few typos”, but those would have mortified me if my writing had so many. I had to keep re-reading sentences and amending them. Anyway, back to worrying about the horses – but the focus is now on the Queen. A new intrigue so I’m not giving up. I want to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Rowan is an observant narrator, even if it’s hard being an observer that senses so much. First-person POV is hard, but the reader gets to feel with the main character – although she’s not telepathic. So why the sentences that stray into the omniscient? Confusing and yet avoidable. But enough of that ‘writing style’ nonsense, there’s a mystery to resolve and here comes the next twist.
Finally, in the latter part of the novel, Rowan discovers more and events move faster. I began to find too many loose threads, and it was too late in the story to resolve many of them in time. At least, the central romance reached the next level – but romance is always ongoing.
Much better, according to the author it seems, to add other threads and keep the reader wanting more and let us forgive the cliff-hanger ending – Tolkien did that in Lord of the Rings, so it’s justified. Correction – not in the same way. Reading that trilogy in the 1970s, a glimmer of hope kept me questing, but this time I’m letting Rowan struggle on without me.
Dragonoak would be a good diversity fantasy if not for all the early draft failings like the pacing crisis, first-person omniscient POV, excessive typos and unnecessary scenes. At least, the author can edit the Kindle version one day. For now, I’m off to try a ‘diversity’ SF novel. Perhaps if there is a second edition, then I might join the journey and enjoy some of the inspiring prose.
But not looking at them wasn’t enough to banish them from my mind. Whatever they suffered seeped into the air, following me through busy streets, as though the shadow I’d felt last night had returned to claim me.
Story – four stars
Setting/World-building – five stars
Structure – three stars
Readability – three stars
Editing – three stars
Style – three stars
I’m tackling my monthly post for Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day in two parts, not because I have two answers but because I have two different thoughts churning through my scrambled head. On then to this month’s optional question and Part I:
September 6th Question: Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing?
(For example, by trying a new genre you didn’t think you’d be comfortable in?)
If I look at my teens and early tweens, SF was the genre I escaped into in my creative life while all things ‘country/rural’ were my journalistic fare. An equestrian mystery when I retired seemed a natural progression, although a few decades late. So, no surprise there then, nor when a small press published it after my writing group was positive about the drafts of Spiral of Hooves.
However, I was surprised when the horse world ignored the novel despite my career as an equestrian journalist and event organiser. Better luck the second time around?
On the genre side, I surprised myself by attempting children’s stories – that came to nothing, so far. Plus, I just found some old poems and those surprised me. I’m still reverting to mysteries for now.
Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.
Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!
Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG
Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.
Part II – Written in Blood
Having multiple sclerosis creates challenges every day and I have been pushed to create new daily regimes, adapting to my initial surprise when diagnosed in 2000. I was learning to live with my MS symptoms, and although they can be excruciating plus debilitating, I knew other suffer worse illnesses. MS is not a death sentence. Life expectancy is normal or close to normal for most people with MS, although it is a chronic illness.
Then, on 23rd August, my doctor told me that I had some sort of blood cancer. I’m remaining positive – except when my computer glitches – as the series of blood tests since the Spring indicate its slow-growing and the oncologist will tell me more on September 18th.
However, I decided it was time for a bucket list – as long as nobody suggests skydiving; the wheelchair can do that solo. Among the list of things I must do, like going to Canada, exploring all of Idaho, arranging a Steve Hackett concert in Boise, and maxing three MMORPG avatars, is the crucial Writing Legacy.
In short, I need to get my 9+ WIPs in order, of course aiming to publish them all = another 13 years, if not 117 by the rate releasing ‘Spiral of Hooves’.
Time for another review and this time, a novel about time travel.
A freak landslide at a remote mine site uncovers a strange machine to Barry’s group of palaeontology students. Wary of corrupt school officials, his team takes the machine home to study it in secret, reaching only one realistic – and unbelievable – conclusion: It was designed to bridge the time-space continuum. It’s a time machine.
Testing delivers disastrous results, sending one team member to the hospital and nearly killing another. When word leaks about the discovery, the ultimate power struggle ensues: the university wants it for funding, the power company wants its energy regenerating abilities kept under wraps, and a rival group wants to steal it for themselves. No one cares if Barry’s team comes out alive.
Fleeing for their lives, the students must fight the school, the police, and each other if they want to learn the truth about what they’ve discovered – a truth with more severe consequences than any of them can predict.
An intriguing opening chapter propelled me into the lives of Barry’s group of palaeontology students in Dan Alatorre’s The Navigators. The characterisation built my interest and quickly established the personalities and group conflicts – conflicts that cleverly fed the plot.
These conflicts emerged in such human ways, that I sensed that everyone should watch out – as the blurb implies. Everyone was creating situations that could have those ‘severe consequences’. As the plotlines unravelled, I was telling the characters to watch out – to no avail. Would I have listened? Not when I was their age.
Their reactions were believable. Plus some good observations on the paradoxes of time and the tough choices it poses. In The Navigators’, time travel tests everyone and loyalties are stretched by the discovery of the machine. I kept asking questions – some of which the friends forgot to ask’
Who do you trust? What are other people’s motivations? What is the way out of this situation?
Maybe not the answers that Dan Alatorre came up with, but they worked and I had to keep reading. I expected some comeuppance but I was ready to be surprised as the intentions came unravelled. That’s life. As with the best books, there were some good morals in the story, such as – lying is never the best answer; shortcuts rarely work (even with a time machine); beauty is more than looks. The latter prompted me to highlight the following dialogue:
“… ‘A beautiful woman’s breasts will eventually sag and her hair will turn gray. What will you be married to then? If you choose wisely, you will be married to a beautiful personality and a curious mind that loves your children and who would do anything for you.’ That is true beauty.”
And where better to put the punchline – at the very end. Now that makes me grin and recommend this novel.
Story – five stars
Setting/World-building – five stars
Structure – five stars
Readability – five stars
Editing – five stars
Style – five stars