2018 Reads and Beyond

As a writer, reading is an important part of the process. Reading teaches me many writing lessons while entertaining me. I hope that it’s making me a better writer.

Inspired by some of the writers and readers that I follow, here is my 2018 reading list and top books of the year. Most were not published in 2018, but that’s when I read them so that’s what counts.

First, the list as I reviewed them – with links:

Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3) by Kristina Stanley – 5 stars

The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

For The Winner (Golden Apple Trilogy #2) by Emily Hauser (Goodreads Author) – 5 stars

A Journey of the Heart (When Women Were Warriors #2) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

A Hero’s Tale (When Women Were Warriors #3) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

Death in Dulwich (London Murder Mystery #1) by Alice Castle – 4.7 stars

Apricots and Wolfsbane by K.M. Pohlkamp – 4.9 stars

Air and Ash (TIDES #1) by Alex Lidell – 4.3 stars

The Shepherdess of Siena by Linda Lafferty – 4.3 stars

The Last Wish (Saga o Wiedźminie #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski – 5 stars

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – 4.5 stars

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – 5+ stars

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis – 4.4 stars

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 4.3 stars

Sword of Destiny (Saga o Wiedźminie #2) by Andrzej Sapkowski – 5 stars

Look the Other Way by Kristina Stanley – 4.6 stars

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – 5 stars

Never on Saturday by Sue Barnard – 4.4 stars

Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered? by Sue Barnard – 4.4 stars

Horsemanship by Gina McKnight (Editor) – 5 stars

Mr Churchill’s Secretary (Maggie Hope Mystery #1) by Susan Elia MacNeal – 3.7 stars

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (Fiona Griffiths #3) by Harry Bingham – 5 stars

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth E. Wein – 5+ stars

Joseph Barnaby by Susan Roebuck – 4.6 stars

Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers by

Lisa Hall-Wilson – 5 stars

The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker – 5 stars

What Child Is This by Rhys Bowen – 5 stars

Eadric And The Wolves: A Novel Of The Danish Conquest Of England by David K. Mullaly – 4 stars

I’ve missed a few books – the Children’s ones – but these are the majority. On reflection, there are more five stars awarded than memorable books, and I’ve tended to be unfair to the authors I interact with. Why? Reverse favouritism?

Anyway, thinking back over the year and looking for memorable reads, here’s my top three for each of the genres that I lean towards:

Thrillers- Mystery- Suspense-Crime:
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – 5+ stars

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (Fiona Griffiths #3) by Harry Bingham – 5 stars

Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3) by Kristina Stanley – 5 stars

Fantasy:
The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

The Last Wish (Saga o Wiedźminie #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski – 5 stars

For The Winner (Golden Apple Trilogy #2) by Emily Hauser (Goodreads Author) – 5 stars


Historical Fiction:

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth E. Wein – 5+ stars

The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker – 5 stars

Apricots and Wolfsbane by K.M. Pohlkamp – 4.9 stars


Some of these cross genres and showed that is achievable seamlessly. These lists lead into my top five reads of 2018 – well fiction reads – in order.

Top Five Reads of 2018
1.             Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth E. Wein – 5+ stars

2.            The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – 5+ stars

3.            The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

4.            The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (Fiona Griffiths #3) by Harry Bingham – 5 stars

5.            Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3) by Kristina Stanley – 5 stars

Top Non-fiction has to be my ‘desk-bible’ – Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers by Lisa Hall-Wilson. By the use it has already got, that 5 stars rating is low.

Keeping track of my reading has been my Goodreads account. I’ve now taken part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for the last three years and passed my modest goal each year. I set the bar low as there are days when I struggle to read more than a few pages; not because the books are bad but because of health issues.

In 2018, I read 45 books and passed my target of 3o – call that figure 42 as three books got counted twice. Only 28 got reviewed – as above – but Goodreads did keep tally so I must have some reviews outstanding.

However, despite reading 41 books in 2017, I have kept my goal for 2019 low at 35. I am ahead as I type this, but I’m now reading a chunky 500-page book.

In my next Book Review post, I will list some of the books that I plan to read – with another Challenge as the target.

Finish the Damn Book! – a review

Time for another book review in this new style post that’s not on a Thursday. And this was one of the few non-fiction reads planned for 2019. Plans are like rules, of course.

Finish the Damn Book!: An Inspirational Guide to Writing

by

Martin McConnell (Goodreads Author)

This isn’t about grammar or syntax, it’s a wake up call for anyone wanting to write a book, create artwork, or craft lyrics and poetry.

Write faster, improve faster, and create poetic prose through this iterative process.

New writers often struggle at first. Experience enhances writing ability. The only way to improve is to write more, edit more, and iterate. McConnell puts you on the fast track to developing your writing skills and gives you the motivation needed to overcome not only writers block, but to boost your productivity in all aspects of life.

The biggest obstacle to becoming an author is finishing the first draft, and that monster known as ‘writers block’ is usually the scapegoat. This book will show you how to put that monster in the corner while you crank out chapter after chapter.

It’s short, fun to read, and will leave you reaching for an ink pen by the time you’re done. Put away the distractions and excuses and finish that damn book!

Review 3.5 stars

 Finish the Damn book! is a short motivational book that was what I needed to get me back to the keyboard of creativity – well almost. It might be focused on new writers, but writers struggling with monsters like ‘writer’s block’ and ‘prevarication’ will get a kick out of the forthright lessons – a kick in the ass as the author says.

McConnell doesn’t mince his words in delivering his honest message, albeit one that some of us have heard often – and ignored. The book is neatly divided into two parts: ‘The First Draft’ and ‘Post Draft’ with useful appendices for further digging. Getting your first draft down without distractions, excuses, and evasions, is the primary goal in simple suggestions that rang true for me. Only when that first draft is finished can a writer tackle the editing phase – harder but fun.

This isn’t a writing guide with detailed steps on what to do, but a series of motivational kicks to keep you on the path of getting a book finished. Like me, other writers might find that McConnell’s productivity is daunting and some of his suggestions questionable. Yet, he advises taking what we need and discarding things that don’t fit with our approach. But there are warnings of dangers when we wander. Just don’t expect everything claimed on the tin.

This isn’t a desk-bible for me, but when I wander off-piste I will dip back in. Four stars minus 0.5 for irritating editing mistakes – like ‘reigns’ for ‘reins’. Given the author’s editing suggestions, I was surprised.

I won this book in a NaNoWriMo-related competition with no obligation to write anything – but I am grateful to Martin McConnell for sending me a copy. And my NaNo wins prove to me that there is value here.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – a review


As a reader and a gamer, this was inevitable – a second game related book. Although the first was a book that led to a game – Witcher – while this arose from a game. But both related to games that absorb/distract me.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

by 

Gordon Doherty (Goodreads Author) 

THE OFFICIAL NOVELIZATION BASED ON THE POPULAR VIDEO GAME FRANCHISE.THE OFFICIAL NOVELIZATION BASED ON THE POPULAR VIDEO GAME FRANCHISE.

They call her misthios–mercenary–and she will take what she is owed.


Kassandra was raised by her parents to be fierce and uncaring, the ideal Spartan child, destined for greatness. But when a terrible tragedy leaves her stranded on the isle of Kephallonia, near Greece, she decides to find work as a mercenary, away from the constraints of Sparta. 

Many years later, Kassandra is plagued by debt and living under the shadow of a tyrant when a mysterious stranger offers her a deal: assassinate the Wolf, a renowned Spartan general, and he will wipe her debt clean. The offer is simple, but the task is not, as she will need to infiltrate the war between Athens and Sparta to succeed.

Kassandra’s odyssey takes her behind enemy lines and among uncertain allies. A web of conspiracy threatens her life, and she must cut down the enemies that surround her to get to the truth. Luckily, a Spartan’s blade is always sharp.

            Review 4.4 stars

As a fan of historical fiction and a gamer, this was an enjoyable book throughout. I admit that I finished the main questline of the game, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey before reading this novelisation. And I played Kassandra preferring the performance of the voice actress, Melissanthi Mahut.

Kassandra is a mercenary who is caught up in a conspiracy that threatens her life – and the future of Greece. Here past is entwined with Sparta’s past and one she can’t avoid.

This novel was as immersive as the game but building on what I already knew of the ancient Greek world and from the game world. Not surprising from Gordon Doherty, a writer of ancient historical fiction who clearly knows how to make a historical period come alive – in this case, the Second Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta at the head of their respective Leagues.

Once finished, I was interested to see how far the historical detail departed from reality, knowing that some have called the Assassin’s Creed universe ‘alternative history’. In this storyline, there are elements and a few characters that are fictional and perhaps ‘alternative’. But the background, the world and many of the principal players are historical – like my favourite, Brasidas. The characters come alive – helped I admit by meeting them in game – although they may not have the complexities that some readers might expect.

The game is visually stunning – as Greece is – but this novel adds the smells of the world from the flowers and sea breezes to the unwashed bodies and corpses. There are moments that are darker, more visceral and realistic. That’s the power of crafted words.

I’ve idolised Sparta – sometimes – but I’m convinced now that Sparta is not the place for me. Athens is more suited to my artistic and democratic temperament – but under Perikles.

This novelisation adds more to the plot – even alternative motives and actions that embellish a storyline that must work in a game setting where it’s hard to have multiple endings. For me, there were few surprises, but I enjoyed the development of characters and situations that fleshed out events and structure. Time was more akin to what one would expect – journeys take days and weeks; scouting out a target can take weeks, if not months; events occur over months, even years. We mustn’t forget that the Second Peloponnesian War lasted almost thirty years, from 431 to 404 BCE.

This novelisation ended with a clever scene that worked for the Assassin’s Creed universe and was perhaps better although different from my ending. A fun and recommended read if you enjoy this genre of book.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

**

I’m still exploring the game of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, although I am now on side-quests and exploring places unfound – and I have yet to slay the Minotaur. At some point in the future, I will review the game – if there is the demand. For now, the focus will be on books – albeit the current one is non-fiction.

The Things You Didn’t See – a review

As I’m a writer that reads, this book review comes first and then the life problems are the footnote to this new style post.

The Things You Didn’t See

by

Ruth Dugdall (Goodreads Author)

Her instincts are telling her something isn’t right…

On a chilly morning in rural Suffolk, Cassandra Hawke is woken by a gunshot. Her mother is clinging on to her life, the weapon still lying nearby. Everyone thinks it’s attempted suicide—but none of it makes any sense to Cass. She’s certain there’s more to it than meets the eye.

With her husband and father telling her she’s paranoid, Cass finds an unlikely ally in student paramedic Holly. Like Cass, she believes something is wrong, and together they try to uncover the truth. But is there more to Holly’s interest than she’s letting on?

With her family and loved ones at risk, Cass must ask herself: is she ready to hear the truth, and can she deal with the consequences?

**

            Review 4.4 stars

If I went by the blurb, this book would be Cassandra Hawke’s tale – but that’s just part of this novel which starts twenty years earlier when eight-year-old Holly Redwood sees a ghost shot at a remote farm on Halloween.  The unresolved experience lurks in her past until as a trainee paramedic she is called out to help with an attempted suicide – at the same farm.

Cass doesn’t believe that her mother committed suicide but her husband and her father behave as if she is paranoid. However, she befriends Holly who believes her as the explanations don’t feel right. And Holly suffers from synaesthesia, a condition where the person can feel the emotions of others as if they are their own – a mixed blessing it seems for Holly.

The setting pulled me in, in part as I know Suffolk and Norfolk. The descriptions were immersive, blending imagined places with the real ones that matched my memories.

The author uses two POVs to differentiate the two protagonists – first person for Cass and third for Holly. First allows the reader to see into Cass’s confused thoughts – the mind some say is paranoid. There are reasons for that, but I’ll just say that those are cleverly unclear at first. Who is telling the truth?

Holly as a protagonist stood out for me – and not just because of the prologue that set the unsettling feelings going.

As a fan of first person and deep POV, I kept wanting to get inside Holly’s head more than was possible. However, two first person POVs is hard for some readers, and the author made the necessary choice choosing Cass – a mind that twists the plot. And the suspicions. Would Holly as first person POV instead been a different book?

Suicide or murder? What starts as an ‘open and shut’ case, works through murder suspects at a steady pace that was in danger of losing me – especially when I identified the culprit or thought I did. But there was enough drama for me to read on and meet all the secondary characters – including the suspects. They all had their own traits and worked. But too many felt irritating, even if there was some justification for their attitudes. Death and murder have repercussions. Or do they for everyone? Who profits?

This is not a rushed mystery but as the plot deepens, the pace picks up. I had my suspicions, but my suspect remained hidden from the police for a long time. There was a point where I felt the story was being drawn-out, but I was also teased and tested. Suicide can be instigated, and I have experienced that. But that may or may not be the resolution?

Am I teasing or tempting you? Read this recommended novel to find out what happens in this cleverly crafted story. The twist works even if…well, you’ll see what I mean.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – five stars

**

Falling Future

I was aiming to write this review for Thursday 3rd January, but I was still working through New Year emails, my IWSG post, and other messages that overwhelmed me into Friday and beyond. And then came the weekend, and writing was not easy as my mind was fractured by my MS. Plus, the emails kept coming.

Anyway, this review was delayed until I could make a realistic space – and create a new banner that lets me post any day of the week.

UPDATE: Added the banner as I forgot yesterday – distracted by this new WordPress layout.

It didn’t help that I fell on the floor – or rather crashed out of my manual wheelchair transferring to a power chair. We’ve been looking at buying a power wheelchair, but they are expensive – especially on two retirement incomes. Second-hand is more manageable so that is the route we are going.

Falling hurts – especially when I smashed my head, broke a tooth, and bruised my right arm; I’m right-handed. Falling could be a theme too – for my memoir. Falling in love, falling from horses (or ponies) and falling ill – which means falling on the ground.

So, do I start working on / distracting myself with my life story? Should it be called ‘The Art of Falling’ or ‘A Life of Falling’ or something else?

Next week’s new arrival

#IWSG – Questions, Questions and more Questions 

Created and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog post is here again – and so am I.

Apologies for the two weeks of silence, but it was those midwinter distractions, and even now I feel inundated with emails that subtly hint at what I should be doing.

But I hesitate to reflect on 2018 or make resolutions for 2019. Okay, I may review my reading tomorrow and I have resolved decided to develop and focus on Fevered Few, my NaNoWriMo novel. But more about that another day/week/month.

First, the IWSG post which got me scribbling in my little black notepad over midwinter-fest.

January 2 question – What are your favourite and least favourite questions people ask you about your writing?

“What are you writing now?” is my favourite question and lets me ramble about my WIP – or attempt to explain it as briefly as possible. Answer: Fevered Few

“Why haven’t you published anything since 2013?” is THE question that I dread so my least favourite. Answer: Because I take years to finish anything and change novels mid-edit.

“So, you never submit anything?” annoys me because I dislike the Answer: Nothing of value it seems.

“Why are you being rejected?” is another least favourite, and enough to make me feel dejected. Answer: What do you think?

“But you’ve been a winner?” is a question/comment that hovers midway between favourite and not. Answer: This is a chance to crow about a writing prize as a kid and the giveaways that make up my TBR pile. Or the point when I confess that my writing has yet to win a prize this century – so, that’s why I’m an Insecure Writer in an Ace group called IWSG.

And now the real question: “What are the questions to ask – or not ask – about your writing?”

***

The awesome co-hosts for the January 2 posting of the IWSG are Patricia Lynne, Lisa Buie-Collard, Kim Lajevardi, and Fundy Blue!

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!

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.

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

What Child Is This – a review

Thursday_horizons

I fell behind with my reading during NaNoWriMo in November, although I did finish Book 2 in a fantasy trilogy, but my review of that is pending my reading Book 2.

After my November focus on writing, this month has seen me focused on a beta read – and my WEP/IWSG contribution.

However, I have been reading a novel as well, plus the short story that earns today’s Thursday Creation Review as this was seasonal with an uplifting message.

 

WhatChildIsThis

What Child Is This

by

Rhys Bowen

Christmas during World War II is a time for small miracles in this bittersweet short story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and In Farleigh Field.

Jack and Maggie Harris are adrift on ravaged streets during the London Blitz. Their home is gone. They have nowhere to go and nothing left to lose. With only the memories of their greatest loss—the death of their child during a Christmas years before—Jack and Maggie settle in a seemingly deserted mansion for the night.

Inside they find shelter, warmth, and a bit of cheer. They also discover a surprise. Now, in the darkest of times, the unexpected compassion of strangers will make this Christmas one to remember forever.

 

Review 5 stars

As the festive season drew on, I was treated to this wonderful Christmas read – an Amazon First Reads free with my Prime membership, but I would have willingly bought this.

Set during one of the darker moments in Britain’s history, when the country was locked in the midst of WWII, this short story paints a snapshot of the London Blitz. An image of a time when people tried to remain strong and strive to be positive – as these characters do.

Jack and Maggie Harris are bombed out of their home in the East End, already scarred with the loss of a child during another Christmas. Their unfolding attempt to find shelter, warmth, and a bit of cheer on Christmas Eve was uplifting – light in the darkness.

I liked all the background detail of the period which echoed what I knew of the Blitz from other books and my own research. Having lived in and explored London, I could envisage where this occurred.

And I related to the characters, who, even in this tight tale, rang true with reactions and emotions that added to the story’s magic. The main characters especially had understandable flaws within their positivism.

The ending was a reward for all – including this reader – and it had me smiling and feeling festively satisfied.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars